It’s Hedonic – Resistance Is Futile
by Bonnie Wurst
Chocolate, ice cream, tortilla chips, peanuts and that extra slice of salami or bacon; we’ve all felt guilty at one time or another when yielding to the desire – for more. Nutrition and calories aside, we don’t have to feel guilty about it anymore. Apparently it’s not our fault!
There are experts now saying we shouldn’t feel guilty when over-indulging or giving in to the temptation of goodies from the ‘feel good’ food group. Resistance is futile – Star Trek’s ‘Borgs’ apparently had it right.
According to the latest studies from the Oregon Research Institute, ‘with time, dopamine (the ‘happy hormone) released in the presence of such foods gets stronger, but starts to decline when we actually consume them. In other words, we need more of these foods to get our “hit”.’
Well then, chocolate cheesecake is my drug of choice.
Scientists are no longer blaming the urge to binge on high-fat, high-sugar foods on lack of self-control. The urge to finish off that tub of ice cream is now thought to be due to hedonic hunger – a powerful physiological response over which we have little control. It’s not a question of will power.
A recent article in the London Daily Telegraph by Cherrill Hicks claims that ‘experts believe there are two drivers behind what and how much we eat. The first, the homeostatic system, regulates appetite according to the body’s need for energy. Homeostasis is controlled by communication between the brain and the digestive system, therefore when we are in an energy deficit we get signals such as shakiness, stomach rumbles and hunger pangs.
Been there. Done that.
But ‘the second driver, hedonic hunger, can override the former. It is defined as a physiological response, involving the brain’s “reward centers” to smelling, seeing and thinking about certain foods. The result is that we eat not according to energy needs, but purely for pleasure.’
Been there. Done that. Still do that.
The hedonic system is thought to have evolved from the time when humans were hunters and gatherers and did not always know where the next meal was coming from. Primitive man developed the need to override homeostasis and to eat more than the body required.
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‘‘People shouldn’t feel guilty for not being able to resist certain foods,’’ says Zoe Griffiths, a dietician and head of public health at Weight Watchers UK. ‘‘It’s not a question of not being strong enough.’’
A-HA! It’s my great-great-great-great x 1000 plus, ancestor’s fault! Okay, they didn’t farm back then, meat was at a premium and there were no big chain food markets or grocery stores. The diet of my primitive ancestor Uncle Grok largely depended on whether he was a gatherer or a hunter. The gatherer fed on fruits, tubers, roots, berries and edible shrubs. The hunter fed on insects, termites and animal prey.
Maybe Uncle Grok could have chosen a lower fat cut of Mammoth or Sabertooth Tiger and focused more on tubers and berries. It might have helped all his cave nieces and nephews down the evolutionary line. As for termites, barring their fat and protein content, I’m sure that gene was turned off a long time ago. I’ve never had the desire for a termite-caesar salad. Even with capers.
In 2013 A.D., our hedonic genes cannot be used as an excuse to eat badly. Us modern Homo Sapiens have evolved beyond the need to gorge ourselves silly – even if we can’t make it to Loblaws before closing hours. With food so readily available (for most people) we can now live healthier lives. The obesity problem in our society is a natural reaction to the food environment we live in. By understanding our hedonic tendencies, we can empower ourselves to make better choices. Many of us do, even if we fall off the wagon once in a while.
But the next time I open a bag of Double-Fudge Fudgeo cookies and keep reaching for ‘just one more’ or pick at ever little morsel of crispy bacon left in the fry pan, I won’t have to feel as remorseful about it. I might have to spend extra time on the treadmill or opt for a size up from my ‘flexible’ wardrobe and stick to salads for a while – but I shall repent no more.
It’s hedonic, resistance is futile… and it’s not my fault!
Bonnie Wurst is a freelance journalist, a weekly columnist for the West End Times, a novelist, ghost writer (not the scary kind) and humorist. Her book “Damaged Goods Re-Stitched” can be found on Amazon.com. Bonnie is available for speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org