Grab your weapon, your willpower to do this. It is time to kick some butt!
Why Are You Addicted?
First things first, you aren't alone when it comes to being addicted to food. There's a reason why Lays, one of the largest potato chip companies out there, used the slogan, "Bet you can't eat just one!"
The food industry has scientists working around the clock looking to expose what your body craves to create a product that will keep you coming back for more. However, the secret to outsmarting the food industry is simpler than you might ever think.
Nature's Intentions Are Honest
Our bodies crave the big three when it comes to food – salt, sugar, and fat. This is a built-in method that stems from our instincts to survive in nature. Dating back to our ancestors, we have been able to detect which foods are safe in nature by how they taste.
- Sweet = Safe
- Fatty = Energy-rich
- Salty = Preserves fluids
- Bitter = Poison
When you ingest sugar and fat, you increase the amount of opiates being released into your brain. These opiates stimulate your brain to release dopamine (the "feel-good hormone"), which gives you pleasure, alertness, concentration, euphoria, and motivation – and yes, the word opiates applies here. Addictive, addictive, addictive.
The Food Industry's Intentions Are Not What They Seem
The food industry has created "food-like products" packed with concentrated addictive flavors, all without having any nutritional value. Tastes good going down, though!
Remember, it's their job to make you eat more of their company's food, whether it's healthy or not. These concentrated tastes overstimulate your taste buds in such a short period that your brain doesn't even have time to register how much you have actually ingested. It focuses on releasing the opiates, dopamine, and that pleasurable feeling it has been looking for all from eating that food. Cram, cram, cram!
Typically, the food industry will eliminate the food's dietary fiber, dehydrate it, and then process it at extremely high temperatures (which strip its nutrients). Suppose you took a cup of grapes and dehydrated them.
In that case, you will be left with a quarter-cup of dried grapes (raisins). Kinda healthy, we're still ok…
Then if you added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and chocolate, now you have chocolate-covered raisins. If you had to eat 1,000 calories worth of fresh grapes, you probably physically couldn't do it.
It's fairly easy to eat 1,000 calories worth of chocolate-covered raisins, though. Ever eaten a box of them while watching a movie? If so, congratulations, you did it!
Another example of the food industry's processing techniques is when they take out the fiber in brown rice, making it white rice. This completely changes the texture and flavor of the rice, but it also concentrates the sugar – and as we know, a concentration in sugar is never healthy for the body. On top of that, we know how much better white rice tastes compared to brown rice? White fried rice? Yum!
Addictive foods tend to be housed in packages to look tasty, convenient, and attractive to consumers. Try to look for unpackaged foods, usually found on the perimeter of grocery stores, to avoid these processed foods and food-like products. The grocery store can be a real battleground for even the most resolved of dieters.
Unfortunately, we as a society have not demonized the food industry as we have done with the tobacco industry, but isn't it really the same thing? They're both causing disease to spread like wildfire throughout the world.
*A Connecticut College study of rats showed that Oreo filling, morphine, and cocaine stimulated the pleasure portion of the brain. However, when rats were given a choice between the three, they chose the Oreo filling!
Foods With A "Parachute"
I like to use the example of a "parachute" when referring to addictive vs. whole foods.
Foods with a "parachute" (whole foods) slowly digest, assimilate and absorb into your body at a rate at which you can fully receive all of the food's nutrients. Additionally, your body is going to be aware of how much of these foods it has ingested.
Foods with no "parachute" (food-like products, processed foods) immediately digest, spike your blood sugar, cause chronic high insulin levels, and typically provide you with little to no nutrients.
Think of it like this:
Every time you eat, it's like you're jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Obviously, you would want to jump with a parachute, safely controlling your fall and guiding you to the ground nice and easy. However, if you jump with no parachute, there's just the free-fall. Then a splat.
Sugar Addiction: It's Real
Sugar addiction isn't a surprising phenomenon considering that studies have shown it to be more addicting than cocaine, among other sundry backroom entertainments, and that over 80% of the foods found in grocery stores contain added sugars.2, 3
From candy, soda, and even hamburger meat, sugar is added to almost everything people ingest. Don't believe me? Try checking out boxes on your next grocery store trip.
Companies legally have to show the ingredients in the caloric information box. (That black and white stripe that looks like an excel table!) The one spot of danger when it comes to "natural flavorings" – but we'll come to this later.
Not to mention, a high amount of sugar in your bloodstream can cause significant damage to your body, such as:
Blood sugar imbalances
Low brain function
Sound like a no-good time? Well, you're right about that. Considering the risks, it seems like that candy bar really isn't worth the long-term pain…
Sugar depletes essential nutrients in your body like magnesium and B vitamins, which your body needs to convert tryptophan, an amino acid, to serotonin (the "happy hormone").
