Food and the Promise of Pleasure: Beliefs and the Brain
The work of building a life worth living demands we learn how to satisfy our hunger. Satisfying our appetite for a good life is directly linked to learning how we satisfy our body’s need for nourishing foods. Although several hormones and the hypothalamus monitor the hunger to satiation ratio of our body, and thereby regulate our food consumption[i], they also activate our brain’s hedonic pleasure center.[ii] Thus, whether it is our desire to live a good life or the sensation we feel when we need to eat, when it comes to satisfying our hunger all roads lead to the pleasure centers of our brain.
Although satiation (feelings of fullness, wholeness and aliveness), triggers hedonic sensations of pleasure, our brain does not discriminate between the pleasures of a satisfying meal, a runner’s high, the high of drug addiction or compulsive gambling. Consequently, we can trick our brain into producing hedonic feelings even if it threatens the health of our body and inevitably destroys our life. Understanding how our brain and body interact to control and satisfy our hunger for feeling whole and alive provides insights into problems like addiction and our obesity epidemic.[iii]
Tricking our brain begins with the belief in the promise of pleasure. Every placebo effect, whether in medicine, sports, or marketing, is born from this belief.[iv] In marketing, the promise of pleasure is explicit in every advertisement for calorically dense, ultra-palatable sweet, salty, fatty foods; dietary supplements, diets, and lipolytic surgeries. It cultivates expectations of pleasure[v], conditioning us to salivate at the sight of the marketer’s deceptively tantalizing commercials.[vi] The power of this belief can alter our taste[vii], ability to think rationally[viii], and make us indifferent about how we make ourselves feel whole, healthy and happy. In part 2, we will look at how marketers seek to instill this belief early in life by targeting children.