Yes, certain foods have actually been found to have ‘addictive’ qualities. Some call them “triggers” or “pleasure traps”. Now much research is being conducted to help determine some of the causes of the current obesity epidemic and to learn what is causing us to overeat.
According to Dr. David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating, a loss of control over eating is common, and can be attributed to triggers. There are a wide variety of categories of such triggers, including foods, emotions and environments. So what is a “trigger”? It is something that initiates a course of events, like overeating. The most common triggers found in foods are sugar, fat, and salt. Is it any wonder that these things are in so many of the processed, convenience foods that we like to eat the most? Therefore, the foods that are most convenient and most readily available, are most often the ones that are the least healthy and most addictive.
Cheese is another food that can be very addictive to some. Cheese actually contains “casomorphines”, which have a pleasurable, almost opiate, effect. No wonder Americans LOVE their cheese! Cheese also contains a very high concentration of casein, which is a protein found in dairy that is a know carcinogen. For more information on this, I highly recommend reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell.
For thousands of years, the human diet consisted predominantly of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Nowadays, the foods we eat are much, much higher in fat, sugar, and salt, and devoid of whole plant foods. This change in the human (particularly Western) diet is thought to cause our internal calorie counting machinery (i.e. metabolism) to malfunction and cause errors. We are tricking our bodies with these foods into thinking that we need to eat more. Think about how much Kettle Corn or how many chips you could eat in one sitting vs. watermelon or raw vegetables. 100 calories of French fries looks a lot different than 100 calories of Romaine Lettuce! Excessive fat and refined carbohydrates both work to cause this metabolic malfunction. Eliminating these foods is the first step to correcting the problem.
Not only do these high fat/sugar/sodium foods mess with our bodies’ ability to regulate our caloric needs, but remember these same foods are linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, depressed immune system and many cancers.
In their book, The Pleasure Trap, Drs. Douglas Lisle and Alan Goldhammer suggest these “5 Keys to a Healthy Path” which works to eliminate these triggers and traps and help increase your odds of success at improving your health and reaching a healthy weight. I’ve used them as a guide here and of course had to add my own suggestions and experiences too!
Strategy #1: No Junk Food in the House!
People often ask me how I get my kids to eat healthy foods. Honestly, that’s what they are offered, and we don’t have any of the junk foods in the house. So it isn’t really an option for them. Same goes for you. If it’s not in the house to begin with, it can’t tempt you and isn’t as readily available when you do feel like you want that bowl of ice cream at 9:30 at night. If someone wants to quit drinking or smoking, chances are, it’s a good idea to get the booze or cigarettes out of the house to help one to be more successful. Same goes for food addictions.
Strategy #2: The Weekly Menu
Healthy eating requires planning. How often have you eaten something you’ve regretted later, but did so only because you were hungry and that was what was most readily available? Follow the Boy Scout motto and “Be Prepared”. Planning helps us out a lot. Try sitting down for a few minutes one night a week and decide on 3-4 healthy, low fat, low sodium meals you’d like to prepare for the week and make my grocery list accordingly. If you make enough, you’ll have leftovers to carry over into the next day’s lunch or dinner. Taking those few minutes out of one evening a week, saves so much anguish later in the week when you may otherwise find yourself staring into the fridge, wondering “What the heck are we going to eat tonight?”
It can also save you quite a bit of money. When you stick to your list, and don’t shop hungry, you tend to do less “impulse buying” in the market. And often times eating out less, and eating in more, can save a lot of money. Not only on meals, but also think about the effect on your long term health costs!
Strategy #3: Cook in Quantity
As mentioned in Strategy #2, when you decide what you are making for the week, try making enough to stretch it out into the next day for leftovers. Many leftovers including soups and many casseroles freeze well too. You can eat them as is, wrapped in a tortilla or collard leaf (see http://yournutritionista.blogspot.com for recipes and more info on green wraps). One thing we do in our home is make a large batch of brown rice and some type of beans for the week. It keeps great in the fridge and is so versatile. You can add them to just about anything for more complex carbohydrates, fiber and plant-based protein. We add them to wraps using leftovers, salads, you name it! One of our favorite last minute meals is left over rice and beans with avocado and salsa, and a side of some type of cooked green veggies (green beans, broccoli, kale, etc.). If it’s already made, it’s super quick and easy. If you don’t want to cook a big batch of beans, just stock up on the canned variety. They are just as convenient.
Strategy #4: Create a Car Pack
OK, I know this sounds a bit extreme, but if you are a parent, just think about how much stuff you’ve had to schlep around for one little person and all of their needs. As they get older, they don’t need the carry-on luggage-sized diaper bag anymore, but it isn’t a bad idea to throw a bag of healthy goodies in the car for emergencies and for family outings. It may even save you from a trip to the drive thru! A car pack that you keep in the car at all times should include shelf stable, non-perishables items for obvious reasons. Try things like Lara Bars (granola-type bars made from dried fruit, nuts and seeds), trail mix, water, etc.
If you are planning on a day trip or long drive, try packing a snack bag for the day with items such as water, whole fruit, carrot/veggie sticks, whole grain crackers, pretzels, healthy sandwiches, etc. If you can, try to put them in an insulated bag or lunchbox with some sort of cold pack to keep things fresh.
I have now gotten into the habit of bringing food with me just about everywhere we go. Our kids seem to be hungry ALL the time, so having a healthy snack on hand makes things much easier all around. Now we’ve swapped the luggage-sized diaper bag for the insulated cooler, and it works out just fine.
Strategy #5: Getting Help
Change is never easy…it’s just plain hard. That’s why support groups are so successful for people trying to deal with change. Look at how successful Weight Watchers is, and that is largely due to the social support connected with it. The easiest thing for us was to make the change to a healthier lifestyle, as a family, and involve everyone. Trying to make changes for yourself, while everyone else around you continues the same habits can be very difficult and often defeating. If you know other people who are trying to make the same changes, get together, share ideas, have a potluck!
If you need help in the kitchen, and your financial situation allows for it, consider hiring someone to help out with the cooking, or at least the prep work. You may find a neighboring teen who’d be willing to come over and help prep and chop ingredients for you for a reasonable wage. Get creative!
If you would like to learn more about the topic of food triggers and food addictions, please consider reading one of the following resources:
- The Pleasure Trap, Douglas J. Lisle, M.D. & Alan Goldhammer, D.C.
- The End of Overeating, David Kessler, M.D.
- The China Study. T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II
- Breaking the Food Seduction, Neal Barnard
- Eat to Live, Joel Fuhrman, M.D.