Friday, March 6, 2015

Food Reward Friday

This week's lucky "winner"... donuts!!

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


Howard said...

Ah, yes... donuts. The perfect storm of Frankenwheat, sugar, and trans-fats.

Guaranteed to damage your health.

I had my last donut in 1999.

SamAbroad said...

Stephan do you know if anyone has made an attempt to objectively quantify intrinsic reward of a food? A reward index if you will (to rival the glycemic index).

Or is there too much personal preference muddying each person's reaction to a food? For example others may find ice-cream incredibly rewarding and over eat it but I've always found it really filling and can stop at a moderate portion.

RLL said...

Actually a typical glazed doughnut is 300 calories or less. OK for an occasional breakfast, but not for my diabetic self.

Carol said...

Executive control sounds better than "willpower" which makes one think of white knuckles. The backbone of my executive control is my knowledge that sugar/flour/fat will start my compulsions back up. I eat fat and a teeny bit of sugar, no grains and I'm not compulsive.

ICG said...

For me, a big part of KK Donuts' appeal is when they're warm, glaze-dripping, right off the rack. I'm not as much of a purist as some here. I eat them occasionally--usually in large quantities--but just not not often.

I almost always turn them down at work or other occasions when I'm not in their store. They just aren't the same when they're 3 hours old. You can recreate the "hot & fresh" effect a bit with a microwave, but it's still not the same.

Rian said...

Sometimes I feel "lucky" that I am gluten-sensitive and CAN'T eat that stuff. I haven't eaten a donut in years.

Unknown said...

This post makes me think of the marshmallow test.

I grew up eating a lot of donuts; the small ones in convenience store packaging. I ate the donuts you've pictured often in high school.

I haven't really been "in the mood" for a donut in a long time.

When I went VLC, I became convinced that sweets were not appealing. It was like a true taste preference adaptation to my diet - even when tasting an apple my reaction was "wow that is sickly sweet."

For the past 3 years I've found my cravings alternate between pizza, ice cream, and cereal, with the occasional cheesecake or pancake desire. I am always in the mood for pizza. When I crave ice cream, I reflect on how I could care less about cereal, and vice versa. Typically its not a sweet cereal craving, its either rice krispies or corn flakes. If rice crispies, I'll sometimes want them covered in honey, however. Corn flakes + sugar have always been off-putting to me (someone gave that to me when I was a kid and I still remember thinking it tasted weird).

Maximus said...

Executive function can work both ways. It's highly possible you can adhere to and follow your plan for weight loss if you strategically place an amazing tasting donut at just the right time(s). May not work for everyone, but it's worked for me for 7 years and counting.

Jon Pearlstone
The EET Fitness Plan

Mike Sheldrick said...

Insulin, a primary metabolic hormone, plays a dominant role in the regulation of food intake. An increase in the level of circulating insulin produced by its prandial release from endogenous stores is associated with the state of satiety.

Ashley said...

SamAbroad - Len Epstein's Reinforcing value of food laboratory task is a quantification of rewarding value of food (as indexed by how hard people will work for the food), but it differs by person.