Right now my baby is crying it out*. I’ve been trying for 45 minutes (the length of time she’s been crying) to think of some way to make this funny but the truth is I just want to crawl out of my skin and shove nails in my ears. But since I am unable to shed my skin snake-like – although that would make my post workout showers quicker! – and I will likely need my ear drums to be intact for future activities like listening to my son recount the entire plot of Lego Star Wars while my eyeballs roll back in my head, I am dealing with the wailing in another manner. I’m stress eating.
People talk about emotional eating all the time as being one of the core reasons people become overweight and have a hard time losing weight. For me, emotional eating isn’t usually my problem. Being upset, angry or depressed actually makes me less hungry. But stress? Has me running to the jelly beans every time. I’ll cut to the chase: this evening I have eaten half a pan of cinnamon rolls and 4 homemade (dairy free!) coconut almond chocolates. The calorie calculator in my brain just shorted out.
I know I’m not eating because I’m hungry. And I’m not stuffing my face because the food is just that delicious – I barely tasted the last two rolls. There’s just something about prolonged stress that makes me want to eat until I explode. The harder she cries, the faster I eat. Of course this isn’t the first time this has happened. Just the other day we were stuck in traffic and my middle two children were fighting so loudly that they were literally foaming at the mouth. Oh yes they were. My hand found the bag of hot cinnamon jelly beans in the glove box (doesn’t everyone keep a bag of jelly beans in their glove box? They should be a part of everyone’s emergency kits: flashlight, flares and high fructose corn syrup.) and I ate a few. In spite of all my yelling at them from the front seat (it’s probably for the best that I couldn’t reach them), they persisted in killing each other. The more they fought, the more jelly beans I ate. When it finally looked as though my family was about to become a three-child clan again, I realized that I could barely breathe I had so many jelly beans crammed in my mouth. Looming fratricide notwithstanding, I decided to focus on the really important thing in this situation: my waistline. I spat the wad of sugar out into my hand and then chucked it out the window. Strangely that solved the situation as the kids were so upset that I had wasted perfectly good candy – and hadn’t shared any with them – that all of them took up wailing and stopped punching each other. On another note: For my birthday I want one of those windshield shades that says CALL 911 in big red letters on it.
The thing that stopped me in my tracks then and got me to get rid of the rest of the cinnamon rolls now, is a new piece of research published in Scientific American via Nature Neuroscience that shows that rats allowed to binge on fatty, sugary rat chow became chemically dependent on it, their brain pathways lighting up in the same way as they would if they were addicted to cocaine. (Two extraneous thoughts: 1) What exactly constitutes rat junk food? Do they make them Whopper Jr. Jr. Jr.s? Sprinkles instead of rat pellets? Deep fat fried Oreo bites? 2) Who is in charge of procuring the cocaine for the rats? Is there a government bureau of Opiates for Animal Studies? Also, do the rats snort it? Eat it? Inject it between their toes so they won’t have to quit modeling?) In the study, the luckiest rodents on earth – well, after the ones with the glowing livers – were allowed to eat as much junkie (Get it? Junkie?? Hee.) fare as they wanted. And then the gravy train ended. The results were ominous:
The new study showed that after eating a diet full of sausage and sweets for 40 days—even though regular lab rat chow was available—the obese rats had little interest in reverting to the more healthful diet when the tasty stuff was taken away. In fact, after depriving the high-fat habituated rats of their human junk foods, the rats would refuse to eat their standard chow for an average of 14 days. “I was really shocked at the magnitude of the effect,” Kenny says. “They basically don’t eat anything. If that translates over to us as a species, that’s a major problem.”
What the researchers didn’t realize is that this exact same study has already been done on human beings. Children, to be precise. Many of you have seen Chef Jamie Oliver’s new reality show Food Revolution where he goes to the unhealthiest school district in America (West Virginia for those of you who are curious) and makes over their chicken-nugget-and-pizza hot lunches with healthy, local fare. Considering that Oliver is a chef and that he has a TV series sized budget to work with you’d think that those kids would be reveling in their good fortune – Who has a personal chef in elementary school? Well, besides Lindsay Lohan but you saw where that got her – but this is not the case. What do the kids think of their healthified lunches? “A
survey of the school in his new ABC reality show found children overwhelmingly preferred institutional fare to his freshly made offerings — so much so that many stopped buying lunch.” 8 out of 10 reported being “very unhappy” with their new lunches. Just like the rats, the kids are addicted to crap.
That’s enough to scare me into throwing all my bags of jelly beans out the window.
The problem, of course, with food addiction – and now we can say that it is an actual physical dependency – is that one cannot just quit eating cold turkey (hee!) like you would if you were trying to quit cocaine. There’s a reason why they tell you in AA that you can never ever drink again, because once you are an addict those chemical pathways are very hard to break. It’s easier to abstain that to be moderate.
All of which leaves us with some very unpleasant questions to ponder: How do you avoid becoming addicted to food in the first place? What do you do if you already are? Are you condemned to a life of white-knuckling it through every holiday and dinner party? And lastly, when will research stop making me wet myself??
*And now, my baby has finally stopped crying! Joy!! For those of you who think I am evil and/or cruel, letting a baby “cry it out” is not as abusive as it sounds. Once babies reach a certain age (4 months old according to most doctors) they are capable of soothing themselves to sleep. You just have to teach them how. We’ve done this with all our kids and all of them are marvelous sleepers now. The first night, by the way, is the worst. But I’m totally not baking tomorrow. Just in case.