Laurel Mellin Ph.D.

Rewired

Counting Joy Points Not Calories? A New Angle on Weight Loss

Cravings are a sign of joy insufficiency. Train the brain to binge on pleasure.

Posted Sep 03, 2016

For many years I studied obesity and could see that stress causes the emotional brain to go on the fritz. The three major brain centers that control weight – fear, stress and starvation control – all favored weight gain when we were in stress.

absolut_100/istockphoto
Source: absolut_100/istockphoto

What I didn't appreciate is that the stress and reward centers of the brain do their own special dance, so that when we're stressed we can't access joy. The brain is reward driven so we naturally default to comfort foods. What's more, we can have co-addictions to other things, such as technology, spending, working . . . and more.

Emotional Brain Training (EBT) is based on honoring that food matters and eating more sensibly is important, but if we have strong stress drives, we'll crave comfort foods, unleash cravings for sugar and our starvation center will hold onto extra calories and promote weight gain.

We know that current methods are simply not working – 71% of adults are overweight – the idea of giving ourselves a break from dieting and opting for three days of pleasure might sound like a good idea.

It make sense based on brain training, too, as taking three days to collect joy points rather than calories, could help us naturally live a healthier lifestyle and turn off the drive to overeat.

That practice of taking three of vibrancy is part of EBT, because repeated attempts at dieting can cause us to focus on what we eat, instead of focusing on creating so much joy that we turn off the drives to overeat. 

It's a great way to prove to ourselves that the weight cycleing and overeating are driven by stress. If we are in stress, we can't access joy, and if comfort food were not around, then we'd find something else (perhaps more deleterious) to give us the fulfillment we need.

Recently I reviewed the study we did on taking three days for vibrancy and pleasure and more than 90% of people reduced their drive to overeat and without dieting lost an average of 3 pounds in 3 days.

The idea that overweight and the drive to overeat are rooted in our reward needs makes sense. Sure, stress drives us to overeat, but it has another effect, too – blocking our brain's reward centers from soaking in natural pleasures.

Those pleasures are beyond taking the dog for a walk, looking at a sunset or listening to music. They are about the emotional connection to ourselves and others that give us an oxytocin burst.

If you want to experiment with the power of collecting "joy points" or moments of intense natural pleasure as a way to turn off the drive to overeat, create your own personal plan. Cozy up with friends and family to reduce stress (see the selfish brain view of obesity) and give yourself a pleasure binge in the evenings. EBT is set up to help you get the emotional connection tools to do that, but either way, the concept is an intriguing one.

You might ask yourself, "How many joy points do I need so my brain turns off the drive to eat comfort foods, so I can eat less because I want less?"