Using the Power of Pleasure to Improve Your Health

Dr. Andrea Grayson
3 min readSep 11, 2020


Did you know that there’s power in your pleasure? Or rather, you hold the power to direct your pleasure, which can be a mighty tool as you improve your health. It starts with understanding your biology.

But you might ask: How can pleasure be used to improve my health, when it is the pursuit of pleasure (cookies, wine) that got me into trouble in the first place?

Excellent question! Please allow me to explain.

When the idea of quitting sugar comes up, most people resist strongly: They immediately think of life-without-chocolate, and start feeling deprived before they even start!

That’s your dopamine system at work. Dopamine is the primary neurochemical associated with motivation, pleasure and reward. Your brain and body love dopamine, and will motivate you to do things that will give you a hit of it. Research has shown that even thinking about something pleasurable, like going on vacation or having dessert, will release dopamine.

Dopamine is powerful stuff, but by knowing how it works you can use it to your advantage.

When you rely on sweet treats as your primary source of pleasure, you are training your dopamine system to become dependent on that form of pleasure. But if you diversify your sources of pleasure, your brain will get plenty of dopamine from doing those other things, so the sense of deprivation will be much less stark when you take out the cookies.

Let’s say you have a habit of having a few pieces of chocolate at 3:00 in the afternoon; you look forward to it and it rewards you for doing good work. There are several strategies you can use to give yourself a similar dose of pleasure so you won’t feel so deprived when you take the chocolate out of your routine. Some other sources of pleasure could include:

— walking barefoot in the grass
— drinking a delicious cup of herbal tea
— giving yourself a full body stretch
— talking to a dear friend or family member
— taking some deep breaths outside...

I know, I know! These things probably don’t sound nearly as delicious as the chocolate does right now. But that’s not necessarily all about the chocolate itself: It’s also about the way you’ve conditioned yourself for the chocolate habit — the anticipation, the ritual. When you fill your life with other pleasurable things and condition yourself for different rituals, taking out the sweet treats isn’t such a big deal.

Understanding pleasure and reward is one of the first lessons in my course Breaking Free from Sugar — it’s that important. In the course I also explain the three different ways we become dependent on sugar:
— Physiologically (3 ways)
— Emotionally, and
— Habitually.

I can’t wait for you to experience the freedom that comes from being out of the clutches of sugar. Really. It will change your life. You get to experience a sense of personal agency that was always undermined by being out of control with bread and treats. And, you take away whole categories of unnecessary mind chatter, including being concerned about what you can eat, and all the denigrating self-talk that comes after a binge.

For more information on why sugar is so bad for you, please visit If you’re ready to quit, go to to sign-up for the nest session.

About the author

Dr. Andrea Grayson is a communications consultant specializing in behavior change and teaches in the Masters of Public Health program in the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. She is the creator of the online course Breaking Free from Sugar, which includes everything she learned quitting a life-long carb addiction, and addresses the physiological, emotional and habitual aspects of sugar dependency.

Disclaimer: the article is for informational/educational purposes only and the reader should contact a qualified professional before making significant health and lifestyle changes.

Originally published at on September 11, 2020.



Dr. Andrea Grayson

Andrea is a Communications Consultant and Professor in the MPH program at UVM. She is creator of More info at: