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June 11, 2008

Why we overeat



One reason we overeat, scientists say, is the fear of death. This makes perfect sense to me; I see no reason why they wasted any more time trying to prove it. But to test the hypothesis, researchers asked subjects to write essays on a visit to the dentist or death. Afterward they were offered a plate of cookies.

Not surprisingly those who had spent time thinking and writing about death ate more cookies than they should have, while those who had written about their dentist didn't.

Rosellina Ferraro, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Maryland, College Park, called overeating a "possible mechanism for dealing with death-related anxiety."

But this is my favorite part of the story, which was published in New Scientist: ... 

In his latest, still unpublished study, [researcher Dirk] Smeesters found that people with low self-esteem shop and eat more after watching death-related news clips.

"One would hope that companies do not exploit this by putting food ads straight after the news," Smeesters says.

Gee, I'm sure that would never happen. That's why there's someone in marketing rather than behavioral science commenting on the research.

(Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 1:33 PM | | Comments (27)


Some of us overeat simply because it's there. Most restaurants serve huge portions, and despite the diner's intention to take part of it home, s/he finishes it instead. If that's not a case of "because it's there," I don't know what is. Sometimes I'd love to order from the children's menu because I'm just not that hungry; other times I'm hungry enough to eat half a cow. As KoKo once said, "Bless you, it just depends."

But aren't there instances of eating oneself to death? I guess not when you consider this:

Interesting topic for discussion, EL. I'll have to comtemplate this over cocktails at Sammy's today. Anyone care to join me?

Could the converse also be true -- that people who overeat (especially tempting cookies like those illustrated) are likely to die sooner? (Disclosure note: I'm clinically obese, but I'm not guilty of low self-esteem.)

Maybe the ones who wrote about the dentist didn't eat too many cookies because they were thinking about their teeth?

Everytime my boss does something to make me feel crappy, I head to the coffee shop or cafeteria to buy a chocolate chip cookie -- yum!

Now I understand when my mother said I "eat like there's no tomorrow".

What a piece of crap research. You can't draw conclusions from a poorly designed project. If you wanted to test that hypothesis, you would get data on their relatives living and dead and their attitudes toward them. Then you randomly select a dead or living relative that they liked equally (or disliked equally). Even still, that's typical craptasm psychological research, with a moronic experimental design. aeb has a great point. Silly silly research. So the best diet would be the don't write about death diet. Done! The weird thing is that when I was living in Russia, I was really really broke, so I killed my landlady just to see if I could get away with it and my appetite went through the roof! I must have eaten six bowls of gruel that night.

The guy behind Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink, sez people eat more comfort foods during happy times than sad ones, apparently to extend that happy feeling. But they also eat more popcorn when they feel sad during a movie than when they feel happy.

I eat therefore I am

I eat therefore I am

I thought that was I eat, therefore I'm Spam,

I don't know about you people, but I really want some choco chip cookies right about now.

I don't know if that means i have low or high self-esteem. It probably, however, means that I'm easy prey for visual stimuli.

RoCK--you and every other man on the planet?

I heard once that your brain uses up 25% of the calories you consume. I travel a lot to conferences, workshops and meetings, and I think this is why I can pack away a full breakfast, lunch and dinner and still feel hungry while spending 10 hours a day sitting around seminar tables. I have to be religious about getting up each morning to walk to keep from having to buy a second seat on the plane.

Hey ... I think I recognize those cookies! Aren't they from the Double Tree Inn in Fashion Valley, San Diego??

Piano Rob: Sammy's is indeed the place to contemplate overeating. I have never made it out of there after two courses without a doggie bag. Saturday evening my wife had a lamb osso bucco that could have passed for a deadly weapon (but was delicious).

Cigarettes are magnitudinally superior to food as a means of dealing with death anxiety. They have the added benefit of containing zero calories. However, being an objective journalist, I must point out that some believe cigarettes can cut ten years from your life.
Of course, they're the last ten.

FHJim: I love Sammy's. A group of us have met there almost every Wednesday for cocktails for almost two years. We call ourselves WALDS - Wednesday Afternoon Ladies' Drinking Society. We've even designed appropriately tacky bowling shirts. We welcome new members - even ladies! But I agree with your overeating assessment. When I help stage the Sunday cabaret shows (September through May), I try to leave with a doggie bag but never succeed; I can't eat before a show.

JL: So true about the cigarettes. In fact, there have been many comments the last couple of days on various posts that have mentioned smoking that I ended up bumming one from a co-worker today. And I had been so good about quitting cold turkey over the weekend. Rats!

Those cookies in the photo look like inch-thick uncooked slices from a Pillsbury cookie dough roll. Have they ever seen the inside of an oven?

jl - I think you've got something there. The French ALL smoke and they're also ALL thin, despite the fact that they eat one of the richest diets on the planet, ergo transferring the death the fear of death to cigarettes and enjoying life through food...or something like that anyway...maybe...

I think the key to French thinness is that most people don't travel everywhere by car. It's public transportation, then hoof it!

Where is Sammy's? Is that code? Is there a secret knock? I hope so.

VDP: Sammy's, Biddle @ N. Charles. No code, excellent Italian food, no reason to knock unless you want to, and Sammy has a terrific shaded deck out back.

Well, I hope you're satisfied, EL!

I saw this yesterday and went home and baked chocolate chip cookies.

Worse yet, I ate chocolate chip cookies in an amount that would indicate that I'm going to die really soon.

OH! I hate to put a reality hurtin' on you so early in the morning, ut here goes. Yes, it SEEMS like everybody in France smokes. Tru faks for insaniaks: Adult smoking prevalence in France: 27%. In US: 18%. In fact, no European country has a smoking prevalence even close to as low as ours. (Canada=18% also.)

While your facts are off a little, your conclusions couldn't be more rock solid. Look at Barak Obama: smoker, skinny. BIll Clinton: non-smoker, cheeseburger chaser.

The closest I could find to a smoker's (and health) paradise was Uzbekistan and Korea where 65% of men smoke. I've seen Borat, he's thin. North Korea doesn't have any statistics, but I would guess that a workers' paradise like that would be about 100%.

Three on a match!

OMG your scientific reasoning is flawless. MY favorite smoking statistic is that even now 50% of all women that smoke continue to do so throughout their pregnancies. Baby weight is SO unattractive, as are fat babies. Those skinny four punders scooch right out. Am I right ladies?

P.S. on Sammy's. Since parking is an issue in that neighborhood, they have valet parking ($5) at least on weekends and nights they expect a crowd (check programs at the Meyerhoff and Lyric).

Piano Rob--this is your Baltimore mother speaking--I hope your health insurance has good coverage if you are smoking again. (I hope you have good coverage even if you are NOT smoking ...)

Shill at 10:49.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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