8 Reasons Why You Act Against Your Own Better Judgment
Mark’s Daily Apple
by Mark Sisson: No
More Styrofoam Rice Crackers for Us!
We all make
poor choices against our better judgment. It's kind of what makes
us human – the tendency to actively and willfully make decisions
that will result in unfavorable outcomes. Sure, the candy bar tastes
good, but you know you'll feel awful after eating it. Yeah, that
blog is fun to read, but you know you'd be much happier if you finished
that essay for class first. And yet five minutes later, a candy
bar wrapper sits, emptied of its contents; your molars house fragments
of nougat and sport a caramel sheen; light
nausea approaches; and you find yourself wading knee deep through
comment sections, MS Word window minimized. What just happened?
Why did you do those things that you told yourself you wouldn't,
that you warned yourself against, and whose negative ramifications
are already coming to fruition – just as you predicted?
we began the dialog with my introductory post on akrasia
– the act of knowingly working against one's own interests – but
we didn't get into any details. Today, I'm going to try to provide
a few answers. I'm going to delve into the reasons for akrasia,
particularly as it pertains to making bad eating choices. I won't
discuss psychological issues, per se, instead focusing
on physiological explanations, but keep in mind that the
two are often one and the same. You can't really separate the mind
from the body (well, without killing the person, that is).
pick up the phone to order takeout, open the candy wrapper, shove
the spoon into the jar of Nutella, or accept
the offered slice of cake, we are making a decision. Most health
experts say making the healthy decision is a matter of willpower.
So that if you make an unhealthy decision you simply don't want
it badly enough. Like Bob Newhart in that old
Mad TV sketch, they seem to think all you have to do
is just "STOP IT!"
not that easy. Otherwise, folks wouldn't be making these decisions
that go against their better judgment. Otherwise, they'd indeed
be "stopping it."
So why do we
Many – perhaps
most – poor dietary choices stem from an inability to resist cravings.
And who can blame you, really? Whether they're for chips, sweets,
or something specific like wheat, cravings are difficult to ignore
by design. Their very purpose is to get you to give in to them,
to override your rational side and promote decisive, single-minded
pursuit of whatever it is you crave. Something, then, is at the
heart of these cravings. Something physiological. But what?
You're missing something from your diet and your ancient genes are
misinterpreting the modern cravings.
a disconnect between what our animal bodies need or desire and what
our human minds know is best. When the animal body perceives a deficiency,
some nutrient lacking in the diet, like salt, it often develops
a craving for that nutrient. 20,000 years ago, if you were salt-deficient
you would have gone looking for shellfish
or rock salt, because those are the salt sources you knew. Your
food memory bank was rather limited in scope. Today, that same salt
deficiency might manifest as a craving for Pringles or Cheezits,
because those foods are listed under "salt" in your food memory
at some research on the subject. In one study (PDF),
human volunteers were put on a strict low-sodium diet and treated
with diuretics for ten days, rendering "substantial sodium depletion."
The effects were pretty telling. Salt thresholds – the minimum detectable
level of sodium chloride dissolved in water – lowered dramatically;
the subjects could detect lower levels of salt during sodium-depletion
than they could during sodium-repletion. Furthermore, salt
depletion made salty foods taste better than they had before the
study, and salt-depleted subjects rated the saltiest foods as the
most attractive and desirable.
possible that your "Pringles cravings" are actually salt cravings,
and that the former is simply what your animal body associates with
missing something from your diet and your modern self is misinterpreting
the ancient cravings.
sweet cravings? Paul Jaminet thinks
that sugar cravings might actually be fatty meat cravings. It sounds
crazy on the face of it, but he makes some salient points. First,
certain amino acids are actually slightly sweet. These sweeter amino
acids are also hydrophobic, which means they are found inside cells
and they repel water (fat doesn't mix with water). Hydrophilic amino
acids, which are water-soluble, do not associate with fat, and trigger
tastebuds, are not sweet. A leading theory of sweetness even suggests
that in order for a compound to be sweet (to interact with sweetness
receptors), it must be hydrophobic. Paul suggests that in
a Paleolithic environment with ample prey, bland (rather than sweet)
tubers and less abundant/seasonal fruits, cravings for sweets drove
us to eat calorie-dense, nutrient-rich fatty meat.
yet again, that our animal bodies are confused by the modern (and
totally understandable) conflation of sweet with sugar and misinterpret
what is actually a need for fat.
Perhaps those sweet cravings turn into sugar
binges because sugar isn't actually what your body wants.
addicted to wheat.
peptides that may be able to activate opioid receptors in our
bodies. You know what else activates opioid receptors? Opium, morphine,
and heroin. (I've never tried any of them, but I hear they can inspire
some real devotion from their users. See: Trainspotters,
for a Dream.) I know that may sound glib, and I'll be the
first to admit that research into this is still very preliminary.
You won't find any ironclad evidence on PubMed
that wheat is addictive. But the thinking goes that rather than
hitting you like a ton of bricks and rendering you speechless from
the sublime triggering of your opioid receptors, wheat addiction
manifests as a stubborn lingering thing.
exist, however limited. One older paper (PDF)
that identifies multiple opioid peptides in wheat gluten, suggests
that they are capable of binding to brain opioid receptors via a
"plausible biomechanical mechanism," and deems them of "physiological
significance." Dr. Emily Deans, of Evolutionary Psychiatry,
actually used naltrexone – a drug that blocks opiate receptors
– to curb wheat cravings in celiac patients who are trying to kick
a huge role in the diets of industrialized nations. If you're reading
this, you probably grew up eating it. You may still be eating it
from time to time – and that may be at least partly responsible
for your urge to eat that slice of bread.
the rest of the article
February 17, 2012
© 2012 Mark's Daily Apple
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