Elizabeth Loftus Says Creating 'False Memories' May Help You Avoid Certain Foods
In the recently completed manuscript of my book about the 180 pounds I lost on the Atkins diet in 2004, I devoted an entire chapter to a subject that needs to be emphasized over and over again until the obesity problem is eradicated -- sugar!
One of the things I did when I first started livin' la vida low-carb was thoroughly convinced myself that eating sugar was tantamount to eating rat poison. While that may be a stretch in reality, just the thought of that has kept me safely away from putting ANYTHING with sugar up to my lips.
In fact, there was a large buffet of various sugary desserts at work today in celebration of a major achievement by our company. I picked up a big piece of the best-looking chocolate cake you've ever seen in your life. In fact, one of my co-workers, who saw me losing weight and keep it off over the past couple of years, looked at me with bug eyes and said, "You're not going to eat that, are you?" I responded, "Of course not. It's for my wife." I have that reputation for being able to refuse something that looks so delectable to eat now. It seems I've been able to find a secret to overcoming temptation that is confirmed by a new study released today.
University of California Irvine psychologist Elizabeth Loftus said her research has found that creating false memories in your mind regarding certain foods can actually cause your desire for those foods to wane.
When I convinced myself that eating anything with sugar in it was like eating rat poison, it seems something happened in my brain to make that lie I told myself convincing enough to keep me away from sugar. I'm no psychologist, but it makes sense to me that you can believe something so strongly that you could convince yourself it is true. Am I getting deep here?
The example used by Loftus and her research team was children who were convinced and believed they got sick from strawberry ice cream as a child grew up eating less of it as adults because of the bad memories associated with it.
The findings of this groundbreaking study appear on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science web site this week.
Loftus said in a statement: "We believe this new finding may have significant implications for dieting. While we know food preferences developed in childhood continue into adulthood, this work suggests that the mere belief one had a negative experience could be sufficient to influence food choices as an adult."
Maybe this explains why I still hate brussel sprouts and collard greens to this day! Bad memories, bad memories! THANKS, Mom!
The survey of 204 students gives compelling evidence that the power of suggestion regarding food choices is a lot more important than once thought. The results of this study will likely add fuel to the debate that children should be encouraged in a positive manner to make better food choices to help them remain healthy once they become adults. If a bad memory can cause them to avoid certain foods, then conversely, a good memory can cause them to become attracted to certain foods which may or may not be healthy for them to consume. Subsequent studies by Loftis will look into this as well.
Loftus continued: "People do develop aversions to foods; for example, something novel like béarnaise sauce may make someone sick once, and they can develop a real aversion to that food. And with alcohol, there's a medication that actually makes alcoholics sick if they drink, and the idea is to develop an aversion so that the person avoids drinking. It may be possible to do something similar with food, but without the physical experience."
Stating that more research needs to be conducted on this phenomenon, Loftus wants to know how long-term these bad memories really are and whether the same avoidance behavior exists when the actual food item is in front of them.
I know in my experience with sugar, I put that chocolate cake right in front of my face today to see how tempted I would be. While it certainly looked and smelled good, I had absolutely NO desire to eat it. I don't know why or how this has happened, I just know it is not a point of weakness for me any longer. I thank God that He has taken away my desire for sugar and pray that others will be able to have this happen to them. I still love my sweets, but now I get it from sugar substitutes.
We need to encourage Loftus and her research team to continue looking at the power of suggestion regarding food. You can write her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If we are ever going to get a grip on food addiction and specifically sugar addiction, then we will need to look at every available option to help us deal with it directly. THANK YOU to Loftus and everyone who helped her in this at the University of Califonia Irvine!
08/03/2005 UPDATE: Elizabeth Loftus was kind enough to respond to my blog post about her study today:
This is just fascinating....I'm sending it to my collaborators Dan, Cara, & Erin. I like the "rat poison" idea. Let us know if you'd like a copy of the actual paper.
Psychology & Social Behavior
Criminology, Law and Society
University of California, Irvine
2393 Social Ecology II
Irvine, Calif. 92697-7085. USA
UCI web: www.seweb.uci.edu/faculty/loftus/
UW Web: http://faculty.washington.edu/eloftus
She was kind enough to send me a copy of the PDF file outlining the entire study results. If you would like a copy of this file, then just send me an e-mail. THANK YOU again, Ms. Loftus for your efforts to educate the public on such an important health issue!