Book Review: The Compass of Pleasure
For those of you who aren’t satisfied with simply working on changing your eating habits, but also want to understand the biology behind some of them, I recommend David J. Linden’s THE COMPASS OF PLEASURE—HOW OUR BRAINS MAKE FATTY FOODS, ORGASM, EXERCISE, MARIJUANA, GENEROSITY, VODKA, LEARNING, AND GAMBLING FEEL SO GOOD. The book deals with some complex concepts, but I found it enlightening and relatively readable if I was willing to go slowly and read through an occasional passage more than once.
Linden explains why on a cellular level we become addicted to pleasure. Never mind family and cultural influences, insists this professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and editor in chief of The Journal of Neurophysiology, as he gets down to the nitty gritty of why and how our brains react to pleasure. The importance of his book lies in telling us that we’re not bad or undisciplined for overeating, that our problems are not all about coming from a dysfunctional family or even living in the most fat phobic, thin-obsessed culture in the history of time.
The fact is, our brains are programmed to seek and enjoy pleasure. That is why most folks who rigidly deny themselves a good time eventually break down and have one. There is something in our biology that drives us to pursue peak activities, even to our detriment. The book explains how leptin, a satiation hormone produced by fat cells, affects weight gain and the difference between being leptin-deficient and –resistant. Most obese people are the latter rather than the former. The point here is that high weights in many people are not a failure of will power but are due to biology. I know this may not make you feel great if you’ve heavy, but it’s vital that you don’t buy into society’s view of overweight people as lazy and uncaring about themselves. For those of you stress eaters out there, the chapter on food has an excellent description of what happens to us in when we’re overtaxed that makes us want to eat. Again, you’re not simply imagining that your craving for carbs goes through the roof when life becomes hectic. Rather, as Linden explains, a predictable physiological reaction is occurring.
Some folks get bummed reading books like this, while others feel better knowing it’s not their fault that they have difficulty managing food urges. I might add that anyone who has or has had any addictions will find this book a fascinating read. It may not help you change behavior, but it will explain behavior that to you might seem totally irrational and incomprehensible. Often it’s a relief just knowing that what you’re doing makes sense.