You might as well replace that doughnut you’re wolfing down right now with a line of cocaine. They’re both addictive and each one will eventually kill you. Researchers the world over, including the University of Texas, 3 blocks from where we pen this as we eat a late night brisket snack, have shifted their studies into overdrive in 2011 with 28 significant papers being released. We are a nation of food addicts. While this is certainly anecdotally true it’s now being proven from a scientist’s perspective. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse did some trailblazing work in the field when she worked at the Brookhaven National Laboratory back in the 90s.
Just reading her findings had our dopamine levels tingling. Dopamine is in all our brains, it’s known as a reward chemical . You can boost it up via sex, working out, snorting coke, rolling on mdma and a variety of other activities.
Including, as it turns out, eating sugary foods. Here’s the bad part; the more you do, the more you need. That recreational drug habit you have? It’s only going to get worse. That single doughnut you get at Mrs. Johnson’s? Soon enough you’ll be getting a half a dozen and washing the whole of them down with a quart of milk.
In one study last year a band of rats were allowed to eat all the Cheesecake Factory, Hormel Bacon, Sara Lee pound cake and Pillsbury frosting their hearts desired. Of course these particular rats had a bunch of electrodes hooked up to their brains. The results weren’t pretty.
Their little brains lit up in exactly the same patterns as rats being allowed all the cocaine they wanted. Complete with the old escalating rewards syndrome that a lot of us are all too familiar with.
And when you’re doing the gorging thing that’s so pleasurable? Turns out it damages the brain in much the same fashion as drugs. It’s know as “blunted reward receipt” aka the more you do the more you need.
As Texans we’re conditioned to think big, go big, eat big….do everything big. We like our 32 oz t-bones, our coffee table sized chicken fried steaks, our brontosaurus sized beef ribs…the list goes on.
We are a people of enormous appetites for all things, not just food. But we’ve always thought it was just part and parcel of our culture. We didn’t think of it in terms of being in the same spectrum as a heroin or alcohol addiction.
Frankly the appeal of delicious fried fatty and/or sweet foods has always been a lot stronger to us than any drug you could ever throw our way. We’ll take the pleasure of a charred, cowboy cut ribeye over anything you can score in the open air drug mart at the corner of 12th and Chicon.
But now we’re starting to suspect that we’ve hardwired our brains and it’s a mite worrisome. But not worrisome enough to put down the bowl of smoked brisket chunks we just fried up in our cast iron pan.