Friday, March 22, 2013

Food Reward Friday

This week's luck winner(s)... pastries!!

From scones to baklava to profiteroles, pastries are a great way to overeat and feel classy at the same time.  Pastries have a combination of qualities that make them among the most hyper-palatable of all foods: high calorie density, sugar, fat, starch, no bitterness, and a texture that's easy to chew and swallow rapidly.  Pastries are a perfect example of the fact that low-quality corporate junk food is not the only challenge we face in the modern food environment: hyper-palatable, fattening foods can be quite artful.  They can also be made in the home kitchen for people who wish to take the time.

I do have a pastry every now and then.  In fact, I had two small but excellent pastries right before writing this post.  I was at an upscale buffet-style meal where I had to walk past them to get back to my seat.  The sight of the pastries was a cue that triggered a desire (motivation) to eat the pastries.  The desire was strong enough that it overcame my cognitive desire to avoid them for health reasons: I gave in and put them on my plate.  Despite no longer being hungry after finishing the savory portion of my meal, I ate both pastries and they were excellent.  As soon as I had finished the second one, the first thing that came to mind was "I need to get more of these and wolf them down".  I had to exert a little bit of willpower (cognitive restraint) to keep myself from getting up and putting more of them on my plate.  This is how reward works.  Cue -> motivation -> behavior -> goal attainment -> reinforcement.

I don't feel any guilt about having the pastries, just as I don't feel any guilt about having a glass of whiskey from time to time.  I don't do it often enough for it to be a problem, mostly because I rarely expose myself to the temptation (controlling cue exposure is key).  But it is interesting to observe my own reward system in action when I do expose myself to unnaturally rewarding foods.


Sanjeev said...

suggestion for your next one.

I stayed next to a maccaron shop in Montreal once. Must have put on 5 pounds from those and 10 from the poutine.

Luc said...

Nice post Stephen. I do feel same way about avoiding those kind of foods. I'm also getting better at restraining myself from eating snacks or desserts, especially when I already ate a meal. But yesterday my girlfriend decided to make maple taffy on the snow after supper for the kids (and herself!) and I could not keep myself from eating too much. Fell asleep easily but woke up from bad dreams, with an upset stomach!

Robert said...

Pastries are why I put on 30 pounds in college (in 3 months).

I baked chocolate chip cookies last night and felt no real craving to eat them because I did not eat any.

However, for me, I can never eat just one pastry. Once I start, it is exceptionally difficult for me to stop.

So I do not think Pringles has a monopoly on the "betcha can't eat just one" slogan.

The slogan is applicable to all processed foods, like Dr. Guynet's writings have shown.

David L said...

To me, the most interesting thing I find about pastries is how they are mostly made out of identical ingredients: flour, butter, sugar. There's such an amazing variety for a similar set of inputs.

spughy said...

Pastries got me through a nasty bout of post-partum depression. Just saying.

detroit dog said...

uh oh.

I just returned from a after-funeral luncheon. Each table received a tray full of pastries. I ate two chocolate macaroons.

This feels like I'm in a confessional.

Unknown said...

Having baked my share of pastries, I'd say that if most people had to bake their own, they would eat them a lot less often! After I spent a week baking croissants in culinary school, I was pretty much over pastry. :-)

Unknown said...

Excellent topic today. It's easy for me to avoid processed food and anything fast food. Much much harder to avoid pastries. I also agree with Sharon above - having made my favorite Czech pastries exactly once, I have had no trouble avoiding them when I have to make them for myself. Luckily (?) for me the nearest Czech bakery I like is around 1200 miles away.

JWO said...

Mmm spogliatelle are the best. That is living.

Diana said...

Pastries are a weakness of mine. It's good to know I'm not the only one.

Dr. Curmudgeon Gee said...

yes, eat a tons of croissants & feel "classy" about it. XD


Anonymous said...

"Controlling cue exposure is key" Very true, but when I'm around others whose diets include temptations (good pastry) or junk (dunkin donuts) I lean more on a sense of superiority. Although more false then not, I can often successfully resist by satisfying my ego rather than my appetite. The occasional recognition by others that I eat well provides the intermittent reinforcement that causes my behavior to persist.

BTW - that's the Lay's potato chip slogan. Couldn't resist.

Jin said...

Yes, pastries, in fact, most baked goods are a weakness for me. One of my very favorite highly rewarding foods!

We cannot keep them in the house. I rarely bake any longer because I was astonished (and a little disgusted) with how quickly our family would burn thru a batch of cookies or muffins.

Everyone found themselves wandering back in the kitchen for more until POOF, all gone.

Thanks to this series at WHS, I gained increased awareness about the pull baked goods have on me, & how delicious and wonderful it feels eating them----but most helpful of all was the awareness of the hollow feeling afterwards and the endless wanting for more.

I'll confess there was a time in my life that I lived on coffee, cookies and other baked goods.

Karen Fili Sullivan said...

Interesting. I have added a step to eating and making choices. I work to understand what my body can and cannot handle. These things: sugar, flour/grains are cannot. I get sick. It has taken me a lifetime to recognize that the "sickness" I encounter just isn't worth it. Also, I break out all over in fat! Rewards like this aren't something I'm able to do. Where do you see this discernment fitting into your formula?

Thanks, I love your posts!
Karen of

Mavis said...

The only thing that keeps me from eating things like this is a gluten sensitivity. Unlike the hideous foods you usually post on FWFs, these look good.

Tim said...

Jin - you should keep on living on the coffee though. It's very healthy. Just don't add sugar ;)

I think pastries or cake is a good example of how not only or food environment but also our cultural norms have changed in regard to food. They are not an industrial Frankenstein food. They are nothing your great-grandmother wouldn't have recognized - in fact, she probably loved them and made them herself. The emphasis is on the second verb though. She actually made them herself. Or maybe she already got them from the bakery - but they weren't around ubiquitously and they were reserved for special occasions, once or maybe twice a week. Cake was traditionally eaten on Sunday afternoon, to celebrate the day. It was something to anticipate - a very meaningful reward for having endured another strenuous week and thus only to be indulged in on Sunday. And that was perfectly fine, it added joy to her life as feasting is supposed to do. But today we "feast" all the time, and feasting is rapidly loosing its meaning and its original social and psychological function. When we have those foods 24/7, we deteriorate the joy our great-grandmother once derived from them to some crude and shallow pleasure which is actually making us sick - psysically and psychologically.

Tesla said...

It looks very good, yummy! :D

Richard Nikoley said...


The French called. They want their name back. :)

Oddly enough, when I lived in France and I don't know why—perhaps the quality or the "specialness"—I never ate many. Also, I actually prefer a plain croissant to just about anything else. The chocolate ones are nice too.

Or, perhaps it's the way breakfast goes. One croissant or a chocolate one, cafe au lait with a couple of sugar cubes, for breakfast. Even still, my favorite breakfast was about 1/3 of a fresh baguette (even with croissants available) with nice sweet butter and unsweetened black tea.

When I returned to the US in 1992, I put on 10 pounds in the first month.