There is a thing called the motor component, which is separate from the most obvious attractions of food, such as aroma, taste, texture, “mouth feel,” and so on. Take a bag of chips as an example. In many cases, just tearing open the bag is the gateway to a sensory experience, as the delicious smell pours out. So, even that could become an element of what in this talk is termed motor addiction. But there is much, much more to come. Biting is enjoyable in and of itself, and so are crunching, and chewing.
Moving on from chips to, for instance, cooked meat, the activity of gnawing is extremely pleasurable to people with good teeth, and perhaps explains the widespread popularity of the snack called buffalo wings. Subconsciously, gnawing takes us back to ancient times, when members of a human settlement brought home dead game animals so the group could eat.
The hunter had spent so much time in pursuit of this moment — watching, tracking, enduring heat or cold or rain, running, spearing, carrying the carcass back to camp, and perhaps being wounded himself in any one of several possible ways. Then, the meat would need preparation, it would need to be skinned and cooked before, finally, being eaten.
All the patience and the physical exertion and long-practiced skills of the hunt, all the privation experienced to catch that animal, now paid off in the opportunity to use the teeth to scrape every bit of nutrition from the animal’s body. It was not only an individual reward but an altruistic one, that temporarily ended the hunger of the entire group.
To gnaw on a creature’s fire-singed bones must have been incredibly satisfying, engendering feelings of competence, triumph, and worthiness. One can imagine the hunter thinking, “Take that, animal! After all the hard work you put me through, here I am, home and safe, gnawing on your bones!”
Some of the other mouth motions named are licking and sucking. Sucking, obviously, harkens back to the most primal activity of all, pulling nourishment from the mother’s breast. The swallowing of chewed, solid food is a definitive sensation. First it was up here, up in the oral cavity. Now it is traveling to its new destination, the stomach, and often can be decisively felt making that journey.
In our studies, up to 85% of the participants report that when they overeat, they overeat on whatever is available, not some specific, hyperpalatable food. So this motor addiction component is similar to what are called Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors.
One of the many polls submitted for consideration to the young readers of Dr. Pretlow’s website, Weigh2Rock, asked the question, “Do you think overeating is like nail biting?” 53% of the respondents replied affirmatively to, “Yes, I do both when stressed.” Now, obviously, the answer to this dilemma is not, “Well then, just bite your nails more, and it will help you eat less.” Many kids realize that they have been virtually held in chains by the cycle of overeating and regret, and understand that they need help.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!