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US psychologist Dr Doug Lisle shares insights about ‘the Pleasure Trap’

On 19 February 2020, an audience in Canberra heard from prominent US evolutionary psychologist Doug Lisle PhD about the ‘Pleasure Trap’ that locks people in to unhealthy habits, and how we can overcome this hidden force – with supporting presentations by Doctors For Nutrition.

Doug Lisle PhD presenting in Canberra, February 202
Doug Lisle PhD presenting in Canberra, February 202

Why do we struggle to make healthy choices? This is the question that acclaimed psychologist Doug Lisle PhD explored in his keynote talk in Canberra last Wednesday night.

A thought leader in evolutionary theory and human psychology, Dr Lisle has observed that the root cause of weight gain and other self-destructive behaviours can be attributed to a psychological phenomenon known as ‘the pleasure trap’.

A crowd of 140 turned out in Canberra to hear about the pleasure trap and how to escape it. According to Dr Lisle, losing weight is both the number one personal goal and the biggest single cause of psychological angst amongst people living in the developed world. The pleasure trap explains the dopamine-based brain reward systems that predispose us to seek calorie-dense food, and other experiences that improve our chances of survival and reproduction.

The empowering message is that, as soon as we start to transition from highly-processed, nutrient-poor foods, we begin to restore the biological processes that naturally keep us running at maximum efficiency and vitality.

The Pleasure Trap - Doug Lisle
The event was put on by Canberra Weekly and supported by Doctors For Nutrition

Once you are free of addicting foods you will begin to appreciate the subtle pleasures that fruits, vegetables, beans, and intact whole grains provide – Dr Doug Lisle, PhD

In support of the keynote talk, Dr Lisle’s colleague, psychologist Jennifer Howk PhD, shared her own inspiring story from addiction to junk food and alcohol to living a healthy lifestyle, free from addiction.

Representatives from Doctors For Nutrition opened the evening with introductory talks on the powerful role of plant-based nutrition in addressing obesity and other chronic lifestyle-related conditions. General Manager Marion Meloni provided an overview about the charity’s mission, vision and activities, followed by GP Dr Stephanie Dakin who walked through some of the key evidence on preventative nutrition, in particular the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet for people who struggle with their weight. Dr Dakin contrasted this with diets such as keto and Atkins that may result in short-term weight loss but have proven health risks over the longer term.

The WFPB diet
Slide from Dr Stephanie Dakin's presentation: a whole food plant-based diet is proven to sustain long-term weight loss

An audience Q&A session brought up a range of topics, such as the importance of eating minimally-processed plant-based foods, the dangers of fad diets, and how we can make changes step by step to allow our taste buds and dopamine response to re-sensitise to healthy food supportive of health and wellbeing.

One of the attendees on the night said she has been unsure what to expect but had found the event eye-opening. “It’s refreshing to receive non-blaming insights about why weight-gain happens alongside practical advice on how to implement a plant-based diet to sustain an optimum BMI and overall health”, she said.

The event was hosted by Nick Samaras from The Canberra Weekly, and supported by Doctors For Nutrition. The original event listing can be accessed here.

About the presenters

Doug Lisle PhD

Since completing his PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia, Dr Lisle’s decorated career has seen him work as a lecturer in psychology at Stanford University, and as a forensic psychologist in both the Texas and California criminal justice systems. Today, Dr Lisle is the psychologist for the McDougall Wellness Program in Santa Rosa, California. Read more.

Jen Howk PhD

Dr Howk is an author, researcher, and interdisciplinary social scientist. She earned her BA with honours from the University of Washington in Seattle and completed her MA and PhD in political science at Harvard University. Dr Howk’s graduate work and ongoing research explore questions at the intersection of social vulnerability, resilience, and wellbeing. Read more.

Marion Meloni

Marion Meloni is a management consultant by background, with experience in the healthcare sector and a special interest in whole food plant-based nutrition. She was previously CEO of Doctors For Nutrition.

Dr Stephanie Dakin

Dr Stephanie Dakin is a GP based in Canberra and serves as DFN’s Ambassadoc for the Australian Capital Territory. Providing evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle advice is a cornerstone of her clinical work. Full bio.

Learn more about the pleasure trap

Lisle, DJ & Goldhamer, A (2006) The pleasure trap: mastering the hidden force that undermines health & happiness. Summertown, Tenn.: Healthy Living Publications

The pleasure trap TEDx talk: Douglas Lisle at TEDx Fremont (17-minute video)

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