We've all been there. I know I have. A few days into a diet, we've been very good, and something snaps. I suddenly lose the ability to feel satisfied by a grilled chicken salad, and, ignoring my guilt, reach into the back of my freezer and open that pint of Ben & Jerry's that's been haunting my dreams.
Is giving up just bad diet discipline? It may be the way our brains are wired, say researchers at Duke University who discovered that the brain craves calories—even in the absence of taste.
Using two groups of mice, one of which lacked the ability to detect sweetness, researchers conditioned the animals to a bottle of water and a bottle of sucrose solution. Afterward, preference tests were conducted, which showed that both the normal mice and the taste-impaired mice preferred the sucrose solution to water.
The experiment was then repeated, only this time, the artificial sweetener sucralose replaced the sucrose solution. When preference tests were conducted, the normal mice favored the sucralose solution, but the taste-less mice showed no preference.
The conclusion? The mice were responding to the caloric content, explaining their attraction to the sucrose solution. Researchers also found that neurons in the brain had higher responses when mice were consuming sucrose as compared to sucralose.
Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler has a best-selling book called The End of Overeating, charging that food companies have conditioned our brains to crave fat, sugar, and salt, and this research would appear to confirm his findings. America is already in the midst of an obesity epidemic (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than 30% of U.S. adults are obese), and the idea that our brains actually crave calories is less than encouraging. Worse, as consumers' purse strings continue to tighten, the pull of something off of McDonald's value menu becomes doubly strong: The price tag and the 440 calories are sucking you in. No wonder McD's continues to succeed.
Next time you succumb to that pint, blame science. At least your lack of willpower and discipline are losing to forces larger than you.