Hanger And The Munchies: 5 Common Food Feelings Explained
Over the years, it's become our mission to explain the weird sensations, feelings, and fears that we, the planet's most anxiety-ridden species, experience on a day-to-day basis. There's one facet of the human experience that we haven't yet covered, though: food. Which is fine, because we're going to do exactly that right now.
Marijuana Causes "Munchies" Because THC Makes Everything Smell Great
According to one of the best documentaries on the subject, smoking marijuana causes users to experience the "munchies" -- a hunger so voracious that the ensuing destruction resembles a disaster movie about a black hole made of locusts that only attacks dorm kitchens. (Or at least, that's what we've heard.) We're having enough problems with normal lettuce, so tangling with the devil's lettuce is just asking for trouble.
There's a perfectly scientific explanation for the "munchies," the long and short of which is that weed just makes everything smell awesome, man.
Like this, except the sentient smell hand leads to a Taco Bell.
In a 2014 study published in Nature Neuroscience, a team of neuroscientists pumped mice full of THC, the ingredient that gives marijuana its trademark kick. When they later put the mice under the microscope (miceroscope?), they found something fascinating: The THC had seeped into their brains and attached itself to the olfactory bulb (the part of the brain that governs sense of smell).
This wasn't just biological couchsurfing, though. The THC also supercharged the bulb, giving the mice an unbelievable boost in how far (and how richly) they could smell. And since look and smell are the two most important factors in judging whether to cram something down your neck, this resulted in the mice eating waaay more food than they normally would. Remember, humans are just very large mice, when you get down to it.
We Crave Comfort Food Because It Reminds Us of Happier Times
Comfort food comes in many forms, from fried to frozen, sweet to savory, cheese-covered to not-cheese-covered. The number of possibilities are as infinite and sprawling as the number of reasons someone would need to undergo edible therapy in the first place. Underneath all this, though, lies the question of just how comfort food never fails at making us feel better, as opposed to making us feel like sad people, but now also covered in cheese.
The answer, it seems, might not have anything to do with food at all. According to Shira Gabriel, an associate professor of psychology at SUNY, the key to understanding comfort food is that the "comfort" part of the equation is more rooted in social relationships and less in the fuzzy feeling of 20,000 new calories coursing through your veins.
In an experiment, Gabriel and a team of researchers asked volunteers to describe themselves in terms of how well they could form strong emotional relationships. If they could, they were classified as having a "secure attachment style." If they couldn't, they were classified as having an "insecure attachment style." The volunteers were then asked to describe a fight or conflict that they'd had with someone close to them ... at the same time as eating and rating the flavor of potato chips.
When the researchers reviewed the results, they noticed something interesting. The volunteers who'd described themselves as having a secure attachment style had, at the same time as describing their bust-up, rated their potato chips as tastier than those who rated themselves as having an insecure attachment style did. (They were the same chips, obviously.) In other words, the process of reliving the fight drove the "secure" people to seek comfort in the potato chips, whereas the "insecure" people didn't feel as much need to scarf them down.
This, along with similar results from other experiments, led Gabriel and her team to conclude that those "who have positive family relationships are more likely to reach for reminders of those relationships in times of sadness -- and often, those reminders come in the form of something edible." Gabriel compares it to classical conditioning. Which makes sense, considering that comfort food often triggers copious amounts of drooling.
Coffee Shits Happen Because Caffeine Makes Your Guts Quiver
If there's any joy to be found in the average weekday morning, it's arriving at the office, tired and disheveled from the hellish commute and the equally hellish nature of capitalist bondage, and pouring yourself a vat of hot, bitter, energy-giving coffee. And to cap it off, you'll be heading to the bathroom half an hour later for a spot of relaxation on the company's dime. We're talking, of course, about that sacred first poop of the day -- for which we have to thank that fateful cup of morning joe, and your gut for collapsing at the first sign of caffeine.
