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By Holley | In Nutrition, Psychology, Rest Day | on May 6, 2012

akrasia – the act of knowingly working against one’s own interests

I recently read an article on Mark’s Daily Apple about the 8 reasons why you act against your own better judgment. In this article, Mark reflects on the old Bob Newhart Mad TV sketch where he would always tell you to just “STOP IT” and how that advice obviously doesn’t work for many people. He covers eight physiological reasons why peole make poor dietary choices regardless of the repercussions that result from eating unhealthy foods. I’ll summarize the eight reasons below, but I highly recommend reading the whole article. Mark does a great job of making scientific explanations seem very simple.

1. You’re missing something from your diet and your ancient genes are misinterpreting the modern cravings.

The example used in this case was a salt craving. Your body is craving salt and instead of turning to shellfish or rock salt like our ancestors would have done, we turn to what our bodies have remembered as salty foods…Cheez-its or chips. So the next time you’re craving a box of ¬†cheez-its, your body is most likely in need of salt, so look for a healthier salty choice.

2. You’re missing something from your diet and your modern self is misinterpreting the ancient cravings.

This example ties sweet cravings to fatty meat cravings. Sweet amino acids are hydrophbic (don’t like water), which means they are found inside cells with fats (which repel water). Hydrophilic (like water/water-soluble) amino acids do not associate with fat and do not taste sweet. So a recent theory suggests that because of our more recent high sugar intake diet we crave sweets when our bodies might actually be craving fat.

3. You’re addicted to wheat.

Wheat contains opioid peptides which may be able to activate our opioid receptors. Other addictive drugs such as opium, morphine and heroin also have the ability to activate our opioid receptors. While there are no scientific studies to back this up, a recent theory is that wheat could potentially be addictive, just like a drug.

4. You’re addicted to sugar.

In rat studies, sugar has been proven to be extremely addictive. Rodents will become addicted to sugar rather quickly and at times even choose it over pharmaceuticl-grade cocaine. Recent studies on humans, as we saw in the 60 minutes episode that Marcus posted about, also suggest that sugar is addictive in humans. So just like with wheat, we’re making bad decisions about our food simply because we’re addicted.

5. You’re stressed out.

This is probably not the first time you’ve heard of stress being tied to poor eating choices. When people are stressed out they secrete lots of cortisol which leads to cravings for and intake of sweets. You also may experience a craving for comfort foods because of an increase of a hunger hormone, ghrelin, as a response to increased stress. Stress can also lead to salt cravings, which ties us back to reason #1.

6. You’re training too much without adequate fueling.

This one is pretty simple. If you’re exercising a lot everyday and have cut out sweet fruits and vegetables like tubers and potatoes, you may be starving your body of the glycogen it needs to survive. So naturally, when you’re exercising a lot and not getting enough carbs from the foods you eat, your body tends to crave easily-digestible, processed carbs such as bread, pizza or ice cream.

7. You’re not getting enough sleep.

Lack of sleep increases insulin resistance which changes how we process macronutrients such as carbohydrates and makes us more prone to fat gain. Recent studies have show that one night of poor sleep causes people to find food more rewarding and reported more hunger than people who had slept well.

8. You fear being socially isolated due to your food choices.

This one is pretty simple, you don’t want to refuse that piece of cake at your office party in fear of offending someone or looking like a crazy “health nut” (like that’s a bad thing). That’s something I think we can all say we battle with and there may be a physiological reason for it. A study showed that during experiences of social exclusion, brain scans registered significant activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Physical pain also triggers the ACC, but is not involved in the physical sensation of pain. So when you feel socially excluded for refusing that piece of cake, your body may be associating that with physical pain.

Now this is just a brief(ish) summary of what’s in the article. There is a lot more interesting information in the article, so I highly recommend you read it if this topic is interesting to you. Personally I find it interesting to learn about why our body acts the way it does and how much what we eat influences that both physiologically and¬†psychologically.


REST DAY 05.06.12

2 Comments to "Akrasia"

  • Sean says:

    May 6, 2012 at 8:02 AM -

    Interesting material Holley. Thanks for sharing.

  • pooj says:

    May 6, 2012 at 11:25 AM -

    Thanks Holley! The sugar and wheat addictions are really interesting (and true) theories!

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