As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things that I miss is McDonald’s French Fries. I mean, it’s the memory of the prefect McDonald’s French Fries, and those were few and far between. Still, I kind of miss them. Right after Christmas, the husband brought McDonald’s into the house. It’s not something that he does often, especially if I’m around. But it was Christmas day ,we had driven home from Portland, and we had no food in the house ready to make. So we needed to get take out.
I was lucky, because there was a pho place that I knew I could eat at that was open. The husband, who can eat anywhere he wants, was not. He’s not a fan of pho, which I don’t understand, but I don’t push the issue. He wound up driving around for 30 minutes looking for something easy that he could grab and bring home to eat. What he found was the golden arches. When he came home with the food he looked at me and apologized, but I didn’t really care, because my pho smelled a lot stronger than his fries (and had large pieces of ginger, yum!)
The truth, and you can’t tell him this, is that it doesn’t bother me as much as it did a year ago. I mean, a year ago, I hadn’t found all of the things that I could eat. I wasn’t as comfortable with my diet. I have some pretty good coping mechanism now. I’m still paranoid about everything. I watch people’s hands. I ask a million questions. I read and double check everything that I eat. But I’m better about the McDonald’s thing now.
My memory of McDonald’s isn’t as sharp as it used to be. It used to be a pining for Chicken McNuggets and Fries. I wish I could say that I found better foods to replace them, but really I just kind of forgot about it. Sure when you drive by a McDonald’s that smell is still there, but now it’s just kind of a thing. Kind of like the smell of yeasty bread rising when you go past Subway. It doesn’t really do anything for me anymore.
Olfactory memory is commonly implicit memory which can be created over time. For those that don’t know what that means, is it’s a conditioned memory, like a Pavlovian response. You get practice associating a sensation, and as you repeat it, your body begins to create neuro pathways, until you have an memory of the sensation burned into your brain. If you would like a really good explanation, watch this video. MatPat, over at Film Theory, does a really awesome explanation about implicit memory using diet coke and (of course) does it by discussing superhero movies. If you’re not interested in the whole superhero aspect of this, skip to minute 6, that’s where he starts the discussion on memory, but really the whole thing is pretty great.
So, how does this apply to me not craving McDonald’s from smelling it anymore? I haven’t eaten McDonald’s in 2 years, this means that the habituation of my neurological patterns for McDonald doesn’t have practice anymore. The smell/recall process isn’t as strong as it used to be. This means that the craving that the smell of McDonald’s used to trigger in me isn’t as strong as it used to be, and will eventually fade. This is why the smell of fresh baked bread doesn’t trigger the same sensation in Celiacs or Gluten-Sensitives as it does everyone else. And is the reason that we don’t even remember the taste of gluten bread anymore.
We’ve all said those words. We can’t remember the taste or the mouth feel. That’s because our brain associates bread with our new reality of bread. For adults, our memory adapts for bread to be these heavier, dense, moist loafs. When we think bread we this of Udi’s and not Wonderbread. For children that are diagnosed young, they might not even remember having a loaf of store bought sandwich bread, like Wonderbread. With all of the cures on the horizon, I wonder what it will be like for these gluten free kids to take a pill and have some of that full gluten, cloud light bread. Will the think, “there’s nothing to this, there’s no substance, no body” and automatically dislike it? Will they taste McDonald’s and think “This is nothing but salt!”
There’s some conditioning in our lives that make us like McDonald’s or Diet Coke or Wonderbread. It’s comfortable. And when you have to change your diet, that comfort is taken away. McDonald’s is good, sure, but it’s not great. We have good memories of Happy Meals and play areas, or high school dates, or late night post bar munchies. It’s the food of our youth, so we’re attached to it. But now that I’m 2 years from eating McDonald’s’, I don’t crave it when I smell it anymore. I remember some of the good times. I remember the treat it was when I scraped together enough money to go and eat out when I was broke and in college, but I don’t really care about eating it right now. And I’m okay with that.