Open Mouth, Insert Fruit by the Foot: Oral Fixation and How the Mouth is a Pleasure Zone

The psychology behind making mouths happy.

In 1905, Jewish neurologist Sigmund Freud presented his theory on what he called “oral fixation”.  It basically said that if an infant was weaned too early or too late, when they became an adult, they would be “hungry” for activities involving the mouth: smoking, overeating, being extremely talkative, being addicted to sugar, alcoholism, biting, chewing on toothpicks…(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oral_fixation#Oral_fixation).

However, tests on Freud’s theory have never produced any significant evidence proving it to be valid.  Therefore, if anything, his theory on oral fixation is interesting, but not compelling.

And while I, along with pretty much anyone else in the history of the world who has heard about it, definitely don’t take Freud’s theory of oral fixation seriously, the theory has caused me to dwell a little bit on the human obsession of stimulating our senses by what we put in or near our mouths.

Even people who pretty much have never been around babies all that much (I’d almost say I qualify for that description) recognize that babies explore and test their surroundings by putting objects in their mouths.  Not just food, but toys, live animals, clothes- it doesn’t matter.

I could see how as adults, we fall back on this behavior.  After all, what is so enjoyable about swallowing a delicious food or drink?  Not much.  It’s all about the sensation of bringing that food item up to our mouths, tasting it, and chewing it.  So in theory, the only real difference between eating a piece of red licorice and chewing a piece of bubble gum is that we swallow one, but not the other.

Of course, a piece of candy will “fill us up” more than a 5 calorie piece of gum.  But when we eat sweets, we’re typically not eating to “get full”.  Maybe as a snack to tide us over or as a way to top off a meal.  The reason we eat sugary snacks is because it’s fun.  And having fun makes us happy.

Even contrasting that example to the joy of eating a good juicy, homemade burger- I eat a burger on occasion not only because it tastes good, but also because it fills me up.  Because if I simply wanted to be filled up with food, I could eat an endless list of other things, including a huge salad topped with beans and rice, instead of the burger.  But eating a burger typically is more likely to release more pheromones in my body, causing me to feel happy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pheromones).

So what does all this mean to me personally?  What do I walk away learning from this?

Anyone who has ever read a few of my “healthnutshell” posts knows that I think sugar is the devil (unless it is eaten in whole fruit form, not juiced).  But sometimes, I give in to a little bit of sugary awesomeness.  For the next two weeks, Starbucks is doing a happy hour promotion where their Frappuccino’s are half off from 3:00 to 5:00 PM.

So this past Sunday afternoon, at 4:47 PM, my wife and I strolled in the Starbucks right down the road from our house.  Because I had already drank coffee that morning and didn’t want to overdue it on the caffeine, I told the barista, “Make me the manliest drink you sell: a tall Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino”.

As my wife and I sat there enjoying our sugary Frappuccino’s there in the coffee shop, discussing our individual roles in my side of the family (“my dad is the mechanic/carpenter, my brother-in-law is the computer whiz, so what am I?…”) , I consciously focused on the happiness that my Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino was bringing me.

The worst way to drink a sugary drink is to just simply chug it like water.  The best way is to let it roll all over your tongue to the point you don’t really taste the sugar, then slowly swallow it.

Here is the most important thing to remember when choosing the size of any food item:  You are buying the amount of time you will enjoy the product.  You pay more money for a large, so it takes long to consume.  If you order a small size, you have less time to enjoy it.  Unless you eat or drink it slowly.  Like I do.

Slowly enjoying a Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino is most comparable to smoking a sweet cigar.  When smoking a cigar, the smoke isn’t intended to enter the lungs.  The smoke is meant to be tasted and enjoyed in the mouth.  It’s not the same as smoking cigarettes , where the smoke hitting the lungs is the whole point- or so I’ve read, on Wikipedia.

So while I laugh at Freud’s theory on oral fixation (the idea that incorrectly weaned infants become overeating, smoking, habit-forming adults), I do recognize that there is a connection between a person’s physical health and how much they give in to oral stimulation- specifically when it comes to eating, drinking, and smoking.

Each time I deny my mouth its “oral fixation” on juicy burgers and Frappuccino’s and honey berry flavored cigars, it is an absolute fact that I am always doing my body a favor, but not my mind.  I just have to remind myself, those things are for special few-and-far between occasions.  Because the truth is, I can get by most days with green salads, salmon, fruit, oatmeal, water, and chewing gum.  I admit though; it’s not easy trying to fix my oral fixations.

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healthnutshell: That’s Not Food

Why don’t beer companies have to put the nutritional facts label on their bottles like soft drink companies do?

