We know that there is a great deal of pleasure that comes from engaging in intimacy or eating high carb/high sugar content foods. Food and sex both release dopamine (a feel-good chemical) in the brain. Eating foods high in sugar or carbs and engaging in sexual activity are both pleasure-seeking behaviors. Activation in the reward pathway in the brain tells a person to repeat what they just did to get that reward. So if an activity results in in activation of the reward pathway in the brain, a person is likely to seek to consume rewards such as sweets/carbs and sex again and again.
So why is it that we crave less sweets and high carbohydrate processed foods when we engage in more satisfying intimacy? Along with dopamine (which stimulates reward and desire), neurochemicals in the brain such as serotonin and adrenaline (which causes your heart to beat faster when you see your partner) are triggered during intimacy creating an intense boost of pleasure.
But, is it the physical act of sex that curbs the cravings or it the emotional connection? The answer is both emotional connection and physiology can play a role in helping to curb food cravings. It is possible that the culprit behind over-snacking could be negative feelings about oneself or a lost physical or emotional connection with one’s partner. Therefore, there is the potential that a renewed intimate connection could help decrease over-snacking behaviors. Additionally, when it comes to the physical act of sex, a person is engaging in a positive distraction from food. They are also forming new habits and, when there is pleasure involved, the brain will begin to seek more of the behavior thus creating more sex-seeking behaviors rather than overeating behaviors.
So, how much arousal is needed to get the benefits when it comes to curbing food cravings? Serotonin and dopamine (feel-good chemicals in the brain) levels have the potential to increase simply by kissing. Engaging in foreplay is enough to raise these feel-good chemical levels in the brain. Of course with more intensity, one gets the most pleasure spikes in the brain which can improve one’s chance of repeating the behavior more regularly as opposed to over-snacking.
Our brains are hard-wired for desire for intimacy and both genetics as well as experiences play a role so we have to approach it differently for each individual. However, when it comes to changing behavior for the better, behavioral modifications take at least sixty-six days (according to studies the 28-day break-a-habit is a myth). The important thing to remember when it comes to changing behavior is to be consistent no matter if you choose to engage in sex rather than sweet snacking twice a day, once a day, or three times a week. The saved calories will add up (but remember it takes 3500 calorie deficit to lose 1 pound).
Could an “intimacy diet” be a great option for those who have failed at traditional diets? Oftentimes, clinicians specializing in health psychology will recommend self-pleasure and/or intimacy with their partner in order to stave off food cravings. Behavioral modification such as having sex, rather than grabbing a late night snack, has the potential to be highly adaptive and beneficial from a health and weight loss standpoint.