This is going to be a psychologically heavy post, so follow along carefully.
Dopamine is this neurotransmitter that makes feel good every time we eat, have sex, or do a lot of other things. It is the reward chemical. When you were a kid and you were hungry, you cried. Then you were fed and your brain release dopamine to reward and reinforce that behavior (getting food when you are hungry). This works in non-primal ways as well. Every time you succeed at a goal, your brain releases dopamine (that is an important key to happiness by the way- keep setting and reaching goals). This is the same with drugs, they cause an overload of dopamine however.
Now in key events in our life (like birthdays, holidays, ect), we celebrate with food. “Yay, youre 12, lets get a cake”, “happy holloween, lets get candy”, or “You won the game, congratulations, lets go get pizza”. This reinforces those ‘behaviors’, although, the last one is the only one that really seems to reinforce a behavior. Anyways, we have all of these situations that subliminally tell us “food makes you happy”. And that is literally true: eating releases dopamine, which in turn, makes us feel happy. But we tend to subconsciously over-stress the relationship between happiness and eating.
You, since you were young, were taught that makes you feel good, feel happy. Do you know what that causes us to do? Well, look at those sorry-saps who are sitting on the couch moping while eating ice-cream. We now think that if we are sad, or any negative emotion, we will eat to make ourselves happy again. Comfort food.
So we eat every time we are happy to stay happy, every time we are not happy to become happy. So we pretty much eat all the time. I do have some advice. Using food for reinforcement is completely fine sometimes, but dont forget that a good o’l “you did good!” from a significant person can mean a lot- even more than food (and since we are social creatures, we do get dopamine released from interactions with others). This is the way i see it: food is not important, its good, but not important. Do you know what is good though? Showing your kid some love, showing them to value the goal that they reached- not the food they will get, showing them how to love others. If you show you are proud of them, they (due to modeling) will end up showing appreciation to their friends and even kids down the line.
Here’s another option. Food and Sex release dopamine just like drugs do but do you know the difference? When you do drugs that release dopamine it causes ALL of the dopamine to release at once, and eventually you will need more and more of that drug to release the same amount of dopamine. Drugs also deplete the total reserves of dopamine. Say you have 64 dopamine units, you do 1 cocaine (no not a gram, you do ONE cocaine), all 64 units get released and you feel good and your dopamine units regenerate after a few hours. You do this several times and eventually you have to do 2 cocaines for all of your dopamine to become released. However, you only have 52 dopamine units now. Eventually you have to do 7 cocaines to release 12 units of dopamine.
With food and sex its different. You have 64 dopamine units. You eat 1 serving of dinner. you release 12 dopamine units. You are still hungry so you eat another serving and release 12 more. And another serving. Now you are full and you are disgusted by food. THAT is the difference. Food and Sex satiate, meaning after you over indulge, you become disgusted by them. You could overeat so badly one day that you never wanna eat food again (Thanksgiving anyone?).
Last option: eat slow and value each bite. The french eat just as much as americans, the difference being that the french (1) walk everywhere and (2) savor their food. We shovel food into our mouths as fast as we can, not even giving our body’s enough time to tell how much food we’ve eaten. Therefore, we eat a 500 calorie meal when we only need 200, but didnt feel full because we ate too fast. But if you eat really slow and take small bites, you will get fuller with less food.