Food Experiment: Foundation

photography of pink doughnut
Photo by Jonathan Miksanek on

I have some thoughts about food. A lot of them, I’m realizing.

I have always had food on my mind and a hearty appetite. My adult weight was average, not skinny but not big, just comfortable. I ate to fullness and lost baby weight through nursing.

But something has changed in the last year.

I’m carrying 15-20 extra pounds now. There have been no major life changes that would cause stress, no sleepless nights, no medical changes. I’ve simply been wanting and eating more food.

My cravings are bigger, stronger, harder. There’s less “you know what sounds good?” and more “I need.” For a girl who doesn’t like to need a Tylenol for a headache, this “need” is too much. Weight gain isn’t always a problem, but this doesn’t feel right.

So, naturally, I started reading.

Some believers don’t trust science, and some scientists don’t trust anything remotely religious. But I tend to believe that science is simply peeling back the natural world to reveal how God made it–and how sin has marred it. This includes the ways our bodies go haywire and the science that may explain it.

I think some problems have to be confronted from both angles: we must take up all of our spiritual tools and disciplines to fight against our sin nature. And we can make use of the hard-science facts before us that explain the physical side of things, just as we do in medicine.

I just finished a book called The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat by Stephan Guyenet, PhD. It pulls from his own lab experience and tons and tons of scientific literature. I’ll be talking about it all week, so if you’re not interested in rats and diet studies and what I put in my mouth, see you next Monday.

For anybody still around, here are some initial quotes that have me thinking of my own n=1 experiment:

To see if he could design a faster and more effective way to fatten rats, Sclafani went to the supermarket and bought a variety of calorie-dense ‘palatable supermarket foods,’ including Froot Loops, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chip cookies, salami, cheese, bananas, marshmallows, milk chocolate, and peanut butter. When Sclafani placed these foods into the rats’ cages, along with the obligatory standard rodent pellets and water, the rats immediately gorged on the human food, losing interest in their boring pellets. On this diet, they gained weight at an unprecedented rate…Sclafani named this the ‘supermarket diet,’ although most researchers now call it the ‘cafeteria diet.’

This is largely my problem: I choose my food based on feelings, on what sounds good, rather than on what is good for my body. This is lack of self-control or regulation is problematic spiritually (1 Peter 1:6, Romans 12:1), but it’s also a physical problem for my body:

From the outside, we observe that when a behavior meets a goal, it is more likely to recur in the future–it’s reinforced….[Psychologist] Edward Thorndike described the phenomenon of reinforcement as early as 1905, stating that ‘any act which in a given situation produces satisfaction becomes associated with that situation so that when the situation recurs the act is more likely than before to recur also.’ Over the course of our lives, with experience, we refine our ability to achieve our goals, and reinforcement is one of the simplest and most powerful means of doing so.

There’s a lengthy discussion about food reward in the brain, that certain foods are more habit-forming than others and that certain people are more prone to food fixation or food reward. (raises hand) The author is careful with the phrase “food addiction” because it’s a grey area, but in discussing food impulsivity he made this interesting point:

The deadliest combination, therefore, occurs when an impulsive person with a high food reward sensitivity lives in an environment that’s bursting at the seams with highly rewarding foods. And…the United States qualifies as such an environment.

Tomorrow, I begin a science experiment of my own, where I am the lab rat and the scientist, peeling back the confounding factors behind my food fixation.

Grab your popcorn (or not) and stay tuned.


Published by MK Jorgenson

Thinking, writing, and talking about Christian stewardship in all of its facets.

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