Does 'Forbidden Fruit' Theory Explain Obesity Crisis?

Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 12:22 PM

By Nick Tate

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A new study that helps explain how people become obsessed with forbidden pleasures suggests diets that bar or restrict certain foods can actually increase obesity risks.

The study, by University of British Columbia researchers, indicates when people are forbidden from having something, the restriction makes the item even more desirable.

"Our findings show that when individuals are forbidden from everyday objects, our minds and brains pay more attention to them," said Grace Truong, a graduate student in UBC's Dept. of Psychology who led the study, published in the journal Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience. "Our brains give forbidden objects the same level of attention as our own personal possessions."

The research also found, however, that obsession is not as strong if others are also denied, so if a particular food is forbidden to a group, its allure drops dramatically. That may explain why group diet techniques such as Weight Watchers can be more successful than dieting alone.

For the study, groups of participants were shown images of objects they were told were either theirs, someone else's, forbidden to them, or forbidden to everyone. Using electronic brain imaging and memory tests, researchers found the forbidden objects were recognized as well as self-owned objects and therefore most desirable.

"Since the days of Eve and the apple, scholars have been interested in our attraction to items we should avoid," said co-researcher UBC psychology professor Todd Handy. "Today, it is things like jumbo soft drinks, fatty foods and illicit substances. These new findings help to explain how our brain processes forbidden objects and suggests that, for resisting temptation, there's strength in numbers. It's harder to go it alone."

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