30 Day Fitness Experiment

What can you do for your body in 30 days?

New Research: The Truth About Eating Habits

Day Nine: What the Research Says

New research shows that rats exposed to lots of ‘cafeteria-style’ foods resist even strong negative associations with those foods. In order to see how surprising this resistance is, I first want to introduce “Sauce-Bearnaise Syndrome“, also known as the Garcia effect, or taste averserion.

In its most basic form, the Garcia effect is this: if you eat a food and become violently ill immediately afterwards, you develop a very strong aversion to that food. This effect is strong enough to keep people from eating foods for years (even their entire lives) after only one instance of illness. Furthermore, the bad feelings don’t need to be caused by the food itself, only associated with it in space and time.

Here’s a shorthand version of what happened in the recent study: There were a few different groups of rats. Some ate only rat food, some ate rat food but were allowed to eat a little bit of fatty foods, and the others could just eat fatty foods all the time, as much as they wanted. The scientists tried to make the rats associate eating the high-calorie foods with negative things (like being shocked).

Normally, shocking rats or flashing bright lights in their cages at or just after feeding is enough to trigger the effect. In this case, something about those rats who had been exposed to the ‘cafeteria-style’ foods prevented this conditioning from having any effect whatsoever. This is a very surprising result, showing the powerful effect of these eating habits on the rats’ behavior.

Preparing food near a wok stove.
Image via Wikipedia

Of course, rats are not people, but their systems are similar enough that this research does have implications for people who may have a similar habit of eating high-calorie, fatty foods whenever they feel like it. The negative associations of overeating lose their effect when we’re in the habit of doing it anyway.

–Guest Post by John A Johnson

Sarita Li says: Comparing overeating and high-calorie foods to cocaine makes the situation sound hopeless. But is it really? No. Bad habits can be broken, but it takes commitment and hard work. I’ve never had to deal with anything like cocaine cravings, but I have had my struggles with both food cravings and nicotine cravings. I can tell you that the food cravings were much easier to deal with than the nicotine cravings, but in the end, I learned to resist them both. So can you!

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March 31, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

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