Be Sugar Savvy
You should understand which foods contain sugar and what kinds of sugar at that. That's right, there's more than just your general table sugar! Those stevias, sugar in the raws, monk fruits, and others have found their way into the general market, not just the coffee sugar dish.
Make an inventory of higher sugar impact foods that you are currently consuming. Read the nutrition labels and ingredient lists on the back of packages to see how much sugar these foods actually have in them and the quality of sugar. A task, knowing the contents of modern pantries, I know.
If any type of sugar is one of the three main ingredients in the package, don't just put it down; toss it as quickly as possible into the trash! Otherwise, note how many grams of sugar are in the package, the serving size, and the number of servings that the package contains.
*Refer to Appendix (B) to learn about "How Do Sweeteners Rank?"
Making a journal of how much sugar you consume at each meal for even 3-5 days will help you identify foods you might be addicted to. Look at what you eat, what time you eat, and how you feel after eating each food. You'll likely notice an energy spike, then a lethargic dip, after sugar.
Owning It By Understanding It
The most important part of kicking your food addiction is to take responsibility for your addiction. You must fight back by lowering your addictive food intake slowly. Going cold turkey will only leave you feeling deprived, which will tempt you to revert back to your old ways. Remember, cold turkey equals starving – which your body will fight against mentally and physically! No good!
You have to tell yourself that you are choosing not to eat these addictive foods because you know that you will gain more than what you are giving up. This will put you in the right mindset to change your lifestyle for good!
Unconsciously, the body craves certain foods to heal itself with nutrients and to mask its pain with pleasure. This is why your body tells you to keep eating when you ingest foods with no nutrients like most addictive foods. It is attempting to gain nutrients from the food, but when they fail to provide you with any (in processed and food-like products), your mind will keep telling you to eat until it is nutritionally satisfied. People confuse this unconscious reaction for lack of willpower.
Remember, your mind reads boxes, not your body – your body doesn't know the quality of the food until it is too late!
You should always look out for sugary, salty, and fatty comfort foods. We're looking at you, potato chips. Ask yourself, are you eating this just to seek pleasure, or are you eating this for sustenance? When in doubt, find something that you love to do, like walking, watching TV, socializing, searching the web, or exercising, and use that as your pleasure in place of addictive food.
Satisfied vs. Stuffed
It takes your brain 20-30 minutes to catch up to your stomach. Think about foods without a "parachute" like a Twinkie - how many Twinkies can you eat in 20-30 minutes? I know I can eat quite a few, then start to feel sick!
A major problem with letting your emotions control your food intake is that when you receive the temporary pleasure to distract yourself from the emotion, the body will only be left with more pain once the pleasure goes away. This starts a vicious cycle that will hardwire your brain to always seek more pleasure with poor food choices in an attempt to cover up the pain. For example, after eating those six Twinkies, I'll go rummage through the medicine chest for an antacid to chill my stomachache, but those antacids will just slow the twinkies down in my system to create another pile of issues on top of the diminished heartburn.
It's never easy doing something like this alone.
If you really want to make sure that you kick this addiction for good, do it with a friend, spouse, or colleague from work. The extra motivation from a teammate can give you the push you need to accomplish your ultimate goal.
Focus On Fiber, Fat, and Protein
You should focus on ingesting tasty foods! Bar none! (If you hate a food, chances are you will not eat it. We have to recognize this fact.) These "tasty" foods are ones that are high in fiber (vegetables, fresh ground flaxseed, small amounts of fruit), healthy fat (nuts, ghee, avocado), and small amounts of lean protein (wild-caught fish, grass-fed meats, and free-range eggs) too. Utilizing fiber, fat, and protein will slow the digestion process, stabilize your blood sugar, help with satiety and increase your energy. You should always accompany each meal with vegetables since these will provide you with vitamins, minerals, and fiber to keep you healthy and full!
- Satiety – a full sensation after a meal.
*Some foods actually have fiber, fat, and protein in them, like avocados, seeds, and nuts!
You can swap out addictive food for almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds, as these other foods produce an increased level of dopamine as well. If you are craving sweets specifically, try podded peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, or rutabagas instead. These healthy alternatives are easy if you need to snack on something later in the night.
Make It Personal
Do you want to look better?
Step around strokes?
Battle heart disease?
Setting a goal for yourself will help you reach tangible results in both the short- and long run.
Like I said before, going cold turkey is a losing battle. Start by making shifts in your diet, like using complex carbs in place of simple carbs. You'll find greater success by tapering down your usual unhealthy foods and by making better choices as the day goes on.
YOU GOT THIS!
Once you understand that food addiction is not entirely your fault, you must create awareness around the problem to fix it. Begin by making a food journal over the next five days. Every time you eat, write it down! As you do this, swap out poor-quality trash with foods high in fiber, healthy fat, and small amounts of protein each time. Finally, make this goal personal! This is your battle for better health – poor-quality foods have hurt you, now it is time to fight back!
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