Perhaps you’ve come to accept the idea that healthy eating is a love-hate relationship. When you first get started, you love the salads, fruits and vegetables and fresh tasting foods. But after awhile, you start to resent your “healthy diet” because it doesn’t give you that flexibility you need nor does it allow for the treats that you crave.
So you end up ending your healthy diet trial period, in favor of going back to how you’ve always eaten. You’ve got your quick and easy meals. The ready-to-go snacks and you think, “now, I’ll be more satisfied.” After all, your favorite foods are not only convenient, they are just the right combination of crunchy, sweet and salty goodness.
But what happens when you go back to eating your typical diet of processed foods, take out, and the items that are higher in carbs, fat and sugar?
At first, you are happy again! You’ve got your freedom back. The tasty favorites are no longer off limits and you are not having to think through every meal. Stress-free, right? How about wrong…You do end up feeling relieved at first, the tension that is created from undertaking new eating habits is gone. But what are you replacing that unbearable tension with?
Your Brain on Junk Food
When you have a diet that is loaded with processed ingredients including, sugar, salt and bad fats, you end up sending your brain a very strong message every time you consume this combination. This particular combination of ingredients actually stimulates the opiate center in the brain that is considered the addiction center. So yes, you could say that your food is “addicting” and have it be true. Sugar withdrawal anyone? It creates a nasty cycle that goes like this: the only thing that makes you feel good are the foods with this combination and when you don’t have these foods, you feel down and have a hard time feeling good. And then when you don’t feel good you crave comfort (junk) foods that make you feel better again (for a short while).
How to Break the Cycle
So now that you know that how powerful of an effect being in the junk food cycle is, how can you break free from feeling bad to feeling good? One good thing, you don’t have to go cold turkey! It’s actually more effective and you can break the cycle more quickly, but you don’t HAVE to quit cold. One strategy is go back to ideal portion size. Let’s say it’s Girl Scout cookie season- oh wait- it is cookie season. Ok, so you order some cookies. And then you have one…(cue surge of hormones onto the addiction center) and that triggers the urge for another…then another. When does it stop?
Good question. Everyone has a different threshold for the effects of addictive food. But even if you think you have weak resistance to the power of sugar (or salty grease) you can weaken its grip on you by …wait for it… incorporating more healthy whole foods. No it’s not a trick to get you back on a diet, really. The thing is, healthy foods contain more nutrients, more vitamins & minerals the stuff that is helping you make the right amounts of happiness hormones like serotonin and dopamine. Whole foods contain much weaker concentrations of the addictive sugar/salt/fat combination, therefore they don’t cause the same out of control overindulging.
Betcha can’t eat just one is no myth when it comes to the junk foods of the Standard American Diet. The food industry has carefully crafted their ingredient formulas to trigger our helpless brains to eat more than we should. Our only defense is to try to eat these foods less often. But when that fails, you can always go back to the back up plan: feel good first, then indulge.
The Backwards Way Works
Have you ever noticed that after you have a great workout or a great date or any other experience that leaves you feeling exhilarated and satisfied that you don’t seem to have as strong of cravings for junk food? Naturally, you found a way to boost your endorphins without having to rely on your addiction center to make you feel good. You can use this tactic strategically for risky situations. What I mean is, consider doing an intense workout before going out to dinner. You’ll feel less tempted to overindulge. If you have a stressful day at work, try drawing up a bubble bath & creating an oasis to indulge your senses before releasing your stress by crunching potato chips or popping chocolate. If you can find a way to feel good first and truly make a commitment to these behaviors, you may find yourself less and less in the kitchen cupboard and more and more with a smile on your face.