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.

Red Food Dye: Red 40 Comes from Petroleum and Crimson Lakes Comes from Scale Insects

Mommy, where does red food dye come from?…

I often feel like Dr. David Banner, who theorized he needed more exposure to gamma rays in order for his body to be able to harness its superhuman strength during a time of an adrenaline-fueled crisis. He therefore took matters into his own hands by using scientific machinery to get a good dose of gamma radiation. Of course, in turn he became the Incredible Hulk.

In the way that he had to scientifically experiment with his own body to test his theory, so have I, in several cases. Today’s report: The Case of Red Food Dye.

Between the ages of 9 and 11, I was a nervous kid. I had nothing to be anxious about. Definitely a happy childhood. But for no apparent reason, at times I would break out into anxiety attacks. I didn’t know why I was so afraid or why I was crying. And I had constant stomach problems. Which helped keep me nervous all the time.

Petroleum = Red 40

Then fortunately through my mom’s circle of Mom Friends, she heard the urban legend that red food dye in Kool-Aid and other kid’s foods was causing health problems in children. So I was banned from red Kool-Aid and any kind of candy or snacks that were the color red, or specifically contained the food dye colors Red 40 or Crimson Lake.

And what was the result?  My anxiety attacks and stomach problems cleared up.

Red 40 (Allura Red AC) has been linked to hyperactivity, ADHD, and even lower IQ’s in children. Turns out, the Red Food Dye Urban Legend is not simply an old wives’ tale. In the UK, Red 40 is planned to be officially phased out by the end of this year in children’s products, including medicine. However, in America, the dye is still approved by the FDA.

What’s so toxic about Red 40? Here’s a clue: It’s derived from petroleum.

Crimson Lake (Carmine) has been linked to severe allergic reactions, even known to cause anaphylactic shock, which is a very serious condition. Europe discourages the use of the dye in its food products, yet has no regulations against it. The American FDA will begin requiring companies to specifically label food products with the dye, starting in 2011.

What’s so toxic about Crimson Lake? It’s derived from female cochineal (scaled) insects. They produce carminic acid, which is a deterrent for their predators. That acid is where the dye gets its official name: Carmine.

Scale insects = Crimson Lake

We eat petroleum and insects every day.  In red licorice.  Big Red chewing gum.  Yogurt.  M&M’s.  If it’s not naturally red, it’s probably Red 40 or Crimson Lake.

But really, is knowing this going to stop us?