Don’t let your food trick you into eating more. I want you to take a moment and think of a food that is irresistible to you. When you think about that food you can probably see it in your mind and you may even start salivating. I know the food you are imagining is not a vegetable or a fruit. It’s probably a processed food made with a precise combination of ingredients to trigger repeat cravings. The same cravings of a drug addict who can’t resist a drug or alcohol. Are your taste buds that easy for a food to trick? Food manufacturers do it everyday. They have done a lot of research on the eating habits of the American.
One third of American adults weigh too much. Why has this happen in the US? There should be a balance between the food we consume and the energy we expend. All the evidence points to the fact that the amount of food we eat has gotten out of hand. In 1960 the average 40-49 American woman weighed 142 pounds. In 2000 the average weight for 40-49 American woman jumped to 169 pounds. Studies also show that American adults were getting heavier from ages 20 to 40. Instead of just a few pounds the average American gained more than 12 pounds doing those ages.
Why are Americans now eating too much? In the past we ate most of our meals at a mealtime. Now we have highly processed foods that are palatable. This means that they stimulate your appetite and prompt us to eat more. They’re also available 24/7. With this access it has become socially acceptable to eat these foods at any hour of the day. For some of us these foods are impossible to resist.
Sugar, fat and salt are the main ingredients used to hijack our brain. Food manufacturers have done a lot of animal and human research on what make us eat. They found the sugar, fat and salt connection. Food manufacturers try to get the proportions right for sugar, fat and salt. When they do that right, they hit what’s called “The Bliss Point”. Candy bars, Buffalo wings, big Macs and cheese fries all combined with fat, sugar and salt. The white chocolate mocha frappuccino served at your coffee shop is coffee, made with a mix of sugar, fat and salt.
It can take only a single taste of a “hyperpalatable” food to sit this process emotion. After you’ve eaten a “hyperpalatable” food several times you become more sensitive to cues surrounding the experience. The sight of the wrapper and the name of the food arouse your memory of how it felt to eat the food and focus your attention on getting it. Every time you repeat the experience by eating the food you strengthen the neural circuits involved, making yourself more sensitive to anticipating cues. This process rewires your brain’s circuits.
The basic business models for a food manufacturer is to sell you something you will eat every time you see it, smell it or think about it. Those Buffalo wings you love are the fattest part of the chicken. The wings are fried and refried and covered with red sauce that’s full of salt and sugar. That’s fat or fat on sugar and salt. You can find that combination in your mini appetizer snacks and fast foods such as chocolate, covered pretzels, and cinnamon rolls.
Food manufacturers make forgiving foods. They make it for us to eat more. Can we tell when food has a lot of sugar, fat and salt mixed in? Food manufacturers have learned how to hide it while keeping the food’s “craveability.” They have learned how to combine ingredients, including chemical enhancers, like artificial sweeteners, Hickory smoke and cheese flavoring to create a complex series of flavors and textures that magnify your sensory appeal. They have spent considerable efforts to make their creations easier to swallow. The average bite of food in the American diet at one time required 22 chews before swallowing now it only takes two or three. After you swallow your food in two chews the taste and oral stimulation fades and you will reach for more. The design is to get you to eat quickly enough to override your body’s ability to tell you “you’ve had enough.”
We also have to look at advertising. The advertising adds a pleasurable association to our sensory experience. It builds an association of having a good time. You see your food at parties, barbecues and with friends having fun.
Can we defend ourselves against a highly sophisticated industry? You can with planning. If want to avoid unhealthy, processed food I suggest you establish some guidelines and enforce them. Identify the foods that you know are uncontrollable and appealing. You should make them “off-limits.” Plan all your meals. Decide what you need to eat. Know when you’re going to eat. Plan at least three meals a day. Plan a few healthy snacks.
If you feel yourself slipping you should have a response. You can respond with something as simple as “You’ll feel better about yourself if you don’t eat the “off-limit food.”
If you have a fitness question or concern, write to “Tips to be Fit,” PO Box 53443, Philadelphia, PA 19105 or send an email to email@example.com. Past articles can be found at www.phillytrib.com by searching “Tips to be Fit.”