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I had a young attractive woman in the office this past week who was studying to be a nurse. She seems happily married, has no children at this point in her life and from the outside looking in, she seemed be a very confident person. If anyone has been through medical training of any kind, they soon find out that the clinical instructors can be and often are very deprecating individuals. Especially if the instructor is a female and she is instructing a very attractive younger female. As we have all witnessed, women can be mean to each other.

As the office visit carried on, this young lady told me she changed her major in school from nursing to biomedical research. During our last visit, she revealed that she was going to start her clinical training since she had completed the basic science part of her education. I was surprised that she made a decision to change her major so late in the game. She followed up her comment that she decided to change her major with informing me that she got off her food plan and became a sugar-holic while going through the her clinical rotations. As I looked at her body language during her confession, she was unsure how I would react to her. She squirmed in her chair like a child confessing a misdeed to her parent. She had initially come to the office with extreme fatigue, terrible constant abdominal pains, weight gain and just a miserable outlook on life. After treatment and a new food plan, she was a new woman, vibrant, engaging and of course, beautiful.

Her change to the dark side had its negative effects on her. She was sluggish, more distractible, had trouble concentrating and some of her stomach pains had returned. She knew she had to stop her unhealthy life style, but she could not while under the tensions of her clinical rotations, she perceived the instructor as being too hard on her and the stress of going into a new environment every day learning how to perform bedside care was just too overwhelming. So she hit Sonic every day, sometimes twice a day and ordered M & M Blasts, sometimes double the M & M's when she felt really bad.

Food addictions or any addiction for that matter, can broadly serve two distinct functions. One involves a positive affect. Foods loaded with sugars or mind altering drugs can generate pleasure even if the ultimate outcome of eating the food or taking the drug is absolutely detrimental to the person's health which offsets the initial reward. The other function serves as the negative affect. Sugar dense foods and mind altering drugs can be used to medicate away pain, depression, fear, anxiety and stress.

Our westernized culture does not evenly distribute healthy opportunities for pleasure or sources of fear and anxiety. Even though it is easy to say to a patient "just say no," the reality is that with all of the demands of having to be constantly vigilant about the stress that surround us every day, most people have very few things to say yes to that takes away the frustrations of everyday living. I have to say over the years, my patients have come up with some ingenious ways to create negative emotions. They worry about and are saddened by purely psychological events that are displaced over space and time. Social media is a prime example of a source of negative emotion generation. On the other hand, we humans have come up with some strange sources of creating positive emotions too. I watched a documentary on HBO the other evening about a computer animated web site on which a viewer can sign in, build an image of their ideal personal physical self and head off for some disturbing sexual fantasies with someone else they created as their ideal partner.

When I was a child, I attended St. John's Armenian Apostolic Church. The parishioners of the church donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a massive cathedral pipe organ installed which could only be played my a virtuoso who lived in New York City. Once the organ was fully functional, the congregation was packed to hear the organ played during the church ceremony. Although the music was deafening, it was overwhelmingly exquisite. It was worth the price of having to listen to the priest give his sermon in Armenian which at the time, sounded like gibberish to me. How did medieval peasants feel in churches that had pipe organs playing? I suspect in awe of God.

Probably ten thousand years ago, primitive hunter-gathers might occasionally stumble upon a ripened wild strawberry patch. I picture them dropping to their knees and consuming as many berries as they possibly could, briefly satisfying one of our most hard-wired food cravings. Hunter-gathers had a life of deprivation and hardships which also featured subtle and many times hard-won pleasures. In our world, we have hundreds of scientifically engineered and cleverly marketed commercial sugar based foods which rapidly absorb and cause a burst of sensation that cannot be matched by simply eating a mango. As for substance abuse, we have drugs that cause spasms of pleasure and elevations of dopamine that are thousands of times higher than anything stimulated in a drug free environment.

In our advanced culture, we have narrowed our sources of pleasure and made the ones available artificially overpowering. Normally our anticipatory pleasure pathway is stimulated by an entire array of things. For it to function properly, the pathway must rapidly habituate, and must desensitize to any given source that has stimulated it in order to be prepared to respond to the next stimulant. But let us face it, what naturally emerges is that unnaturally strong explosions of artificial experience, sensation and pleasure evoke unnaturally strong degrees of habituation. Double the M & Ms in the Sonic Blast please.

Because of this phenomenon, many of us no longer pay attention to a beautiful sun set or the wonderful melody of a rustling stream while hiking on a mountain trail. We seldom recognize the lingering glance of the right person. Most of us can not think about a prolonged struggle through some difficult adventure for the promise of a mediocre yet fulfilling reward. Bottom line, those of us who habituate to those artificial deluges of intensity and moment-ness are lost to those simple pleasures which are meaningful and well worth the effort. If you think about it, people should get sick of sugar as they consume more and more of it. People should stop pushing themselves to experience stranger and more exotic adventures if they were satisfied by the one they just had. But they don't, they just want more and more and more.

In reality, more, faster and more powerful lead us to our demise. Today's experience isn't as good as it use to be and certainly won't satisfy us tomorrow. I can't get no, satisfaction. But I try and I try and I try and I try. I can't get no, satisfaction.

Posted by Amanda Sanders at 9:23 AM
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