Certain foods are powerful.
They cast a spell over the most well-meaning dieter, and cause logical people to overeat until their sides hurt.
They occupy your thoughts to the point of obsession as you try to ignore a plate of cookies.
And when it's all said and done, they accumulate on your body in the most obtrusive way as a result of dozens of unused calories.
Why does food hold such power? And, most importantly, how can you control your eating?
The End of Overeating
David A. Kessler, MD set out to answer these pressing questions in his instant bestseller, The End of Overeating. Despite being a pediatrician, a former FDA commissioner, and former dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Kessler struggles with his weight.
Observing the current obesity epidemic, he knew that he wasn't alone.
Dr. Kessler, with the insight of some of the brightest minds in medicine and science, discovered the following three reasons that most of us are compelled to overeat.
1. An Irresistible Combination Rewires Your Brain: Think of your favorite treat - most likely it can be broken down into the basic building blocks of sugar, fat and salt. This combination is known of as the ‘three points of the compass', a combination that has been shown to literally alter the biological circuitry of your brain.
Sugar, fat and salt give food a high hedonic value which gives you pleasure. This pleasure reinforces you to return to your favorite foods time and time again.
2. The Food Industry Targets You: Everywhere you go you'll see the clever work of the food industry, tempting you with highly palatable creations. Food has become a science, and your taste preferences the guiding light.
The food industry has one goal - to get you hooked. By constructing food items that are high in sugar, fat and salt they know that you will come back time and time again.
3. Conditioned Hyper-eating Becomes a Way of Life: Humans are conditioned to seek more reward. When readily available, hyper palatable food become our reward a pattern of hyper-eating quickly emerges. Dr. Kessler describes the cycle:
"Foods high in sugar, fat, and salt, and the cues that signal them, promote more of everything: more arousal...more thoughts of food...more urge to pursue food...more dopamine-stimulated approach behavior...more consumption...more opioid-driven reward...more overeating to feel better...more delay in feeling full...more loss of control...more preoccupation with food...more habit-driven behavior...and ultimately, more and more weight gain."
Breaking the Cycle
The good news is that you don't have to remain trapped in a cycle of overeating. The following three tips will put you back in control.
1. Set Your Rules: In order to resist overeating in today's tempting food environment, you must eat by a set of self-imposed rules. Predetermined rules take away the need to make food decisions in vulnerable moments.
Dr. Kessler thinks these rules should be, "simple enough to fit with your busy life, but specific enough to remove uncertainty from the food equation."
For suggestions as to what rules you should adopt, let's turn to another authority on eating, bestselling author of ‘In Defense of Food', Michael Pollan:
> Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
> Pay more, eat less. Look for quality of food over quantity.
> Eat meals. Cut out snacking, stick with structured meals.
> Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does. Gas stations are great for fueling your car, but the food they sell are not suited to fuel you.
> Try not to eat alone. Eating can become mindless when alone, leading to overeating.
> Eat slowly. Eat foods that have been prepared slowly – that means no fast food.
2. Make Negative Associations: When was the last time you peeled a lemon and ate it whole? Probably never. That's because your taste buds have a negative association with the sour taste.
Our taste buds have traditionally been our guide when it comes to food selection, but this must change for you to successfully avoid overeating. Since the food industry purposely crafts food items to please your taste buds (not waistline) what tastes good can no longer dictate what you eat.
It's up to you to create negative associations with unhealthy food - despite their pleasing taste. Here are some negatives to focus on:
> Those extra calories will accumulate around your waist.
> Your health will suffer.
> You will become more disappointed with your appearance.
> You'll feel sluggish.
3. Give Yourself a Real Reward: The bottom line is that we eat unhealthy food as a reward, even though it causes more harm that good. It's time to give yourself a truly beneficial reward – exercise.
Exercise is a healthy reward that will not only release endorphins into your system, but will also give you the benefit of weight loss and improved health.