It's established scientific fact that ingesting caffeine triggers your gut to start spasming, which in turn signals your butt to move to battle stations. That's not to say that decaffeinated coffee doesn't kick-start a reaction in the chocolate factory, but -- and again, this is established scientific fact -- caffeinated coffee is 23 percent more effective at triggering the poop reflex than decaf, and 60 percent more effective than hot water.
It also helps that, by happenstance, our ritual of glugging down vast quantities of coffee takes place in the morning, a time during which our colon is twice as active as it normally is throughout the day. Your circadian rhythms load the proverbial gun, and your hot java fires it.
Don't tell your boss this interesting tidbit -- not because we don't want you to become known as the office poop fanatic (if anything, we definitely want that), but because we don't want to be held responsible if they replace the office coffee pot with bottled water.
Getting "Hangry" Is A Primeval Survival Instinct
Although it might one of the most millennial things ever, the word "hangry" is probably one of the most important recent inclusions to our language, if only because it finally puts a name to that animalistic rage felt by everyone, everywhere, at one time or another, that descends along with hunger.
But what is it about hunger that unleashes the beast within? Is our generation so coddled that the prospect of going without lunch for an extra hour warrants setting office fires and building guillotines, or is there something deeper at play? Something more ... primal? Funnily enough, yes! (Boy, that would be have been an embarrassing lead-in if it wasn't.)
Once you've finished using up the energy from your last meal, your insulin and blood sugar levels will start to drop. That's normal, given that your body isn't a perpetual energy machine. If you're keeping a good schedule and eating right, these drops should coincide closely with when your next meal is due, meaning that your levels don't wind up falling too far.
But if you observe less-than-stellar meal times, the drop in blood sugar will start to mess with your brain. That's because, unlike your other organs, which can be fueled by a wide range of nutrients and delicious chemicals, your brain is (much like your car) only capable of running on one fuel: glucose.
Missing a gas station will cause you to, among other things, become distracted, muddle your words, or -- you've guessed it -- act like an aggressive bitch. It's very much a "Jesus, take the wheel" moment by your brain, but the wheel is steering your emotions, and in any event, you're more likely to threaten to shank Jesus if he doesn't materialize a meatball sub right fucking now than ask him to calm you.
It's thought by neurobiologists that "hanger" is an old standby survival mechanism from the days when acquiring food wasn't a simple matter of looking up the nearest CVS, but a process that involved a ton of fighting, killing, and -- most importantly -- being a selfish dick with regards to your fellow man. In the days of yore, when times were tough and meals were lean, hanger enabled everyday folk to flip into beast mode and get their rightful share, as opposed to feebly standing in the background watching only the swolest members of the tribe chow down.
Brain Freeze Is The Blood Vessels In Your Head Acting Up
Brain freeze is one of the most painful sensations possible, short of childbirth and reading the news. On the face of it, it's pretty easy to explain. Touching something cold causes a stinging sensation. Ergo, putting something cold inside your head causes your head to be filled with a stinging sensation. Stop us if we're going too fast with all this science jargon.
Except that's not really the case at all. Brain freeze -- or to give its proper name, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia -- isn't triggered by cold (such as eating a huge scoop of ice cream), but by the combination of cold and warm immediately after the cold.
When something cold (again, like ice cream) touches the roof of your mouth, it causes the capillaries in your sinuses to cool -- a temperature drop that radiates out to your blood vessels and causes them to narrow, constricting blood flow. If you imbibe something warm immediately afterward, such as a hot drink or even a breath of warmer air, this causes the capillaries to warm and, inversely, your blood vessels to widen, causing all that pent-up blood to be released very quickly.
Which is a bit of a problem, considering that those blood vessels are next to a bunch of sensitive nerves located in your palate. The dramatic and sudden increase in blood flow trips these nerves, resulting in the painful sensation that we know as brain freeze -- or, if we're being honest with ourselves, what we more commonly refer to as "Ow, ow, ow, fuck, fuck, brain freeze, pass me that drink there, no that one right there, pass it to me, why are you being so slow you absolute bastard, pass it to me right noooooo- it's gone, doesn't matter."
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
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