Dave: Recent research is all over the news which describes how the brain can get into an addictive state where the urge to eat junk food is almost impossible to resist, and how these addictions are exacerbated by the slightest cues in our environment. Gee, with a grim prognosis like that, what’s a person to do? I considered taking up crack cocaine – one addiction could replace the other, and then maybe I’d lose weight! But then I remembered, oh, it’s illegal, and more importantly, in questionable taste! And who can afford it, anyway? Forget that plan!
Tracy Olgeaty Gensler, MS, RD: Oh, it is hard to not think about food constantly, it’s everywhere we turn. Nowadays the drug store has aisles of food; growing up I don’t remember my neighborhood Fay’s Drug carrying more than a pack of gum or a candy bar! The gas station offers junky snacks and drinks and sometimes even a mini fast food restaurant. Then there are television commercials where you can almost smell and taste the food, and of course those commercials feature pizza, fries, burgers, creamy fettucine alfredo, ice cold sodas. You rarely see a commercial for an apple or a pepper that is so enticing. We’re definitely programmed to look for the unhealthy fare, it’s rare that your mouth will water like that for a garden salad. And there’s good reason for that.
Fat and sugar are at the top of your brain’s list of enticing ingredients to seek out. But foods high in fat and sugar are not satisfying. They leave you feeling weighed down and draggy, and some foods even cause a spike and then a drop your blood sugar, leaving you hungry even after you’ve already eaten too many calories. One of the only ways I think people can change their habits is to wear blinders to all of these “food opportunitites” out there. Act as if that food isn’t even available to you. Try it, you’ll be surprised how well this works. Instead, when you’re hungry, plan ahead for your next snack or meal. If you’re going somewhere for a few hours, take a long a Luna or Cliff bar, your water bottle and a baggie with a handful of dried fruit and a handful of nuts. Healthy fats, fiber, fruits and veggies, lean protein, these are the foods that fill you up, fuel you for everyday activity and keep your blood sugar steady. Foods high in fat and sugar just don’t cut it.
I watched my 14-year-old nephew pass up low fat cheese, fresh cut fruit, raw veggies and dip, whole grain chips and salsa to find the one sugar-filled food in my pantry – a tiny box of jelly beans. He kept going back to the jelly beans, having handful after handful until they were gone. Each time he took a handful I said “why do you think you’re still hungry?” He didn’t have a clue, but after the fourth trip, he began to see the logic of feeding himself something substantial rather than looking for a quick spike in his blood sugar. I gave him some ideas of what he could eat (HELLO- it’s on the table waiting for you) and he ate a bunch of good stuff and had tons of energy to go outside and run around with a football.
Keep in mind how much better you feel when you eat the right things. You’re still going to want fat and sugar, it’s the way your brain is wired. But you know what to eat, trust yourself, it just takes a little pre-planning. I’m sure you’ll feel much better and able to pass up the Krispy Kremes that seem to be calling your name.
Dave: Thanks, those are good ideas. Oh, but wait, did you say healthy food? I don’t know if I can go that far. Anyway, I have this little trick I play on myself. If a particular type of food isn’t in the house, I might want it, but I’m usually not willing to make a special trip to get it. Luckily, I don’t have a big problem with food addiction, but I do know that if I have cherry or mint-chip ice cream in the house, its days of not being in my stomach are numbered. Another one I used to do was to drink a big glass of water before a meal so that I didn’t have a big enough appetite to overeat. Tying my hands behind my back seems a little extreme. Next month: how to add enough fat to your cheese. Tracy, stop hitting me!