Researchers Adam Drewnowski and Eva Almiron-Roig wrote about the palatability, or hedonic quality of food:
Sensory processes begin with the placement of food in the mouth, the fracturing of the food by the teeth and its dilution with saliva, oral perception of temperature and texture, and the binding of taste and flavor molecules to receptors in the oral and nasal cavities… A particular hedonic synergy is obtained by pairing sugar and fat.
The authors go into great detail about how fat, in particular, is received and perceived by the body. It is the source of the smooth creaminess and moist tenderness that make some comfort foods so irresistible. But fat is multi-talented. A different cooking method can make it crispy, crunchy, and delicious in a whole different way.
There is a point where sweetness becomes too sweet, especially for adults, though children don’t seem to mind. The point where sweetness turns to “yuck” is called the hedonic breakpoint. Fat does not seem to have a hedonic breakpoint, so combining it with sugar promotes overeating very effectively.
Look at yourself
A famous comedic character on Saturday Night Live was a therapist whose advice in every case was, “Look at yourself.” In other words, observe your behavior and your attitudes about it, from an impartial distance. Raise your own consciousness.
It is good to be cognizant of what nourishes us, and to be thankful for it. During holiday gatherings, many religious traditions consist of ritualistic eating. It’s a method of teaching the expected behaviors in society, without singling out any individual for blame. Some recite a food blessing before every meal, every day. The goal is to foster mental and emotional responses to food that will promote a sane and healthy society. There are other mechanisms for it too, that are not spiritually based.
Dr. Josh Axe is a certified doctor of natural medicine and chiropractic, as well as a clinical nutritionist who works with professional athletes, among others. Exodus Health Center, which he started some years ago, “grew to become one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world.” His advice is, “Observe the way you eat”:
This includes your speed, level of tension, thoughts, and mannerisms. See yourself from a distance, as if watching yourself in a movie. Do you eat very fast and like you’re rushed? Do you feel guilty even while eating a food? Are you picking up one bite while another is still in your mouth?
There are certain “home truths” we need to realize. For instance, the mouth does not have good judgment about when it is done with the current task. It will cheerfully swallow half-chewed food to make room for the next load. If we don’t want to become obese, one of our jobs is to keep an eye on that mouth and make it behave reasonably.
A mixed blessing?
Is it positive or negative to have a keen, impressionable sense of taste? To be capable of savoring flavors may or may not be a good thing. For some people, better-tasting food leads them to keep on eating it whenever possible, so if it’s possible all the time, that could spell trouble.
On the other hand, even with a pile of not-very-tasty food, an optimist will persist in eating their way through it, hoping that they will eventually land on something delicious. Then, we have the special cases, like chemotherapy patients who have no appetite. They really need the nourishment, but hypersensitivity to the smell, taste, or even the thought of food can make everything revolting.
Hooked on foods
Dr. Pretlow speaks of conditions that do not apply to drugs. For instance, judging by the number of people who enjoy sucking on lollipops and popsicles, and later on straws, toothpicks, cigars, and other objects, a lot of people seem to never outgrow the pacifier effect. Aside from sucking, the actions of biting, chewing, and swallowing are also very satisfactory with food, as well as the immediate taste and texture factors experienced in the mouth. Unlike a drug, there is not as much of a central chemical response.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Chapter 11 Human Perceptions and Preferences for Fat-Rich Foods,” NIH.gov, undated
Source: “Mindful Eating — Maintain a Healthy Weight & Appetite,” Draxe.com, undated
Image by DFID/CC BY 2.0