My wife and I have a few sayings at our house that we shout at the TV when fast food commercials come on, like this one:  “That’s not food!”  There’s one for Steak N’ Shake where they advertise 4 meals for under $4 each.  These “meals” consisted of fried burgers on white bread with greasy fries and a sugary soda.  Recently my wife sarcastically reprimanded the TV when she saw that commercial:  “Yeah, because that’s a meal.”

As learned on one of our favorite documentaries ever, Food Inc., almost always  nutritious food costs more than unhealthy food.  Because unhealthy food (eaten for pleasure, mood enhancement, and/or convenience) isn’t really food.  And that’s why we tend to say “that’s not food!” in our house when we see something that’s an imposter.

By all means, I’ve been tempted for months now by Pizza Hut’s “any pizza, any toppings, $10” special.  What a deal.  But I also know that just a few slices would max out my sodium, fat, and sugar for the day.  If it seems to be too good of a deal, it probably isn’t food. I haven’t given in so far, and I’m beginning to think I won’t.

Last weekend my wife’s stomach was bothering her so I got her some ginger ale, which is supposed to be a good remedy.  It worked.  But the next day she was a little disappointed to see that an 8 ounce serving contains 24 grams of sugar (the health equivalent to smoking two cigarettes).  So that got us to thinking about other sodas.  Like dark colas and bright orange sodas.  More sugar, more artificial coloring, and loads of caffeine.

Beer and alcohol virtually contain no sugar because it converts alcohol.  I’m very cautious of eating or drinking things that I know were not consumed during Biblical times.  Jesus and his disciples drank wine, not grape juice (which is full of sugar).  They also didn’t drink sweat tea or chocolate milk, which often have much more sugar than soda.

Read “healthnutshell: A Tablespoon of Sugar or a Cigarette?”
http://wp.me/pxqBU-sf

And then the irony jumped out at us.  For sodas, a person can look on the label to see the nutritional value (or lack of it, or degenerate value).  But not for beer.  Beer only contains 4 ingredients (which are all natural) and when compared side by side for nutrition which I’ll do in a minute, is actually healthy for an adult, whereas soda never can be because of its sugary nature.

Read “healthnutshell: Barley into Beer”
http://wp.me/pxqBU-2L

It’s funny to imagine all the foods and drinks with a nutritional facts label on them, though they have the opposition of nutrition in them.  Yet drinking a beer or glass of wine a day is healthy for a person, but it’s not treated as food.  With a little help from Yahoo Answers, I found out why.  No big conspiracy, though.

1)     Because alcohol is involved, beer is not regulated by the FDA.  Alcoholic beverages are instead monitored by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and they don’t require nutritional labels for products.

2)     In theory, all beer technically ever can be is the same four ingredients: water, yeast, barley, and hops.  Beer is beer.  It’s just brewed in different ways.  There’s no wonder what’s inside the bottle, unlike soda.

3)     General disinterest.  There have been no complaint letters from people wanting to know the nutritional value of the beer they drink.

4)     Technically there is no nutritional value.  Like tea.  Or water.

Here’s that side by side comparison:

12 oz. can of Coca Cola

Nutritional facts: 140 calories, 50 mg sodium, 39 grams of carbs, 39 grams of sugar

(over time is the equivalent of smoking 3.5 cigarettes)

Health benefits: none

Drug ingredient: caffeine

12 oz. bottle of Killian’s Irish Red

163 calories, 13 mg sodium, 13.8 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar

Health benefits: decreases risk of heart disease, improves bone density, flushes kidneys, reduces blood clotting

Drug ingredient: alcohol

They both have essentially the same number of calories.  But Coke contains about 3.5 tablespoons of sugar and unknown, unnatural, and unpronounceable ingredients.  Plus added caffeine, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Whereas Killian’s Irish Red has no sugar (it’s been naturally converted to alcohol) and contains only familiar, natural, and pronounceable ingredients.  Plus several health benefits, and that’s obviously a good thing.

As I mentioned earlier, cheap food with little to no nutrition almost always costs less than food that is actually good for the human body:

Cost of a 12 pack of Cokes: around $4

Cost of a 6 pack of Killian’s: around $6

Granted, not everyone can handle alcohol.  Whether they have a family history of alcoholism, an addictive personality, a lack of self-control, or a moral opposition (Baptist, Church of Christ, Mormon, Muslim, etc.). Fortunately, I don’t.

When I look at the comparison it’s pretty obvious which way I’m gonna go.  I choose the healthy option.  Knowing that too much of anything is never healthy.  “Drinking responsibly” takes on a whole new meaning.

No matter how you look at it, choosing what to drink is a moral decision.