Pleasure and nutrition: reward system and decision making

Friday 12 de September 10:30 am


Dra. Mónica Katz

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Dra. Mónica Katz

Medical Nutrition Specialist
Founder of the Eating Disorders Team at the Hospital Carlos Durand
Director of the Undergraduate Course of Medical Nutrition Specialist with Obesity filed at Favaloro University. Coordinator of the Obesity Working Group of the Argentinean Nutrition Society. Director of the online educational site for weight gain prevention:

Director of Nutrition Graduate Courses at Favarolo University.

Author of the books: Eating, ed. Thrush, No diet: bridges between food and pleasure, ed. Planet and We are what we eat, ed. Aguilar.

Regular contributor of media print, radio and TV communication

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Placer y nutrición: el sistema de recompensa y la toma de decisiones

Placer y nutrición: el sistema de recompensa y la toma de decisiones

Placer y nutrición: el sistema de recompensa y la toma de decisiones

Placer y nutrición: el sistema de recompensa y la toma de decisiones


Pleasure is not something “extra” in our lives, but a central component that guides our decisions and that can be used to incorporate healthy habits, since it is proven that efforts to reduce overweight based on restriction, prohibition and regulation have failed, explained Dr. Monica Katz, Director of the Undergraduate Course of Medical Nutrition Specialist with Obesity filed at Favaloro University, Argentina.

During her participation in the Active and Healthy Lifestyle Symposium, the specialist assured that “obesity is a learning disorder”; therefore, people have the ability to learn or unlearn behaviors that affect their health and wellness.

“Food is a physiological stimulus; it cannot be addictive, because when we eat we are responding to a need of our body. One cannot be addicted to a natural reward, because the pleasure we get from it is a natural response”, she expressed.

The expert from Argentina assured that the punishing-forbidding approach to weight control and the “demonization” of many foods is limiting the development of a critical or discerning attitude about what is most convenient for each individual to achieve a healthy diet.
She continued to explain that pleasant stimuli guide human learning, because the brain by nature seeks to repeat actions that produce pleasant stimuli and release of dopamine in the blood flow. This reward system that guides our behavior can then be used to  keep a balanced diet finding again pleasure in food, in adequate servings.

Discussing the subject “Pleasure and Nutrition: Reward System and Decision Making”, the speaker commented that a process of food “demonization” has emerged, for which some “experts” suggest eliminating, for instance, the intake of bread or, in the case of Argentina, of meat or sodium, without considering that forbidding makes the object of desire more appealing. Similarly, instead of making sporting activities more available, health clubs charge a fee, therefore limiting physical activity.

To that respect she said: “Experts in nutrition, including myself, behave as puritan teachers or authoritarian dictators, but punishment strategies have not worked neither at the individual nor at the sanitary level. Curiously enough, dieting is the best predictor of gain weight. Being on a diet makes people more vulnerable to disinhibition and uncontrolled behavior”.

She pointed out that “today we just watch sports, which results in the highest sedentarism rate ever; also there are many TV shows and programs related to food, but we are losing cooking skills”.

In some countries, said Doctor Katz, children are trained to be critical food consumers, but in many others, “we still rely on a pyramid and don´t develop a critical or discerning attitude. Rather than having an orchard where to grow vegetables, always keeping a healthy eating approach, schools should give cooking lessons to children, so that they go back home with a dish they cooked themselves”.

The expert stressed the fact that permission to eat has worked better than forbidding and therefore the "No Diet" approach has placed food intake in a context of pleasure where you can eat anything, with positive results. She then asserted: “Forbidding is not an effective way to promote adequate food intake. Latin America faces the huge challenge of a comprehensive approach to healthy eating, which requires the creation of cross-disciplinary teams including scientists as well as representatives from the government, the industry, and from civil organizations”.
She finally said that nutritional problems around the world have one thing in common: failure of health policies to tackle them. Strategies have been mostly based on forbidding or punishing. “Tasty food is a right. Any food product can be part of healthy eating as long as it is eaten in moderate amounts”, she concluded.