Understanding the Pleasure Trap

Brightly colored goodies at San Diego’s farmers market

Last year, I came across a TEDx talk by psychologist Douglas Lisle on what he calls the pleasure trap.  It is a hidden force in today’s world, he says, that can hijack your inborn satiation circuitry and undermine your pursuit of health and happiness.  After a little more exploration, I discovered that he co-authored a book by the same name with Alan Goldhamer, DC, that goes into much greater detail.

The ideas presented in this work answer the question When it comes to eating, why do we make choices that harm us?  In the book, the doctors review evolutionary history, throughout which our ancestors ate only amounts needed to sustain health. Any more or less, they write, would have resulted in an unsuccessful perpetuation of our species.  What happened over the course of the centuries to change that so dramatically?  Why is much of the current population (in industrialized countries) afflicted with obesity and disease?

Yummy veggie burger salad

The doctors explain that humans, like other complex animals, are innately motivated to survive and reproduce.  The mental tools for this motivation include neural feedback by means of good and bad feelings.  We are wired to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and conserve energy.  In the short TEDx mentioned above, Dr. Lisle gives a clear (and entertaining) talk on how this motivational triad works – and can malfunction – in the life of a desert bird called the gray shrike.

Veggies ready for roasting

The shrike goes about its business day to day, happily doing the things needed to stay alive and produce offspring as long as it’s in a natural environment.  But if that environment is disturbed by the introduction of unnatural substances or situations, the gray shrike, via this system of seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, and conserving energy, can begin making bad decisions.  This can lead to poor health and early death.

The same applies to humans.  For example, cocaine prevents dopamine from its normal process of reabsorption, resulting in an extended sense of pleasure. Processed foods, loaded with calories, unhealthy fats, refined sugar, and salt, act on our brains in a similar manner.  Like cocaine, these magic foods, as they’re called in the book, cause neuroadaptation, a gradual decrease in sensory responsiveness.  That causes us to need more and more of a substance to make us feel as good as before.  This can result in habitual overeating, leading us down a perilous path.

My Southern roots are showing: beans, mustard greens, cornbread & onion

It is possible to change poor eating habits, lose weight, and halt or reverse disease.  By eating only whole, healthy foods from the earth for several weeks, Dr. Lisle points out, dopamine receptors can normalize, leaving us feeling better without a desire for the bad stuff.  But those weeks are tough, he says.  A better way to downregulate neural signals and cause taste buds to become more sensitive is a 24-hour water fast (with physician approval.)  However it’s accomplished, making the change to healthy eating habits is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

Homemade muesli soaked overnight served with fresh orange & banana

In the modern world, we are subject to a great many unnatural foods and other substances that can quietly steal our health, leaving us with chronic disease and a shorter life span. The Pleasure Trap elucidates why and how easily it can happen, but also how we might recover proper brain response and health. Cheers to eating well and avoiding disease! 

Blessings for Healthy Pleasures,


The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

54 thoughts on “Understanding the Pleasure Trap

  1. Hello, Lisa! It has been a while. Glad to see you. Your post is awesome! Thank you for sharing. The beans, onion, greens, and cornbread looked good! You always teach us something new. My second book is coming along well. I have written six chapters since we talked last. Writers block showed up again, but it will soon go away. I hope the sun is shining where you are. It’s a beautiful day here in Texas, but this weather here changes at the drop of a dime. Well, I am going to enjoy the rest of my day, and I hope you do the same. Talk to you later. Have a blessed weekend.🙏🏾

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Shaunelius, so good of you to stop by! I’m pleased you enjoyed my post. Glad to hear you’re moving right along with your new book – that’s exciting! We are having the coldest, snowiest winter I’ve ever seen. But it’s good for wildfire season, so I just keep shoveling and try not to complain too much! Wishing you a wonderful week! 🌞

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  2. Good to see you online again, Lisa, sharing (as always) excellent, useful information. That first photo makes me long for the California markets. We’ll be there in just over a week and I plan to indulge…healthily. 🙂 I make homemade granola from a recipe my uncle created years ago and have that almost every morning. It’s so good! I like to put blueberries or raspberries on it. I’m glad I ate breakfast before seeing the photos in your post. Maybe we should all post photos of healthy food on our fridges to help us eat more healthily. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Janet, hi! I am happy to hear you enjoyed my photos & post. Have so much fun back in Cali! I’ve started making muesli again for the first time in years & eating it every morning. And giving it away as gifts. It’s so good to start the day with a boat load of nutrition! I’ll bet your granola is healthy, too. I like the idea of hanging pics of healthy foods to influence us. Have a fantastic week! 🌞

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love to see all the colours on display in fresh food markets. Unfortunately, during winter the range of colour here is limited so we look forward to the summer paint box of fresh foods again. Your post is a wonderful gift encouraging us to look forward. 🌹🙋‍♂️

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  4. Thank you for this excellent post! Your photos always make healthy living look like a festive occasion. I enjoyed hearing about this book. It is so sad that people are essentially duped into making poor choices. And the more poor choices they make, the worse it gets. It is good to know that things can be turned around with enough resolve and motivation. Great post!!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Linda, thank you for your great comment. Your sentence about healthy living looking like a festive occasion made me smile bc many times when I cook for my life partner (and anyone else) it always feels like a celebration, and sometimes we say just that. You’re right, the vicious processed foods eating cycle is very sad, with lifetime effects. It is my prayer to shed a little light & give a little hope. Happy weekend! 🌞

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think I’m doomed hehehe. Although in my defense my hobbies have taught me to anticipate and run “towards” pain so at least I have one bad tendency out of the way! To my credit, I have added a lot more of those “evil” fruits into my diet – I’m sure some definite subliminal coercing from your posts. Interesting read, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you Lisa, for sharing your insights about “The Pleasure Trap”. It is eye-opening to realize how our innate motivation to seek pleasure can be hijacked by the unnatural substances and situations that we encounter in our modern world.

    I appreciate your suggestions of eating only whole, healthy foods and potentially incorporating a 24-hour water fast. It can be challenging to make these changes, but the long-term benefits are well worth it.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great photos. The food looks delicious! In my culture, food is a love language, as it is in many others. Commercial food sources were engineered to hook us on unhealthy additives as coping mechanisms, fast fixes, and sources of solace. Food is comforting for mind, body and spirit…but it takes deliberate mindfulness to make more nourishing choices.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is perfect for me right now. I just recently removed sugar from my diet again, and what a difference. It feels so good to be off of sugar. It’s way more toxic than people realize. Excellent post, Lisa. I hope you are well, and have an awesome Sunday! 🌼

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re most welcome, Lisa! It’s always my pleasure. Indeed, sugar is. All is going well, thank you. I hope all is going well with you too! Blessings and peace to you, my friend. 🌼

        Liked by 1 person

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