Cookies and meth are so similar. Not

I started sharpening my mental sarcasm knives the moment I saw the headline “What Cookies and Meth Have in Common“.  The premise is so predictable I didn’t even need to read the article (although I did).  The basic conclusion: sugar is addictive and evil, just like meth, because both activate reward centers in the brain.  Sanctimonious Correct Eaters do not let sugar cross their lips, or if they do, they probably spend the next week performing some kind of penance.  Consuming nothing but raw wheat bran and water perhaps.  This kind of article reinforces their belief system.

But maybe there’s something to it.  Let’s make a list.  What exactly do cookies and meth have in common?  Thinking…. thinking….

  • Cookies are food; we need food to survive.
  • Meth is a toxic drug; no one needs meth — no one ever has — to survive.

Nothing in common there.  Next?

  • Eating too many cookies could contribute to weight gain.
  • Meth is notorious for leading to weight loss because it kills off appetite.  Not just weight loss, but malnutrition.  In fact you probably don’t eat many cookies while on meth.

Nothing there.  Next?

  • Cookies are sold in the grocery store.
  • Meth is illegal.

Nothing there.  Next?

  • Cookies taste good.
  • Meth, not so much.

Nothing there.  Next?

  • Meth addicts are notorious for committing crimes to feed their habit, leaving jobs, ruining families
  • Cookie eaters don’t typically go out committing crimes in order to buy cookies.  Haven’t heard of cookies ruining a family or a job.

Still need convincing?  Honestly critiquing this stuff is like shooting fish in a barrel.  Of course the whole point of articles like this is to try to make people feel guilty and tainted if they enjoy a treat.  You’re an ADDICT!!  It’s also an exercise in excuse-making.  Those poor obese people are out of control around sweets, they just can’t help themselves, their weight is not their fault.   They are helpless passive victims of Big Food.  Not sure whose fault it might be if the cookies are homemade.

Here’s a monkey wrench in the argument.  I’ve spoken to plenty of clients over the years about their eating habits, and I always ask about favorite binge foods.  And when it comes to overweight people, sweets are not the inevitable preference.  More than half of the responses name non-sweet, salty snacks as favorite binge foods: chips, puffs, fries, pretzels, crackers and pizza to name a few.  Many overweight people could care less about sweets.  What next?  An article equating pizza to meth?

Then there’s the fact that weight gain is caused by excess calories from all sources.  And a sedentary lifestyle makes it much easier to eat excess calories, because you’re not burning too many with physical activity.  Excess pasta or salad dressing or breakfast cereal or mayonnaise or triple bacon burgers or that extra piece of pizza are all just as likely to contribute to excess calories as cookies.

So what about the reward center in the brain?  According to this argument, anything that stimulates a reward response is by definition addictive.  Which, if you think about it, is a pretty sad way to think about pleasure in general.  Our taste buds are designed to detect sweet flavors for a reason: back in ancient times when humans roamed around gathering plant foods, sweet taste typically indicated something safe to eat.  Primitive humans had to be able to distinguish safe from toxic very quickly in the wild.  When the brain’s reward center fired up after tasting some berries, that human had found a stash of precious calories and nutrients.  It’s an evolutionary survival strategy.  The fact that the system gets misdirected by drugs is not the fault of the system.

The article goes off into more victim territory, arguing that drugs and obesity are unique to poor disadvantaged people whose brains crave rewards.  Which does nothing to explain wealthy successful people who are obese and/or are drug addicts.  Basically it comes off as hugely insulting to people who carry excess weight, as if they’re all secretly gorging on cookies.  They are not.  Just consider the statistics:

1/3 of the population is obese (33%)

1/3 is overweight (another 33%)

Total people carrying excess weight: about 67% of the population

Binge eating affects about 3% of the population, not 33% or 67%.  Obviously cookie addiction binges don’t cause most of our obesity problem.  And not all binge-eaters are overweight.

Believing you like cookies because you’re addicted to them does nothing to help you stop eating too many.  The likely result of this mindset is you end up feeling helpless and unable to make any positive changes.  Why bother?  You’re addicted.

When it comes to foods that trigger overeating, my best advice is this: out of sight, out of mind.  Put the cookies away in a canister somewhere, not sitting out on the counter.  Better yet, don’t have them (or other tempting treats) in the house or at your desk or in your car.  Which brings up another non-common trait of meth vs. cookies:  if you’re a meth addict, simply keeping meth out of the house is not ever sufficient to stop the addiction.  Meth addicts go out on the street looking for more.  I have yet to see someone roaming the street craving a cookie fix.

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