Why do I eat cake when I don’t like it?

July 5, 2019 by Kate Coughlan

It’s no doubt I am my father’s daughter in more than one way- I like sweets!!!  In fact, when my husband went to dinner with my parents the first few times, he noted that we always got dessert -at least my dad and I did.  I am finding now, more than ever, that I eat desserts which I am not even fond of, particularly cake!  Of course, red velvet and carrot are excluded, but most others I just don’t prefer.  Yet, I eat them despite knowing the health consequences of my choices. So why?

Perhaps I am just desperate for that sweet taste to fulfill a temporary happiness in me. Or perhaps I do not want to displease the person who spent all that time in the kitchen baking that cake or took the 4 minutes to run to the store and buy it!  I think it is a combination of the two.  Instant gratification is becoming the norm, hence, despite not being my favorite I do get a bit of that sweetness and sugar that comes with cake and perhaps for a brief moment I am ‘happy with sugar’.  Am I addicted?  That is difficult to say. Some suggest food addiction shares similar neurochemical changes (increased dopamine) in the brain to other “pleasing” legal and illegal drugs. The idea that processed foods cause addictive like behavior was looked at intently by Gerhardt et al through the Yale Food Addiction Scale (Gearhardt, Corbin, & Brownell, 2009).  They looked at those groups of food that have a high propensity for addiction as defined by the inability to control the amount a person eats, or the inability to stop eating these foods. These studies suggest that foods such as starches (fries), salty foods, sugary drinks and sweets are more likely to be craved by individuals than other food groups ( https://fastlab.psych.lsa.umich.edu/yale-food-addiction-scale/ ).  However, others believe that the food addiction model is not completely accurate. For instance, addictive models pinpoint a specific chemical additive that triggers the neurochemical response (nicotine in cigarettes). With the various foods that act as “addictors”, what is the common chemical? Sugar? Fats? Also, it has been suggested that the animal and human studies that suggested changes in brain activity when given certain ‘addictive’ foods are flawed in their findings.  Whether food addiction is real or not, the fact remains that certain foods are more likely to increase cardiovascular disease. Hence, we have to be cognizant of what we eat. For more information about food addiction go to:  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41386-018-0203-9.pdf (Fletcher and Kenny, 2018).

Whatever the reason, I have learned that at the age of 40 I need to think about myself and my health.  For me, my calorie intake with regards to “unhealthy” foods must be worth it. That food must be euphoric!  It must melt in my mouth as I eat it.  It has to transcend me!  Cake just doesn’t do it for me! Sorry cake lovers out there but it is not my cup of tea.    

So I have learned, for the most part, that saying ‘no thank you’ to a high caloric food is not a bad thing. At birthday parties I now pass on the cake or if they hand me a piece, I may take one bite then politely and nonchalantly throw the rest away, if the cake does not illicit an ah-ha moment in me. A good rule of thumb for sugar lovers like me – don’t harm your body by eating something you don’t really care about. For both kids and adults, food and money are very similar- don’t buy it or eat it unless you really want it because it will cost you. Understandably, when it comes to children, you may have to work at explaining this to them, but they will eventually get it.

Please check back to read about our ideas on how to help kids be more willing to make healthier choices. Also stay connected with us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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