The migration of two-legged critters to and from school-supply bargain-hunting grounds south of the border has ended for the year. The last young of the summer have fledged and moved out of the nest into college dorms, here and elsewhere.
Turkeys, pigs and first-year university students now face being fattened up in time for forthcoming feast days.
Variations on the Freshman 15 — the extra body weight gained from eating the high-starch, high-sugar, high-fat diet so readily available in many university cafeterias — manifest widely. So to speak.
But even when health-conscious menus are made available in university food courts, students fresh from the farm might still choose food less wisely in their first months away. Kraft Dinner, after all, sells 75 million boxes of its bright-orange, cheese-flavoured macaroni to Canadians each year — the greatest per capita sales of any country, and enough to have it proclaimed Canada’s national dish by the likes of Douglas Coupland.
It’s not the 100 billion units of instant noodles sold worldwide every year, but it’s a respectable number.
It’s cheap, it’s easy to make and it stimulates all our reward centres. It provides a hit of warm-and-fuzzy comfort to students who might be missing mom, home and the cat. And, with all that macaroni goodness, it packs a blood-sugar punch.
It’s becoming clearer what that does to our brains and our desire to eat more.
Earlier this year, Boston Children’s Hospital researchers found meals high in exactly those kinds of refined carbohydrates lead to not only spikes, then plunges, in blood sugar levels after eating, but to spikes in hunger and activity in the area of the brain most closely associated with addiction.
That is, KD — moms’, bachelors’ and students’ best friend in the food aisle — might be addictive.
As might be the pancakes, pastries and pastas so readily available in school cafeterias and just about everywhere else.
The study of hedonic hyperphagia — fancy words for “pigging out purely for pleasure” — has made strides this year.
Researchers probing this field have found that, as with other addictions, some people are more susceptible to recreational overeating than others. Early life experiences and exposures, in particular, can set you up for bad food habits.
For instance, if you were stressed during your first few days of life (thanks a lot, mom!), you’re likely to find yourself reaching for dishes of de-lish comfort foods to deal with stress in adulthood.
Or, if your mother ate lots of junk food (stop already, mom!) while she was pregnant with you or breastfeeding you, she primed your brain’s addiction centre to encourage you to eat lots of junk food — and fewer fruits and vegetables — throughout your life.
You will, in fact, get a super-hit of yummy, gooey pleasure whenever you taste something sweet.
This also helps explain that other Great Mystery — how you can’t eat just one potato chip without then scarfing the bagful. Rest assured, it’s all in your head.
Right smack in your brain’s addiction centre, in fact.
Not even rats are immune to potato chips. Researchers found rat-brain reward and addiction centres have a party when rodents eat chips. And just like you and me, rats also change their feeding behaviour after one chip, targeting more (and more) potato chips over any remotely nutritious alternatives.
If a phenomenon like that happens in one mammal species’ brain, there’s a good chance it also happens inside your brain. (It’s not yet clear whether mom is responsible for that, too.)
No word yet on whether test-tube hamburger has the same effect on the reward centres of the mammal brain. I suspect it doesn’t.
Which means no reprieve for future generations of feast-day turkeys and hams-on-the-hoof.
Nor for the bushels of doughnuts, piles of potato chips and boxes of KD sentenced to satisfy our pleasure- and comfort-seeking eating at university or whenever we’re stressed.