Food Job: Obesity Researcher

For thousands of years human beings have adapted to the elements. We have hunted and gathered, sowed and preaped and toiled from dawn to dusk to get enough food to eat. And when finally we are on our own at the supermarket and can choose virtually any food in the univers, what do we want to eat more than anything?

A cookie.

One theory to account for this is that we have not surpassed our ancestors physiologically. Our brain does not know how to tell us when to stop eating junk because the subject never came up among our Cro-Magnon ancestors, who were programmed to eat anything that didn’t eat them first and were equipped to store fat for times of famine.

We can’t explain away our almost desperate yearning for a cookie by claiming to possess a sweet tooth. A more plausible theory is that when we are starving, inborn instinct makes us seek out high-calorie, high-fat, quick-energy foods.

Imagining we are starving is a relative thing, especially when we know there is a cookie or candy bar nearby.

Seeing is Believing

Television is another phenomenon our ancestors didn’t have to contend with. The excitement of seeing a pizza flashing on the screen alerts our appetite control center, which in turn sends fast and furious messages to the salivary glands to get ready for the feast. EAT? Is the question. NOW is the answer. NO is not even an option. Hungry is the consequence of the sighting of food, even if we have barely rested our fork from the prvious meal.

An Appetite for Sugar

Hunger is not the same as appetite and has almost nothing to do with taste. Hunger relates to a drop in the level of blood sugar and the physical need for food.  Appetite relates to the desire for food, and taste is the ability to to differentiate one food from another.

None of this thinking goes even the smallest step to explaining why we think we are hungry so soon after eating Chinese food. One hypothesis is that the meal doesn’t end properly — meaning there is no chocolate cake and no ice cream. We find ourselves (unless we are of Chinese heritage,) with a subconscious sense of loss and longing. Naturally this feeling of deprivation leads us to think we are hungry when in fact we are just being peevish.

A cookie usually solves the problem.