|Krispy Kreme donuts being made. Hopefully this image isn't appetizing enough to make you want donuts.|
Raise your hand if you had a donut at work today. I know many of you did! Donuts are an integral part of US professional culture. People bring donuts in to work as a treat for others, to make boring meetings go faster, and to ingratiate themselves to co-workers.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you should know why we find donuts so viscerally compelling: they combine high calorie density with sugar, fat, and starch, in an easy-to-eat package. These are some of the properties that our brains are hard-wired to appreciate.
Most people like donuts, but not everyone does-- and some people are able to avoid eating them even though they like them. Why? The conscious, deliberative parts of the brain are able to modify the impulses generated by older, unconscious parts of the brain that regulate visceral desire. This process is called executive control, and some people are better at it than others. Executive control helps us guide our behavior toward constructive, long-term goals such as leanness and health, rather than succumbing to short-term satisfaction that may compromise our lives in the long run. Willpower is a component of executive control.
Executive control often acts based on abstract concepts, such as the idea that eating a food considered unhealthy will cause us to gain weight or develop a disease in the future. This allows us to rein in the impulse to eat the donut now. In some cases, executive control can be so strong that it causes people to cease enjoying a food. This is something you often encounter in the alternative health community, where people convince themselves that some food item (e.g. meat, bread, dairy, or sugar) is highly toxic. In this case, a sufficiently strong negative stigma seems to provoke visceral disgust.
Photo credit: DO'Neil via Wikipedia