Trading Sex for Food – Tiger’s Search for Dopamine?
So Tiger Woods is a sex addict and goes to rehab…and gains 30 pounds.
Maybe the food there is great, but probably not; or maybe he’s sitting around doing nothing, but probably not. The food isn’t as good as fine dining, and certainly not good enough for fine golfing. Plus, he was photographed going for a run.
So why is he eating so much?
He can’t help it. His brain is screaming for “substances”. Not sex – dopamine and oxytocin and serotonin and norepinephrine and endorphins…he has the brain of an addict. Here’s the breaking news. So do we all – it is what enables us to experience blissful pleasure.
I understand Tiger Woods. Well, maybe not his choice in sex partners, but I understand the insane cravings. He craves sex. I craved food. You might crave alcohol or drugs or tobacco or gambling or shopping or working or exercising or rage…
Our brains have a built-in reactor system to determine “things-that-make-us-feel-really-great”. We respond to life’s greatest pleasures with a chemical explosion that rocks our world. Without this internal nuclear reactor, we would ho-hum through every moment of our lives. With the reactor, it only takes one orgasm to love sex. It only took me one chocolate chip cookie to love food.
The moments of an orgasm or a taste of chocolate are fast and fleeting – the natural timing of brain chemicals. Like fireworks. If you blink, you miss them. We quickly return to our baseline mundane and uninspired living. Boring is our neutral. (Some people call it calm, most addicts call it boring).
And here’s the really bad news, known to every addict of any substance. The bliss level is never the same as the first time. Your brain accommodates to stimulation – good, bad or ugly. You get used to sex or chocolate or CSI or winning. And it takes more and more of your substance of choice to get the same level of explosion. When I was four, it only took one cookie to reach nirvana. Nowadays I would need an entire factory. After awhile you can’t get there at all. Unless you keep changing it up a bit.
So why would anyone keep doing a substance that isn’t even bringing them joy anymore?
You only have to look at Tiger to understand. He looks depressed. It’s the day after the binge, and he’s crashing. And while it’s tempting to say ‘of course he’s depressed, look what he’s done to his life’, the reality is that much of what is happening in his depressed brain is a biochemical rebound of misery. It takes a nanosecond to explode feel-good chemicals in your brain; it can take weeks or months or years to replenish them. Forget the highs. He keeps using to stay at neutral. Anything to avoid the crash.
I feel for the guy.
There really isn’t any difference between us. Our brains all crave reward, stimulation, excitement, curiosity, feeling good. Even to point of overindulgence.
Life is filled with joys that can create the same explosion of feel-good chemicals, without destroying your life or health or emotional well-being. Exercise will release dopamine and keep the level high for more than a day, unless you do it for a living and have attached the stress of daily life to it. Music, art, love, petting your animal, aromas, company, movement, prayer, meditation, playing with your children or grandchildren, and many others. It may not be as dramatic or intense the first time around, but it sustains you with a deep and abiding joy.
And it stops the cravings.