How fatty food cravings really are all in the mind...

Just to let you know, this post was written before I started the paleo diet to help ease my psoriasis. Nowadays I eat a more allergy-friendly diet, but leave these older, non-paleo posts up in case they are useful to readers, as I know not everyone eats the same as I do. Thanks for your understanding. 

I've been a bit sporadic in posting recipes on the blog recently, and you really need a bit of an explanation. So here it is. 

The truth is, I've been working a bit on psychology and how the mind affects pretty much everything we do. We tend to think that we have choices. We think we're totally in charge of our legs, walking towards that hot dog stand in town ready to guzzle down an extra large hot dog with chips, even though we had breakfast just an hour ago. We think it's completely our choice when we're biting chunks off a Dairy Milk at 8.30am on the way to work. But the truth is, what's going on in the brain is really very complicated, and I've found that you might not be in charge as much as you think. 

If you subscribe to the brilliant psychology-based blog Psyblog, you will already be quite familiar with some of these scenarios, and even if you don't, they might ring some bells. Do you recognise any of these?  

If we're in a bad mood we want to eat sugary and fatty foods

If you've ever been dumped and then wanted to eat an entire tub of chocolate chip ice cream, you'll know what I mean here. There is a ton of evidence to suggest that when we're in a bad mood, we eat more. In 1994, researchers Greeno and Wing noticed that when a group of dieters were put in a bad mood, they ate more. But feeling down and anxious doesn't just make us increase the quantities we eat, more specifically, we eat more of the bad stuff. A study by Baumeister et al (2001) found that when people were put in a bad mood (by being told a sad story about a car crash) they ate more salty and sugary snacks than the group who were told a happy story. The researchers said 'these findings suggest that people typically respond to distress by eating more fattening, unhealthy foods because they expect that enjoying such treats will make them feel better.'

hot dog bitten mustard
Ever wondered why you keep thinking about that hot dog you smelled cooking from the stand even though you try to block it out?

Trying not to think of that knickerbocker glory with cream on top will just make you want it more

Try this. Don't think of a white bear. Don't. Just don't think of that white bear. Once you try it, you'll find it's quite impossible, as that white bear drifts repeatedly into your mind, even though you try to block it out. Subjects in Wegner's 1987 study pressed a bell every time they saw the bear even though they were trying not to think of it. Now, replace the bear with the smell of a bacon sandwich that wafted out of the cafe on the way to work. Trying to block it out (to be 'good') will just make you want it more. Sound familiar? 

We are creatures of habit
Chances are, if you start to regularly grab a bacon and egg McMuffin on the way to work, you'll start to wake up craving a bacon and egg McMuffin. And it'll turn into a daily ritual, whether you think you should do it or not. A piece in Psyblog recently stated that the best way to predict the food you're going to eat tomorrow is to to look at what you ate yesterday. They go on to say that we're creatures of habit and that 'changing our eating habits is hard because so many decisions are made automatically, in response to routine situations we find ourselves in'. They also talk about mindless eating - where you 'zone out' and don't pay attention to what you eat, so eating becomes almost an automatic function. 

All this just goes to show how influential the mind really is when we're choosing which types of food - and how much of it - we want to eat. It also has implications for strategies used when we want to try and control what food items we go for - suppressing thoughts of fatty or sugary foods doesn't work - and being on a diet and then feeling down if it's not working as quickly as we'd like could lead to snack cravings. The results of these studies are interesting, but they also explain why you can't get the thought of that bacon sandwich out of your head all day.

Interesting, eh? Were you surprised by any of these studies? Does any of this ring true for you?