On January 11, the day Hostess Brands Inc announced it was back in bankruptcy, several people I know became bewildered and disoriented, as if they’d just seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Hostess, the maker of Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes, Hostess Fruit Pies, and Ding Dongs, announced this new bankruptcy less than three years after completing an earlier restructuring.
On the same day Hostess announced its bankruptcy, more than a few people reacted badly, including a man who fell into a deep depression when he accidentally dropped down a 17 foot hole while repairing a broken water pipe in Mexicali, Mexico.
Meanwhile across town, two sugar junkies—-my sister Roberta and my friend Caryn—– were threatened by their doctors to stop sweets because sugar is so harmful. Caryn, whose blood sugar level shot to over 500, insisted she always kept tabs on her glucose level using the inexpensive Costco testing kit that comes with a leech. Roberta, for whom French dressing is a beverage, was more despondent and tried strangling herself with salt water taffy.
Enter “Project Milkshake,” a four year study by the Oregon Research Institute and the perfect answer for guilt-free sugar indulgence. I discovered this jewel online and proposed that Roberta and Caryn apply to be participants. Scientists and rats are studying how people’s brains respond differently to food and whether, for example, neurons in the visual cortex determine if a corn dog should be eaten or used as an ear wipe. Best of all, participants would be given a chocolate milkshake, possibly several times.
Participants would be offered up to $365 if they completed various “tasks.” Not wanting to discourage Roberta and Caryn, I didn’t mention the various “tasks” included overnight fasts, urine sampling, saliva sampling, body composition testing, and brain scans. There was also the disclosure that a participant might “experience a feeling of claustrophobia” from three sources: the plastic hood enclosed over the head for an energy use test; the Bod Pod, an upright egg-shaped, human-size device that measured changes in air volume while the participant sat inside, door closed; and finally, the MRIs.
Now many of my friends have shared heart-warming, mutual bonding stories of being rolled into a closed MRI and within a short time demanding to be liberated. I was confident I could put Caryn and Roberta at ease with this procedure by recommending several sure-fire coping devices I’ve used for routine closed-MRI visits: Mack’s Ear Plugs (if Mack wasn’t using them), a dark washcloth over the eyes to keep out magnetic rays, and 300 mg of Valium.
Caryn and Roberta also needed to appreciate that the Bod Pod was a better way to assess body composition than a hydrostatic (underwater) test such as I experienced years ago at an athletic club.
For that opportunity I wore a swimsuit and cap. I believe my swimsuit at the time was smaller than my cap. Mentally geared up, I met the personal trainer/technician who was to conduct the test. He had a whopping migraine, he said, and maybe a fever. I knew, considering his bravery, I had to go through with the test. Ahead of me were stairs leading to the top of a wooden structure that resembled an above-ground well with an attached chair suspended over water, like the Pilgrims’ dunking stool for blasphemers.
Since this was a time—i.e. pre-children—when I believed everything I was told, including the technician’s assertion that he controlled the safety of the test environment, I gamely allowed myself to be lowered into the well filled with warm water while sitting on a chair. (The warm water was sitting on the chair next to me.)
“Take a deep breath,” my captor said, “blow out all the air, and push yourself forward into the water. Sink down and stay down until you hear me bang on the sides.” He said I’d be doing this several times. Now I was convinced he was hallucinating from his migraine.
When one is under water, holding what little breath is left and realizes this is the closest thing to drowning—waterboarding wasn’t yet approved for athletic clubs—the temptation is to pop up early from the water. So early, in fact, that lungs have been known to message the brain they need air now, and damn the short trip to the surface!
If this were a cartoon, the main character—- probably a cat—–would at this moment be swallowing the entire deep well of water. The “technician,” probably a mouse, would then jump repeatedly on the cat’s back, enabling the cat to eject 20,000 gallons of water back into the well.
Since I was not Sylvester, Felix or Garfield, I presented the passive technician a unique ten minute symphonic composition of fortissimo gasps, coughs, and choking. When he calmly asked me if I wanted to try again, I vigorously shook my head “no,” which propelled two quarts of water out of my ears.
As it turned out, Roberta and Caryn did not have to be tested for body or brain composition. After further research, I discovered Project Milkshake participants were limited to 14-to-17 year old young women. I also read that some of these adolescent girls were shown pictures of chocolate milkshakes when they were in MRIs, while others were shown pictures of a glass of water. Similarly, some girls received chocolate milkshakes to drink, and others “a tasteless solution.”
On their website Oregon Research Institute reports Project Milkshake has been temporarily suspended after one of the scientists was discovered beaten to unconsciousness, apparently “by participants given a tasteless solution.”
Clearly we have one more scientific study of why sugar is so harmful.