Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A rant about food cues...

When I created the
Fierce. Fit. Fearless. FB group the other day, one of the rules I created was for members to please not post recipes or photos of food on the group's wall. Well, someone forgot about the rule and posted a picture of some kind of protein pudding or fluff attempt on the wall. I asked them to please refrain from doing so again and she was cool with that...but the incident got me thinking about WHY this rule is a good one.

The majority of us in this group for female IFers or those women interested in learning more about IF, fast at least 14 hours a day - no food or anything with caloric content. Every other page I troll on FB or online in general has food porn everywhere. Feed the Animal, Paleo-whatever, Kenneth Yim - and, possibly the worst offender through no fault of his own, Martin's own wall where Cheesecake Mastery is a common discussion thread.

We see food on FB, on TV, on billboards, hear about it on the radio - we can't escape food cues no matter where we go or what we do - and, what's worse, they make us want to eat more. I did a little sniffing around and found this research report:

Previous research has shown that exposure to food cues increases eating, especially in restrained eaters. The present study attempted to determine whether this elevated consumption reflects a general desire to eat in response to food cues, or specific desire/craving for the cued food. Restrained and unrestrained eaters were exposed to the smell of either pizza, cookies, or no smell for 10 minutes, were asked to write their thoughts (corresponding to the smell cue) about pizza, cookies or in general, and were then presented with either pizza or cookies to ‘taste and rate’. Results indicated that restrained eaters are more responsive than are unrestrained eaters to pre-eating exposure to smell and thought cues, eating significantly more after such cues. An interaction with food type, however, indicated that restrained eaters ate more only when the food presented to eat was the same as the prior food cues. Self-reported desire to eat, liking, and craving for a particular food increased somewhat for restrained eaters after exposure to the smell and thought of that food. Restrained eaters' intake of a food that differed from the pre-eating food cues did not differ from their intake following no prior exposure to food cues. Restrained eaters thus showed a highly specific response to exposure to food cues. (Ever hear or see a McDonald's ad then actually drive to one to get whatever it was they were advertising?)

In case you were wondering, restrained eaters are defined as people who chronically limit their eating behavior in order to prevent weight gain (Herman & Polivy, 1980). Anorexics are the extreme example of restrained eaters, but anyone who chronically controls what they eat to control their weight is included in this group. The danger is that restrained eaters often lose control and binge (Cheescake mastery anyone?).

If I'm interpreting this accurately, that means all IFers are restrained eaters and are therefore susceptible to negative effects and eating behaviors spurned by food cues. This makes perfect sense to me. Unless I'm busy doing something else, I'm planning my big meals and calories, etc., and looking forward to a once-monthly pigout/cheat day. And this explains why, when I read about Cheesecake or Cheeseburger mastery on Martin's FB page, I want to eat cheesecake and cheeseburgers. Which is partly why I've been avoiding Martin's page more and more...

Regardless of the propensity to binge, however, I don't see how IFing or restrained eating is really negative or unsustainable in the long-term. I mean, it's not like I have a cheesecake handy in my fridge at work and reading about Cheesecake mastery doesn't send me driving to the nearest Wendy's. Now, if there was a Cheesecake Factory nearby I'd be hosed...Anyway, I know plenty of people who don't watch what they eat or how much they eat who have serious binge days on top of not giving a shit about their diet.

Personally, I've used this method to successfully lose 14 lbs in three months while gaining a significant amount of muscle (from the training). Yes, I get cravings for sweets - lately it's been in the form of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. I look forward to coming back from a big training session and enjoying my cereal before dinner. But, #1 I'm on a severely restricted high-protein diet on my "rest days." I didn't have these cravings when I was eating closer to my maintenance calories; and #2, I don't drink non-diet beverages of any kind - even OJ anymore, and rarely do I imbibe in my favorite - red wine; and I skip the bread basket 95% of the time - So I let myself have a bowl of cereal or a few Oreos every other day. Big deal.

So, three days a week I am eating 110 fewer calories in a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with skim milk than I would get if I had one large plain bagel and a glass of OJ - And this is not every day. Think about that the next time you bite into that bagel or buttered roll at breakfast time.

Plain bagel: 210 calories, 45 g carbs, 8g protein, 0g fiber, 1g fat
8 oz Tropicana OJ: 110 calories, 26g carbs, 2 g protein
Total: 320 calories, 71g carbs, 10g protein, 0g fiber, 1g fat

3/4 cup Cinnamon Toast Crunch:130 calories, 25g carbs, 1g protein, 1g fiber
1 cup skim milk: 80 calories, 12g carbs, 8g protein
Total: 210 calories; 37g carbs; 1g fiber, 9g protein

Anyway, I digress. In my case, I can pretty much guarantee that my cravings are primarily motivated physiologically by a body that wants more calories. I am, however, susceptible to the influence of food cues as are the rest of you most of the time.

The moral of the story? Go somewhere else to obsess about food. In the meantime, don't post photos of meals and snacks on my group's wall. :P


Emy said...

Haha. Love this.

Jess said...

It's hard to critique a study based on the abstract. Do you have the link to the full today per chance? Some questions I’d be curious to have answered/thoughts:

-Does being subjected to food cues in a lab setting translate well to real-life situational cues?

-Is it the food cue itself prompting increased cravings or is there something mediating that relationship? Ie. Do restrained eaters experience more cravings because of the food itself or do they experience more cravings because those foods have emotional ties and being exposed to those emotional triggers made them more likely to eat? Or do restrained eaters experience more cravings because they the food cue represents impulsivity and being carefree?

-Would the actual increased cravings translate into increased consumption? This would be the most interesting part to know. I will try and find the study but I’ve read a study circulated lately that showed that the more you think about eating craving X, the less you will eat it. Though counterintuitive, I found it completely helped. Again, I will try and look for that study.

-Did the unrestrained eaters simply experience less cravings because they already eat those things? Ie. If as a restrained eater, I ate cake but worked into into my cals to prevent weight gain, would the same thing occour?

Anyways, I completely respect that for some posting or talking too much about food might be difficult, so it’s a reasonable request. Personally, I don’t find that it impacts me one bit as I am not an emotional or impulsive eater. I would suspect personality type plays a big role in this.

sam said...

I read something once about craving (desire is really what it is). It went something like, letting a craving arise and pass is seeing it for what it is; an impulse. If you grab it by saying “I want this” or “I want that” your resistance gives it power. Then it becomes a compulsion that has you and you have to deal with it. If you can let it come and go without it taking hold, it becomes nothing more than passing thought.

Anonymous said...

I agree- enough pictures of food!! Post some pics of dead lift form and proper squat form!