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Chasing Dopamine

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

The more I learn about the brain with regard to food addiction, the more I am discovering about the various ways my brain chases a dopamine hit.

As someone who wishes life could be happy all the time, I wonder if my brain chases dopamine more than anyone else’s. I’m not happy all the time. I know eternal bliss is unattainable, but tell that to my dopamine-driven brain!

Hits come in all shapes and sizes. Food. Watching the number on the scale go down while losing weight. An Amazon delivery.

Anticipation. Reward.

I’ve heard that many people who kick one addiction transfer their addictive behavior to something else. Many food addicts become addicted to shopping. I don’t consider myself in this camp because I’ve always hated shopping.

Check me out scrolling through produce options for a grocery delivery or placing an Amazon order for — anything — and you might find yourself compelled to challenge that assumption.

Perhaps I should amend my statement: I’ve always hated clothing shopping. That remains true. In-person or online.

The internet makes it so much easier to shop for non-clothing items. I don’t have to go from store to store, overwhelmed by options and anxious about wasting time. I just click, click, click, and it’s done.

Somehow placing an Amazon order can feel even more rewarding than shopping in a store. In-person, I would get instant gratification. I’m sure there’s a dopamine hit in there. Waiting for a delivery, I have the anticipation of the arrival. More bang for my dopamine buck.

Even though I bought what is coming, it somehow feels like Christmas every time I receive a package. Do-pa-mine!

Now, if I can just hook that reward system up to other things like working out or dealing with medical bills. Somehow “anticipation, reward” doesn’t pack the same punch for such things.

I’ve recently been on a quest for non-food-related “feel-good” moments. Frustratingly, I’m not good at being tender or gentle towards myself. It is an unhealthy pattern that has led me to turn to food for comfort throughout my life.

If I can provide myself little comforts along the way, smaller dopamine hits, maybe I won’t “need” the bigger hits, won’t get to the point of trying to comfort or distract myself with food.

But what provides comfort?

Why is that one of the hardest questions for me to answer?!

I reached out to some friends to help me brainstorm ideas. Here are some of their creature comforts:

Massage. Facial. Spending time with a friend who makes me laugh. Pool time. Pedicure. Going for a long walk or to the beach.

I invite you to note your response to that list. Did it spark a sense of relaxation and space inside you? Or anxiety?

All of these things require time and many require money. It exposes, yet again, my broken internal message around there not being “enough”. In this case, time or money.

So, while I work on healing the part of me that pushes back on spending time or money to love myself well, I am focusing on cheap, easy ways to provide softness or comfort in my day-to-day life.

I ordered new sheets for my bed. They are flannel and fun. (I’m aware that this one did cost money. It took me weeks to make the decision, and I only purchased them once I realized I could use the gift money I had been saving in order to do so. Technically, I didn’t buy them for myself. My mother and mother-in-law did with the birthday and Christmas money they have given me over the years!)

I lit a scented candle while doing some work at the dining room table. This provided a pleasant smell and a sense of spontaneity as well as reminded me of the friend who gave me the candle. All positive things that carved out a little bit of space inside me.

I created a playlist of uplifting music … and I’ve listened to it … once. I’m working on it!

I make sure to put a soft blanket on my lap when I sit down to write or watch television or read.

I pet my cat every time I see him, even if that means detouring into a different room.

I set mood lighting in my bedroom to create a soft and inviting ambiance.

These are good starting points for me. Eventually, I think it is important for me to take the time and spend some money to treat myself more extravagantly, even if that means two pedicures a year and a long walk with a friend!

What do you do to treat yourself?

What are your hang-ups, if any, that prevent you from indulging in tender actions toward yourself?

How do you chase a good dopamine hit?

If you needed a non-food-based way to create tenderness and comfort in your world, what would you do?

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