Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tractor beams

Last week, I used the term tractor beam, as in "avoiding the tractor beam of the drive-thru" and my friend Marty asked me to expand on the theme.  She wrote:

Feel free to expand on these thoughts:

What are the “Tractor Beams” on in your life?
Does it pull you to the drive-thru?
Does it force you to stay on the couch instead of exercising?
Does it force you to…
Does it pull you…

First things first.  For those of you who don't know, the reference to tractor beams is from Star Wars (not a HUGE Star Wars fan but enough to use some of those pop culture references).  Gotta love Wikipedia as a source to clarify the term -- but here goes:

"We're caught in a tractor beam! It's pulling us in!"
Han Solo[src]
"A tractor beam was a projected force field used by spaceports, planetary bases, space stations and starships to effectively grasp and guide vessels to a safe designated landing. They could also be used to forcibly capture enemy ships."

There's much more information about tractor beams on the link -- if you have the same kind of brain I do, it's pretty funny reading if read with an eye to the whole drive-thru scenario.

Anyway, to answer Marty's question, for me, I see the drive thru as a pulling force -- it just sucks you in using your own inertia.  So -- when you see that sign for the drive-thru coming up, that's when the part of your brain locks on to the tractor beam.  Once you're engaged in the tractor beam, it takes a lot of extra energy to break away.

Now, that's all a fun and games way to look at fast food.  But there's some interesting brain imaging studies on how the brain responds to  high fat, high salt, high refined carb foods (and that, my friends, is exactly what fast food is DESIGNED to be).  Interestingly enough, the brain responds to those components in foods in the same way it responds to cocaine and other drugs.  When you first start eating them, a small amount stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain a great deal -- with routine eating, we need more and more of the foods to elicit the same amount of pleasurable experience.  And (although I don't think I've read this anywhere but it is consistent with what I see in my own and my clients' experiences), seeing the drive-thru is the trigger for the craving.  So you're actually already deciding to pull into the drive-thru before you're consciously aware of any thing going on.

Sneaky, huh?

And here's where creating levees comes into play.  If you don't (on principle) drive through the drive thru, the tractor beam loses its power over you.  You won't start the craving because the sign won't register as a stimulus to you.

So give it a try! I can almost guarantee if you boycott all drive-thru's for 30 (on principle), you will find the drive home much less fraught with temptation.

***and as I was rereading this post (trying desparately to proof it -- which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't ;) -- I noticed that I didn't address Marty's question about tractor beams, the couch, and exercise.  How about we talk about that tomorrow??

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