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FOODS THAT HIJACK  YOUR BRAIN                              read more posts

You know it's bad for you, so why can't you stop eating it?

Why is it that smart, savvy people who are interested in their own health and well being cannot resist eating foods that they know with certainty are not in the least bit health promoting?  Can you relate?  You know that those chips or cookies are really just extra calories, full of god-knows-what ingredients w/ names you cannot even pronounce (if you even dare to look at the list), are not doing you any favors.  You know they are full of sugar.  You probably know they are full of fat, and it's probably not the "healthy" kind of fat.  And, chips: salt, trans fat, and carcinogenic heterocyclic amines.  But, omg, they are so tasty! 

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Why does our logical, thinking brain not override the insane pull to eat things we know could slowly kill us? 

Howard Moskowitz coined the term "bliss point." Food manufacturers have found ways to engineer food to be so perfectly irresistible to us that we end up wanting them more and more, no matter the cost to our health or our pocketbook.  It reminds me of what I read about crack cocaine and methamphetamine addiction.   Food manufacturers spend a lot of time and money finding out exactly what amount of sweetness will make you want to eat the largest amount of their "food"& make you crave it more.  Not enough sugar, and you won't get too excited about it.  Too much sugar, and you'll stop eating it.  Just the right amount:  you will keep coming back for more, because the "bliss point" is so enticing.

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One of the ingredients used to achieve the irresistible bliss point is sugar.  Our brains have evolved to see sugar as a reward, something to get more of.  If you think of humans foraging for food thousands of years ago, this makes perfect sense in terms of survival versus death by starvation or by eating poisonous plants.  In nature, foods that taste sweet are full of nourishment that will provide energy and other nutrients (think berries, fruit, carrots, starchy foods).  It makes sense that being naturally drawn to these tastes would aid in survival by driving humans to find nourishing, calorie containing foods.  But, in the present day, there is an abundance of sweet tasting food at every turn.  There is no danger of famine.  There is very little danger of true hunger in the Western world.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  We have an overabundance of highly palatable (ie, irresistibly delicious) foods available that we have to do almost no physical work to get.

 Now, when we are hungry, we can just dial up, drive thru or open an attractive, colorful package full of sugary goodness.  And, our brains still say, "Good job finding food!  Get more of that stuff!  Calories = survival!"  And we do.  We get more and more and more food in our bellies.  And our belts expand more and more and more.  And we can't stop.  See the brain picture below?  This is your brain.  This is your brain on sugar.  This is your brain on cocaine.  See how sugar "lights up" the same part of the brain that cocaine does?  But, even more so?


This is why you can't say no.  The pleasure centers of your brain say "yes, yes, yes!"  And,though the logical thinking part of your brain knows better, it's often not in a state to override the pleasure center.  If you could figure out a way to override the "yes, yes, yes" message with a "no thank you" message from the old logical brain, then you'd be able to skip the sugar.  When we are tired, hungry, stressed, emotional or in any way compromised, our ability to use the logical part of our brain is limited.  But there are some proven strategies we can use to "just say no!"

  • Make a commitment to eat only unprocessed whole, natural sugar containing foods, like fruit.
  • Don't allow yourself to get way too hungry or let your blood sugar drop too low.  Eat regularly and keep healthy snacks on hand, like fruit!
  • Stay well rested.  A tired brain is a vulnerable brain.
  • Stay sober - drinking alcohol, using marijuana, etc. all compromise your logical thinking and inhibition (duh).
  • Find ways to counteract all of the visual cues to eat junk, by creating visual cues to eat the good stuff.  You can do this by
    • placing healthful meals and snacks in the most visible spaces in the fridge and pantry
    • create a small vision board of the good stuff & representations of you at your goal
  •  Create visual reminders of your personal reason to eat healthy foods.
    • carry a small card in your wallet with a word or phrase that makes you remember what you really want for yourself and your health

Try going 1 week without eating any sugar or food with processed sweetness added.  Skip sugar, brown sugar, honey, syrup and fake sweeteners.  Use the tips above to support you in staying away from sugary things.  Make sure you eat enough whole food carbs that your body and brain aren't starving so much for them that you can't resist the junk!  Try apples, blueberries, black beans, chick peas, and other fruits, legumes and whole grains.

Go for it.  You are totally worth it! 

And,  if you'd like some support and guidance in creating healthier habits that you can stick with to overcome the food engineering and marketing, I can help!

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