Unfortunately we can’t trick the brain when it comes to calories. While the rest of the body relies on glucose and fat as an energy source, the brain gets its energy boost from glucose alone. This does not mean we should eat sugar to boost energy, but it does mean that when we taste it, your brain can go crazy for it and crave more and more!
Your brain knows exactly how much energy a certain food has. The sweetness reference centre can work out how many kilocalories of energy it will get from what you are eating. The sweeter a substance is, the more calories the brain expects. Take artificial sweeteners for example, they taste sweeter than sugar and yet do not have the calories to match. Your brain will expect calories that it just isn’t receiving and will drive up appetite so that it can get its energy fix. The end result is that the neuro-stimulatory effect of artificial sweeteners can cause cravings and even addiction.
When young it is necessary to develop the ability to postpone the necessity of direct reward. Of course babies’ needs have to be met or else all hell breaks loose. But slowly as time goes on brain development allows them to accept that perhaps it might take a little longer before they get fed! This is known as the ‘there-and-then’ dopaminergic identity as opposed to the ‘must-have-here-and-now’ serotonergic identity. That same ‘there and then’ dopamine drive is what gives you motivation to go out and explore and plan for the future. Your ‘here-and –now’ serotonergic identity kicks in when you are managing your immediate environment. Psychological flexibility as an adult is all about moving between the two as your environment demands.
It is your dopaminergic neuro-anatomical development that teaches you to postpone rewards and make the right decisions. This means being able to wait for your dinner rather than grabbing a cake at the nearest available bakery. Or going to a shop to buy water rather than going to the pub for a beer. Making the wrong decision could mean that each time you are thirsty, your brain will expect a beer and this is how bad habits start. By giving yourself a moment to decide what is best,you will be creating new more beneficial neural pathways because when two neurons fire together they wire together.