by Cassy Fiano | March 8, 2008 5:40 pm
I’m sure it’s happened to us all before. I know it has to me.
There’s a Krispy Kreme that was directly on the way to a place where I used to work. During rush hour traffic, I’d usually get stuck right in front of it, because traffic crawls that time of day on that particular stretch of the boulevard. I’d sit there in traffic, smelling freshly baked Krispy Kreme donuts, tummy rumbling from not having had breakfast, and wishing I could have a nice, warm, yummy frosted donut. After a few minutes of sitting there inhaling the sugary-sweet odor, I’d think, “Aw, hell”, and my resolve would collapse completely. I’d pull into the parking lot, go through the drive-thru — yes, Krispy Kremes have drive-thrus — get a dozen donutes, and come to work the office savior.
Don’t we all know that story? I don’t eat donuts often, but man, they are quite possibly one of the most tempting foods ever created by mankind. Obesity’s skyrocketing, heart disease kills more people every year than anything else, yet still we just can’t resist those sugary, sticky, soft donuts.
Well, of course, along comes a new study that reassures us all that when we stuff our faces with donuts, it isn’t our fault!
New research from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine reveals how hunger works in the brain and the way neurons pull your strings to lunge for the sweet fried dough.
Krispy Kremes, in perhaps their first starring role in neurological research, helped lead to the discovery. In the study, subjects were tested twice — once after gorging on up to eight Krispy Kreme donuts until they couldn’t eat anymore, and on another day after fasting for eight hours.
In both sessions, people were shown pictures of donuts and screwdrivers, while researchers examined their brains in fMRI’s.
When the subjects saw pictures of donuts after the eating binge, their brains didn’t register much interest. But after the fast, two areas of the brain leaped into action upon seeing the donuts. First, the limbic brain — an ancestral part of the brain present in all animals from snakes to frogs to humans — lit up like fireworks.
“That part of the brain is able to detect what is motivationally significant. It says, not only am I hungry, but here is food,” said senior author Marsel Mesulam, M.D., the Ruth and Evelyn Dunbar Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School and a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Next, the brain’s spatial attention network shifted the hungry subject’s focus toward the new object of desire — in this case the Krispy Kremes.
“If we didn’t have this part of the brain, every time you passed by a bakery you would have no control over your eating,” explained Mesulam, who also is director of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the Feinberg School. “If your nerve cells fired every time you smelled something edible, then you’d eat all the time, not just when you’re hungry.”
“There’s a very complex system in the brain that helps to direct our attention to items in our environment that are relevant to our needs, for example, food when we are hungry but not when we are full,” said Aprajita Mohanty, lead author of the paper and a post-doctoral fellow at the Feinberg School.
Mesulam noted the research demonstrates how our brain decides what to pay attention to in a world full of stimuli — not just sweets. “If you are in a forest and you hear rustling, the context urges you to pay full attention since this could be a sign of danger,” he said. “If you are in your office, the context makes the identical sound less relevant. A major job of the brain is to match response to context.”
The study helped Mesulam understand his own behavior. “Now I know why I can’t resist walking into the bakery some days when I smell fresh scones,” he said.
Yes, yes, it’s all because of the neurons in our brains! We’re just animals, we have no control over our urges and desires!
I am so tired of these bullshit studies saying that it isn’t our fault that we stuff our face with Krispy Kremes, it isn’t our fault that we’re obese, it isn’t our fault that we can’t stop eating.
Everyone has control over what we do or do not eat; we’re all responsible for our own actions. Whenever I drove into work and got stuck in front of the Krispy Kreme, well sure, I was tempted. But it was all me caving to temptation; I could’ve easily ignored it and told myself that I didn’t need to stop and get donuts for everyone (and for me!). I could’ve waited a few minutes until I passed by the Krispy Kreme, and the smells were gone, and I would forget all about the craving for donuts. Many days I did. But some days, I decided “To hell with it”, and just gave in.
The researchers had the participants undergo eight-hour donut-eating binges. Now, here’s a thought: if you eat something all the time, then that is what you will crave. If you eat fast food — McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, etc. — non stop, then that is what you will crave. If you eat Krispy Kreme donuts every morning, then you will crave Krispy Kreme donuts every morning.
And guess what? The fault is no one’s but your own.
Our brains probably do everything these researchers say they do. There’s no doubting that. But in study after study, a key component of why people are fat is left out: choice.
We are tempted by food, drugs, alcohol, sex, and a million other things every day. We all have the ability to say NO. Sometimes — a lot of times — we don’t. And we can’t blame nature, biology, the government, or anyone or anything else for that. It’s ultimately our choice. This may be the generation of “blame everyone but me”, but it still doesn’t solve the ultimate problem. You can point the finger all day long, but when all is said and done, your actions are yours and yours alone. If you stuff your face with Krispy Kremes, it’s not because you’re a slave to the primal urges of your brain, it’s because you wanted to.
When will there be a study for that?
Hat Tip: Hot Air Headlines
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