|Your cravings do, or at least did, serve a purpose. Cravings remind us to seek and consume food. Early hominids and other primates were not nuanced thinkers. Their pre-frontal cortex was highly underdeveloped. They did not plan ahead, they acted on instinct and in the context of their immediate environment. In the early days of mankind, the connection between food, energy and survival was not understood. Cravings for food incentivized people to expend the energy and effort necessary to ensure that these people ate enough to survive.|
When we eat, the act of eating is reinforced by the release of the pleasurable and rewarding neurochemical dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel good, making our brain happy, and our brains like to feel happy. No food delivers a more potent or rapid release of dopamine than sugar, as sugar (or technically glucose) is the basic energy source that powers the brain. The brain cannot store glucose or build up a reserve, so it needs to receive it on a regular basis. Our cravings helped to motivate and provide incentive for early humans to seek and eat the food that the body converts into glucose that powers the brain.
Very early in life, even as infants, we come to naturally associate food, especially high-sugar foods, with pleasurable and rewarding feelings. This preference for, and the drive to seek, high-sugar foods is facilitated by the cravings we all experience. However, in the days of early Homo sapiens food was scarce, as was the availability of sugar in the natural environment. Overconsumption of any food, and specifically of sugar, was an unusual and rare event (and consequently, being overweight or being obese almost never occurred).
Cravings are powerful, but, intriguing research from Dana Small of Yale University, offers a highly plausible explanation for why some cravings are so much more difficult to resist than others (and even more dangerous to your waistline). His research suggests that when people are exposed to foods high in both carbs and fats, as are most highly processed foods, our ability to evaluate their nutritional value is impaired. Our ability to assess a food’s nutritional value has a highly adaptive purpose, i.e., to help us to identify, seek and find high energy foods. But, this innate ability goes awry with processed foods that are high in both carbs and fats.
In research Small conducted, he found that highly processed foods and snacks stimulate the brain’s reward center significantly more than foods high in only carbs or fats. Further, the calorie content of such foods were consistently under-estimated and simultaneously, their nutritional value tended to be over-estimated.
He hypothesized that in the early days of Homo sapiens, in nature, foods high in both carbs and fats were very rare. In fact, such foods have only been around for about 150 years since the advent of the first processed foods like potato chips and donuts. Our brains have simply not had enough time to adapt to the prevalence and high availability of processed foods. Today processed foods make-up about two-thirds of what Americans buy at the grocery store. It is hard to miss the correlation in the explosion of highly processed food availability over the past 40 years and the corresponding rapid rise in the rate of obesity.
It is also true that people who are overweight, especially if obese, are more likely to feel even greater anticipatory pleasure from eating high-carb, high-fat snack foods than other people. For these people, resisting a craving to eat this type of food is even more difficult than for those who are not overweight. Fortunately, the Take 5 technique can also mitigate these high-intensity cravings and will be even more useful to weight-challenged people who need it the most.
In her seminal book, How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett says that, “Your brain’s most important job is not thinking or feeling or even seeing, but keeping your body alive and well so that you survive and thrive.” This is why your unconscious self, the part that allows you to react automatically when you face a threat is so powerful. Your unconscious self always remains vigilant and ready to act very rapidly with little or any conscious thought. This is why the emotionally impulsive cravings that originate in your unconscious mind are so forceful and so hard to resist and this is why Take 5 is so very useful.
Take 5 is exactly the assist, the boost, our brain’s need to counter the extraordinary anticipatory pleasure (and resultant burst of ‘feel-good’ dopamine) generated by the thought of eating these high-carb, high-fat foods. Cravings are very hard to resist and Take 5 was designed to rapidly help defuse them.
Excerpt from My Book: Take 5: A Transformative Diet Lifestyle in the Era of the Coronavirus. Available on Amazon.com: Link: