Tag Archives: Dessert

Freaky Friday: Stay Awake And Get Fat

How’s that for a sweeps-month, scare-the-snot-out-of-you type of headline? Yeah, it’s something that’s almost guaranteed to get your eyeballs glued to the page, wanting to see more about this.

All I’d need to do is throw in the words free and sex and maybe iPhone and I’ve got a pageview magnet. Still, it’s not all about the pageviews. This here is a real thing.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, losing sleep over the fact that you’re overweight (or, really, for any reason at all) is a pretty sure way to actually make yourself gain more weight.

Losing sleep tends to make people eat more and gain weight, and now a new study suggests that one reason may be the impact that sleep deprivation has on the brain.

The research showed that depriving people of sleep for one night created pronounced changes in the way their brains responded to high-calorie junk foods. On days when the subjects had not had proper sleep, fattening foods like potato chips and sweets stimulated stronger responses in a part of the brain that helps govern the motivation to eat. But at the same time, the subjects experienced a sharp reduction in activity in the frontal cortex, a higher-level part of the brain where consequences are weighed and rational decisions are made.

In other words, your brain is hitting you with a double whammy. Your body is craving a hit of that sweet, salty, fat load of goodness we call junk food. And, just when your body most needs to have your brain in control and exercising a little restraint, the part of the brain that’s in charge of restraint goes out for a well-deserved vacation, leaving instant gratification in charge for a while.

Not a good combination.

Of course, it was possible that we, the sleep-deprived masses, simply craved more food because our bodies had to make up for the calories expended when we stayed awake instead of sleeping soundly. It was possible to believe it until this new study came out, that is.

“Their hunger was no different when they were sleep deprived and when they had a normal night of sleep,” (said Matthew P. Walker, an author of the study and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley). “That’s important because it suggests that the changes we’re seeing are caused by sleep deprivation itself, rather than simply being perhaps more metabolically impaired when you’re sleep deprived.”

Least you think this is all made up, let me assure you that the link between lack of sleep and weight gain is one that has been well established by a number of studies throughout the year. It’s real. Sleep less, weigh more. Not only that, but sleep deprivation can inflict a whole host of other potentially deleterious effects on your body. This new study, though, really focused in on what happened in the brain when the subjects skipped sleep and then started drooling over different food pictures.

The research showed that when the subjects were bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, they strongly preferred the food choices that were highest in calories, like desserts, chocolate and potato chips. The sleepier they felt, the more they wanted the calorie-rich foods. In fact, the foods they requested when they were sleep deprived added up to about 600 calories more than the foods that they wanted when they were well rested.

At the same time, brain scans showed that on the morning after the subjects’ sleepless night, the heavily caloric foods produced intense activity in an almond-shaped structure called the amygdala, which helps regulate basic emotions as well as our desires for things like food and experiences. That was accompanied by sharply reduced responses in cortical areas of the frontal lobe that regulate decision-making, providing top down control of the amygdala and other primitive brain structures.

All of which goes a long way toward explaining why dudes make such bad choices the day after an all-nighter. And when I say dudes, I mean, of course, mostly me. Who hasn’t woken bleary-eyed from a night of tossing and turning only to find themselves making a direct line from bathroom to cupboard, searching for that one last donut?

Bit takeaway health tip here, dudes. Make sure you get enough sleep, even if only to avoid eating more donuts. Save ’em for me.

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Sweetness And Light

Sweetness is the one drug we all crave.

Don’t try to tell me any differently, because you’ll be lying.

Even me. I’m not a big sweets person. That is, I’d rather have an extra slice of the entree than a dessert, but. . . Leave a bowl of chocolate pieces sitting out and I’ll have a handful scooped up and be walking off without even noticing it.

Sweet food is the universal appeal. And it sits right along near the throne with that other dietetic nightmare delight: fat. Why else would we love ice cream so much? Combine sweetness and fat and, dudes, you’re got a winner.

And it’s been that way for a long, long time. Because, for a long, long time, fats and sugars have been exceedingly difficult for humans to consume.

For the past 200,000 years or so, fatty and sugary foods were hard for humans to come by and well worth gorging on. Fats help maintain body temperature, sugars provide energy, and craving such food is hardwired: Eating fats and sugars activates reward centers in the brain.

Popular Science, a fantastic magazine with the tagline of “The Future, Now,” recently ran an interesting little article about how our genes might influence our cravings for sweet foods. In addition to things like, if our blood sugar drops, it could trigger a craving for sweet food and that craving also will annihilate our self control — say hello to Krispy Kreme — there’s something in the genes that tells us to eat sweets.I'd eat that.

 Obesity runs in families, and although scientists still don’t know just how much of craving is hereditary and how much is learned, they have located more than 100 genes that seem to be linked to the disease. To evolve out of cravings, we’d need to stop passing down these genes.

The problem with that is that evolution doesn’t work in a straight line. And, in addition, many genes don’t act on a single trait. That is, you might try to eliminate the gene for blue eyes (I’ve never trusted those blueies.), but find that, once that’s gone, the gene that coded for that blue protein also assisted the production of the enzyme that enabled those folks to digest protein, say.

Evolution is a messy process that plays out over millions of years. It typically lags far behind changes in species behavior. Until about 50 years ago, craving fats and sugars actually helped us survive. Then fast food became abundant, and the number of obese people in the U.S. tripled between 1960 and 2007. Half a century is “just not enough time to counteract millennia,” says Katie Hinde, a human evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

So, really, it looks like if we want to master our cravings for fat and sugar, we’re going to have to stop hoping that the evolution fairy will come by and wave shir’s magic wand and wipe away the problem. If we want to stop eating too much sugar and fat, it’s going to be up to that three-pound wrinkled mass we’ve got up between our ears.

Self-control, dudes. That’s where the solution lies.

I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling I’m going to be more part of the problem than part of the solution.

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Eating His Way Through Life

Zippy the College Boy has always been a bit. . . different.

He was the only of my three little dudes who actually broke out from the norm, diet wise, as he was growing up. Sure, he loved mac and cheese and hot dogs and the like, but he also enjoyed salads from an early age. He preferred hot dogs to burgers and absolutely would not go to Chick Fil A, no matter how much the rest of us enjoyed those delicious, delicious waffle fries.

Which made his recent dietetic switch just a little less astonishing than it might have been.

See, his mother recently decided that she needed to drop a few pounds. Personally, I thought she looked pretty much astonishing as she was, but she decided she needed to lose weight. She’s done it. She cut out almost all carbs and has dropped a significant number of pounds.

So Zippy the College Boy has watched his mom’s slimformation and decided he needed to drop a few pounds as well. Not so much as to lose weight as to get, and I quote, “ripped.” Yeah, I think he’s trying to consider what the lovely ladies down at the University of North Carolina Wilmington might be seeing when he takes off his shirt and hangs out in board shorts.

Nothing like a little advertising.

I can say that now, but in college the only thing my shirtless form was advertising was the need for blindfolds and an effective memory scrub. I understand alcohol worked well for that purpose.


Zippy the College Boy followed his mom down the no-to-low-carb path. Which meant he had to significantly change his eating habits. Gone were the late-night Cheeze-It binges. Gone were snarfing down a bag of Goldfish at any hour of the day. Gone were sandwiches, wraps and fries. It was, as you might expect, a major adjustment.

The thing is, though, he took to it like a duck to water. Once he got into the habit of reaching for nuts, maybe, instead of chips, he really settled into the rhythm of the no-carb.

Now, he’ll eat just about anything. He’s always been open to different foods, from salad to fish, but he’s actually eating low-carb dessert made from ricotta cheese, a very little bit of the sweetener called Stevia, vanilla extract and a bit of peanut butter, and loving it.

He’s trying cheeses that don’t come wrapped in plastic and cut into thin slices. He’s actually looking forward to trying out different kids of meats, cooked in ways other than grill or fry.

I’m loving it, which means I don’t have to put up with nearly as much whining when it comes to dinner time. Of course, when I make something differently spiced or from a different meat than normal, I still have to put up with Hyper Lad moaning and complaining, but I’m finding that easier to ignore now that I’ve got the other two people in the house right now on my side.

Growing up is easier to see. A maturing set of taste buds isn’t nearly as easy to see, but it’s definitely more fun.

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