Several times a day, the average human puts whatever he or she is doing on hold and trundles off in search of some food.
At this precise moment, a small-scale drama unfolds in the brain. The deepest levels of the brain notice the shortage of food and trigger the physical feelings of hunger. The higher levels fire up food cravings, strategize about where to get the next food fix, and attempt to rationalize how a triple cheeseburger makes for a responsible breakfast. Here, the human brain shows its impressive abilities once again. In even the most well-adjusted person, it can convert a brightly-colored box of Oreos into a subtle interplay of desire, pleasure, guilt, and regret.
It may well be that food guilt is the most reliable way to separate humans from other animals. Although other species have muscled their way into our territory in various other skill areas—demonstrating clear evidence of tool making, social bonding, and the contemplation of past and future—they aren’t known to feel guilty after polishing off half a bag of ill-gotten dog food.
Clearly, the brain is deeply involved in the story of why (and what) we eat. In this chapter, you’ll start by teasing apart the puzzle of food. For example, what does the brain do with all the calories it consumes? And how can you optimize its performance by eating the right foods? The answers aren’t earth-shattering, but it all adds up to a good review if you don’t have mom around to nag you about ...