I am a huge advocate of eating foods you truly love. Nourishing ourselves with foods that not only provide fuel for our bodies, but that also taste good is one of the ways we take care of our physical as well as our emotional needs and wants. Since we eat frequently throughout the day, every day (I eat up to six times a day) we have the opportunity to show ourselves some serious love! When we eat the foods we truly want at the moment we begin to experience physical hunger and stop the moment we no longer enjoy our meal or the moment we feel physically satisfied (whichever comes first), our bodies remain at a healthy weight. This process is called homeostasis and it can be observed in other bodily mechanisms as well, such as maintaining a healthy body temperature.
When homeostasis is interrupted or overridden, we begin to lose touch with our bodies. In the case of food, we may ignore our hunger/satiety cues or, worse, not feel them at all. How does this happen? There could be medical reasons for this, but what I have observed and learned is that it is more commonly attributed to two factors: 1) Our thoughts about food and, for some of us, 2) consuming hyper-palatable foods (products that go beyond tasting good and make us go stark raving mad for them). Understanding and working with the first factor is vital in overcoming any food issue (or any issue for that matter), but knowledge of the second factor is instrumental in helping many people with “food addiction” get a handle on their challenge.
In his new book, The End of Overeating, Dr. David Kessler, former FDA Commissioner, presents in draw-dropping detail how the food industry engineers their products specifically to override the hunger/satiety cues signaled by our bodies. Kessler describes how the reward centers of our brain become extremely stimulated when we eat a doughnut – these are the same reward centers that are stimulated when someone injects heroine into their veins. In effect, that doughnut is a drug disguised as food and like a drug it keeps its users coming back for more. This makes highly processed foods homeostasis enemy #1 and the foe of any weight loss effort for sure. Here are just some of the ways the producers of highly processed foods attempt (and many times succeed) at getting people hooked:
* breaking down the original whole food so that all that is left is the nutrition-lacking portion, this accomplishes three things: 1)the product leaves the mouth quicker (less chewing involved), 2)it has an appealing “mouthfeel” (a term used by the food industry) and 3) it lacks nutrition so little to no real satiety occurs (and you need to eat more)
* using any combination of fats, salts and sugar (the high concentration and methodical combo of any two really sets off the reward centers in the brain)
* creating and using artificial flavors that are more intense than the natural foods they replicate
* pre-frying meats in oil (that will later be deep fried again – I just learned that when a food is fried, the water content of the food is replaced by the frying oil, this means if the food was 40% water before, the food is 40% more fat after frying!)
* injecting meats with solutions of sugar, salt and water and, many times, other additives
All of these manipulations (and others) conspire to override our bodies’ natural responses to our satiety/hunger cues by hyper-stimulating the reward centers of our brains, just like a drug does.
If you are a fast food regular, relax. There is a cornucopia of non- and minimally processed foods that can satisfy your taste buds as well as your nutritional needs. You are still in full control of what you put into your body. If you truly want to break your habits of eating drugs instead of food, you can do it. It is not unlike someone who wishes to quit smoking, it’s a process that starts with a desire, followed by a plan and driven by action. As a recovering perfectionist, I must also add that working with integrity and not striving for perfection is the key to achieving goals and maintaining them. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it doesn’t have to be a long drawn-out battle either.
Starting with your thoughts is the best way to gauge where you are and discover how you relate to these hyper-palatable foods. Start by making a list of foods you eat regularly. Which ones are highly processed and/or hyper-palatable? You don’t have to do anything about the list, just notice. If you are satisfied with your list, that’s great, congratulations! If you are not satisfied, brainstorm on some foods that are not processed that you do enjoy eating. Again, there’s no pressure to take any action, just observe. In fact, I don’t recommend doing a thing until you find some pleasurable (non-edible) replacements for the hyper-palatable foods you are contemplating giving up – I say if you’re going to give up one pleasurable thing (whether it’s food, drugs or internet word games), there had better be something just as, if not more, pleasurable to take its place (this could be spending more time outdoors, taking up a hobby or even getting more nookie with your honey – I kid you not, there exists a sex diet).
If you find you are a compulsive person and just transfer your addictions, you have some thought work to do if you wan to break that cycle. Acknowledgement is a powerful first step in putting an end to any habit you wish to break. The rest is merely a matter of knowing what you truly want and ridding yourself of the limiting beliefs that keep you from it.