The Pleasure Trap

The Pleasure Trap
March 14, 2014 No Comments » Healthy Lifestyle, Nutrition Brian Fulton

The Pleasure Trap

As an alternative health provider, I generally believe that if one follows one’s general intuitive sense about what feels good, that it will serve you well in life and in health. Listening to your own heart and your own mind is extremely important, since you are living YOUR life. This inner voice that I am speaking of is the combined messages from our brains, our hearts, our guts (as in gut-feel), our hunger drive, our thirst drive, our sex drive, and the combined information from all of our senses.  Any given decision might involve several of these components, but overall if we find reasonable accordance in these many messages, then we arrive at what we would call a good decision.

This sounds good in theory, and works well in practice in many areas of our life. One major area of our life where our sensory signals can be misleading though is in the area of food. The problem is that our information systems haven’t changed all that much from our early days on the planet. As modern-day humans, we still have the same taste buds and instincts that guided us when we were foraging for food on the plains of Africa. Unfortunately we now forage in grocery stores with unlimited amounts of salt, fat, and sugar. These processed and fractionated foods stimulate our taste buds, but create a health trap for all of us.  How do you break out of this cycle? One way is to begin to understand the pleasure trap that makes it so hard to change to a healthy diet.

The spokesperson for the pleasure trap is Douglas Lisle. As he explains it, there is a motivational triad that guides all animal behaviour on the plant. This triad involves:

  1. Pain avoidance behaviour
  2. Pleasure seeking behaviour
  3. The tendency toward energy conservation (expend the least amount of effort to achieve rewards)

How does this cause unhealthy eating? Well, our pleasure centres are preprogrammed to search out things such as sugars, fats, and salts because these food constituents are essential to life. As we foraged through our habitats for food, our pleasure centres by way of our taste buds and satiety centres helped to guide us to proper food sources and told us when we had eaten enough food. As we advanced through the agrarian age when humans learned to farm, we were able to spend less energy obtaining our food, thus satisfying the third component of the motivational triad. Fortunately at that time we ate a whole food diet and were very physically active. Now if you fast forward to the 20th century, suddenly obesity becomes a real problem…, but only in developed countries. How did this happen? There is no one reason, but the biggest reason for this phenomenon is the wide variety of processed foods and fractionated foods now available to anyone. Our taste buds are still seeking sugars and oils and salts and as far as they are concerned, “the more; the better”. Our senses and our motivational triad work extremely well when only whole food is available, which was the case until the arrival of processed foods, but these highly refined foods fool our motivational triad by providing maximum stimulation for minimum effort. The result is that 61.1% of Canadians are now overweight (meaning that they have a Body Mass Index of 25 or higher).[1]  Another startling statistic is that in the last quarter of the twentieth century, child obesity quadrupled!

Tacking obesity is not an easy issue, and is certainly multifactorial. There are no easy fixes and there is no solution that fits everyone, but understanding the pleasure trap will help you to understand why your instincts are misleading you when it comes to nutrition and satiety.

For more on the complexities of the pleasure trap I suggest that you check out Doug Lisle’s TEDx talk on the Pleasure Trap at

Brian Fulton works as a massage therapist in St. Catharines, ON.  He offers holistic treatments that help people to achieve their health goals. Please note that massage therapy is not a treatment for weight loss, but is in fact a holistic manner of treating the body for a number of ailments. The most important methods of maintaining a healthy weight involve exercise and proper nutrition. That being said, a number of my patients find that regular visits to their health care provider help to keep them on track with their health goals.

[1] Body mass index (BMI) is a measure for human body shape based on an individual’s body weight and height. Ideal BMI is 18.5 -25. Any number over 25 is classed as overweight. Any number over 30 is classed as obese.


About The Author
Brian Fulton Brian Fulton has been a Massage Therapist in Ontario Canada since 1999. His approach toward health and the human body is broad and holistic in nature. Brian is also the author of The Placebo Effect in Manual Therapy: Improving Clinical Outcomes (available on Amazon)