Is Temptation Really a Choice

Temptation in St. Ives

Photo credit: Ennor

I find it interesting that when we choose to eat something –good or bad – we’re experiencing a very individual and personal interaction with our conscience mind. We decide, all the time, what’s good and bad for us to eat. The honesty is in our hands – especially if no one will know what we ultimately chose. However, as soon as we decide that something should be shunned or avoided, it will almost certainly become more desirable to us – simply because we’ve made it forbidden. But is it possible the food itself is driving our cravings? It’s the concept of what’s driving temptation and our ability to exert resistant willpower that I want to talk about in this post.

The other day I was reading a blog (on the website, so I can’t post the link) of someone self-flagellating because they’d been tempted by a bag of Cheetos and after succumbing to said bag, proceeded to move rapidly into high carb eating for who knows how long – but long enough that they felt they needed to push a “reset button” and start all over again.

The cycle reminded me of drug addiction and indeed, we’re seeing more and more correlations (behaviorally, if not also biochemically) to food addiction. This is one of the conclusions drawn by Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly and the Wheat Belly Blog ( Dr. Davis points to the genetic engineering of the humble wheat seed that has resulted in it releasing exorphins (opioid peptides created when digesting wheat products). Exorphins are closely related to morphine and can cause addiction-like effects in your brain. Remember that study done in 2013 that showed Oreo cookies were as addictive to lab rates as cocaine and heroin? There was also the study done in 2011 that found similar brain activity between people with food addiction and people with substance dependence.

Given that both illegal and prescription drug addictions are so common in our culture (as is alcoholism) it’s reasonable to suspect that food addiction is equally prevalent and that the vast majority of people who fail to control what they eat may be the victim of addiction rather than just being indulgent, lazy or weak-willed.

I know myself there are a few foods with which I cannot be trusted to handle in a controlled manner. Cashews, King’s Hawaiian dinner rolls, Paratha bread, Fig Newtons, McDonald’s French fries and bagels. If I have even a small amount of these foods in the house, I will instantly crave more – regardless of the gut-wrenching (literally) impact of my indulging in them. These are more than temptations for me, they’re obsessions. I cannot rest until they are consumed in total. I now consider these red-flag foods, which I ban from my pantry.

But here’s the interesting thing – these foods hold sway over me only when they’re in my home (or otherwise on my plate). If I have to exert effort to obtain them (i.e. go to the store to buy a package of Fig Newtons or run to McDonald’s), I can avoid them. The same is true when I’m shopping at the store, I can generally walk right by my red-flag foods without them ending up in my cart. So am I truly addicted? Is the addictive effect only present immediately upon consuming the food? I would love to see more studies done in this regard.

To me, there is more to food temptation than just needing the willpower to resist it. What we frequently call temptation and the events that make us fall of the wagon in our eating plan, aren’t just something we can willingly forgo – it’s more complex than simple choice. We need science to conclusively prove this so that we can not only work on ways to avoid food addiction but also eliminate the stereotype that people who have uncontrolled eating issues are lazy, weak-willed or unwilling to change their behaviors.

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