I like to think of myself as a pretty even-keeled guy. I don’t get too upset over a lot. But one thing has me really riled up. I mean, REALLY riled up.
It’s the way we overeat one particular type of food.
You’ve probably heard the term “conspiracy theory” bandied about in a lot of different areas. And for the most part, I don’t subscribe to the concept.
I make an exception when it comes to this. These foods are designed specifically for us to overeat.
I am not making this up.
What are these foods?
Packaged, processed ones.
The manufacturers actually use tricks designed SOLEY to make us eat more than we need to. Yup. Processed foods have been deliberately engineered to make us crave — and eat — more of them.
How do they do that? Let me show you 3 ways food manufacturers make us eat more of what they’re selling:
Trick #1: Craveability
You know that feeling of I need to have that bag of chips that’s in the cupboard RIGHT NOW? There’s a name for that, and it’s craveability.
The reason you can’t eat just 1 potato chip is because of all the different flavors packed perfectly into the chips.
The salt, which sits on the outside of the chip, hits your tongue first. It sends a message to the pleasure center of the brain, which then sends a signal back saying, “Keep ’em coming!”
And while our brains would eventually tire of one flavor (known as “sensation-specific satiety”) and tell us to stop eating, the junk food industry has overcome that hurdle by throwing in plenty of fat (which also helps light up the brain’s pleasure center) and, for good measure, some potato starch, which gets converted to sugar in the body.
Trick #2: Vanishing calorie density
You take a bite of a cheese puff, feel a slight crunch, then, all of a sudden, there’s nothing there to swallow — only flavor dissolving in your mouth. Snack foods that melt in your mouth, like cheese puffs, meringues or cotton candy, have something called vanishing caloric density.
That means that the stomach doesn’t get the memo that you’ve eaten all those calories. So your brain never registers it’s full — even though you’re scarfing down hundreds, even thousands of calories. So you reach for another handful. And another. And another.
Trick #3: Dynamic contrast
You know how I said your brain eventually tires of one flavor? Foods with dynamic contrast give a whole host of differing sensations in the same food. For example: a crunchy shell followed by something with a soft or creamy texture. Think chocolate with a caramel center or an Oreo cookie. Or a maple bacon donut (yes, those are a thing now — yuck!)
The brain loves the thrill of these novel sensations, so it seeks them out. And the dynamic contrast keeps the brain interested, so it never tires of eating the food.
So … what can we do about it?
Now that we know that processed foods are carefully crafted to contain all sorts of flavors and sensations designed to be as addictive as possible, let’s come up with some ways to fight t against this junk.
Here are some hints:
Buy whole foods. If the junk isn’t in the house, you can’t eat it. When you’re at the food store, shop the perimeter. That’s where you’ll find your high-volume, healthy, nonprocessed fare, including veggies, fruit, lean meats and dairy.
Create your own dynamic contrast. Mix things up on your plate to keep things interesting. Try carrots dipped in hummus, plain low-fat yogurt with granola and berries, oatmeal with cinnamon and a sprinkle of almonds.
Stop before you swallow. Before you eat, ask yourself: Is my stomach growling? Am I light-headed? These are signs of physical hunger. If those physical signs are absent, ask yourself: Am I stressed? Anxious? Bored? Then come up with 3 other ways to relieve the problem. Take a bath, read a good book, or call 1-800-928-5580 and someone from our team can talk you out of reaching for that pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
I feel better getting that off my chest. Now, if we could only get that crap off the shelves …
Steven Sisskind, M.D.