In another stunning example of how research has finally caught up with what we all knew anyway, scientists have determined that Oreos are as addictive as cocaine. Since the 10,000 taste buds in your mouth are all connected to pleasure centers in the brain, and additional taste receptors in the esophagus, stomach, and pancreas also drive your appetite and your food choices, it’s not too surprising that a cookie containing both sugar and most people’s other addiction—chocolate—is a hit with your body. Although I did not rely on scientific mouse studies for my understanding of the issue, the mouse studies prove my point. As one article on the finding puts it, “If you give a mouse a cookie…he will want the whole bag!!” If any of you are like me, you’ve had cookies that good too, and you did eat the whole bag.
I once dated a guy who used to buy a year’s worth of Girl Scout cookies every time they became available. I helped myself to a couple of his Thin Mints one day, and before I knew it I had downed the whole sleeve—then not long after, the whole box. The enraged boyfriend reminded me that the few boxes of cookies in his freezer were all the stash he had to last an entire year, and I had no words to defend my misbehavior except, “Once I got the taste of them in my mouth, I couldn’t stop eating them.” He looked askance at this defense, probably because he did not have an uncontrollable urge to eat the cookies and was actually capable of making 6 boxes of cookies last for a whole year.
Still, the experience taught me something about myself. Although I went literally years without eating fattening foods in high school so that I could fit into the ridiculously minuscule-sized clothes that were the trend back then--in fact, one year I even refused to eat any of my own birthday cake--just a couple of hours with that box of cookies and it was as if I had no will power at all. Once I’d eaten the first cookie, all I could think about was eating the next one...and the next. If this is what cocaine addiction is like, then I totally understand how it would be hard to break.
My non-mouse “study” was conducted in the 1980s, long before this study with the Oreos. I think that was the first time I suspected that food manufacturers might be putting ingredients in food that spiked the appetite. At the time, it was just conjecture, but now there is ample evidence to show that it is absolutely true. Food manufacturers will put pretty much anything in your food if it will get you to buy more of it. A surprising number of processed foods contain those ingredients.
The moral of this story is that even if you aren’t a mouse, having a taste for appetite-stimulating treats like Oreos or Thin Mints can turn you into a sweets addict. Once the pleasure centers in the brain are super-stimulated like that, the craving for those trigger foods remains for a long time. Then when you take a bite again, even years later, the cycle starts all over again—once more, a finding from another non-mouse study of my own. Sometimes I just cave and eat the thing I want, knowing that it will be harder to resist it afterward for awhile. However, I’ve noticed that when I’m satisfied with the rest of my food, I’m not as desperate for a food thrill. When every meal and snack is satisfying, I’m not as open to starting up that cycle again, because I know where it will lead. However, if I’m too busy to make a satisfying meal and just have the same thing I had the meal before or the day before, the craving starts to build again. Sometimes there’s just no time to make the foods that will really hit the spot, but when I can manage it, I’m better at resisting temptation.
So here is the wisdom I’ve gleaned from my non-mouse studies: do your best to take the time to make meals you really want and that will satisfy you, not just fill you up. I’m talking about meals that you truly savor and look forward to—ones that cause you to say to yourself afterward, “That hit the spot” instead of, “What else can I have now?” It may take a little longer to add a homemade dressing to my salad, but if it makes the difference between just staving off hunger and really pleasing my senses, it’s worth it. Plus, it may save me tons of money in those illicit Thin Mints with their legal but insidious cocaine-like addictive ingredients. Or have I said too much?