Chock Full ‘o Stress: A Cake Study
One of my all-time favorite experiments is what I lovingly dub the “chock full ’o stress” study, done by Stanford professor Baba Shiv and Alexander Fedorikhin. They divided college student participants into two groups, asking the first group to remember a two-digit number, and the second group to remember a seven-digit number. The participants then walked down a hallway, where they were offered the choice between two snacks: fresh fruit or chocolate cake.
And this is where it gets interesting: the participants who were tasked with the seven-digit number, our group two gunners, were twice as likely to choose the cake.
Yep, that’s right. Scientific evidence is proving what you and I both experience all of the time: when we’re tired, it’s a lot more challenging to make the healthy choice.
The study concludes that when we have more to think about and, hence, more stress, we carry a heftier “cognitive load.” That heavy mental lifting, in turn, exhausts our prefrontal cortex — the area of our brains that makes rational, reasonal decisions — and our choices become less so, accordingly.
So, this means that we get to eat cake whenever we’re tired, right?
Yeah, right. You’re not going to get a free-for-all, sugar-laden license out of me (even if chocolate cake is my favorite food). We can, however, use this helpful data in our daily diets.
When we are mindful of the chock full ’o stress factor, we become more aware of when we’re tired, cranky, irritable, moody, stressed out or overloaded. We remember that we’re more likely to “choose the cake” and, therefore, that might just need to give ourselves something even sweeter: SELF-CARE!
Taking care of yourself helps heal the underlying cause of the cravings chaos demonstrated in the Stanford study: exhaustion. Experts are seeing evidence that giving the brain much-needed rest and lowering stress levels may help unload the prefrontal cortex so that it has more energy for awesome, authentic choice-making.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake, of course. Just don’t strain your brain beforehand.
Image Credit: foodess.com.
(Check our their amazing moist chocolate cake recipe!)