Have you ever set yourself a goal of eating healthier with every intention of being a better you only to find yourself a week or two later eating crap again?
I know I have..
Why is it so hard to eat healthy? If we want to eat healthy and its obvious why we should eat healthy then why is it so hard to actually stick it out and change our diet?
As someone who dropped just under 10kgs for a jiu jitsu comp i can tell you first hand, eating healthy is not always easy. It takes discipline, I'm not going to lie.. those first few weeks are hard.
But why are they so hard? Science tells us its not entirely our fault.
Our taste buds have been genetically engineered to crave high calorie and high fat foods (that we need to use for energy.) Over the years we have created foods that taste better than natures, making it harder to want to pick the healthier ‘bland’ option.
The bad news? Processed foods can quite frankly be very addictive.
Food companies use science to get you addicted to their food. Some of the ways they do this include:
The dynamic contrast of the food: Hard on the outside and soft on the inside - The brain finds the contrast of chewing through something with a hard outside and soft inside very pleasurable
Salivary response: The more saliva released the more the taste of the food will swim through your mouth covering your taste buds (this is why many people enjoy foods with sauces or glazes on them)
Rapid meltdown - foods that melt or breakdown in your mouth trick your brain into thinking you are eating less than you are making overeating way too easy
Memories of past eating: when you eat a food such as chocolate your brain registers how happy it makes you feel, then when you see or smell that food again your brain brings back those memories. It can also cause you to start salivating causing you to have that ‘mouth watering feeling”
So what does this information tell us? Well most importantly since these food companies are designing food to set us up for failure, what can we do about it?
The good news? You can train yourself to be addicted to healthier foods. Food Psychologist Marcia Pelchat found that when she gave test subjects a low fat vanilla flavoured drink (that was described as not very tasty) every day for two weeks that after consuming it regularly for so long the subjects began craving the ‘not very tasty’ drink. Point being that even if you don't really like the taste of vegetables or ‘healthier’ options, the more consistently you eat them the more you will start to enjoy them.
Research also shows that the less you eat junk food the less you crave it.
So where do we go from here? Well here are a few tips i use to help keep me away from bad foods
Plan ahead - Meal plans are essential! Knowing what you are going to eat for the week or month make it easier to avoid those last minute not so healthy meals
Use the ‘outter ring’ and the ‘5 ingredient rule’ - Shop on the outer ring of the supermarket this way you are more likely to buy meats and fresh fruit and veg. As a rule of thumb if a food has more than 5 ingredients in it, most likely it has been designed to fool you into eating more
Eat healthy fats - Avocado and nuts will help you feel full and reduce cravings
Find another way to deal with stress - Lots of people rely on food when they feel stressed or emotional but there are many other more healthier ways to deal with stress. Put the chocolate down
Drink more water - when you are feeling hungry have a glass of water and wait 20min. Still hungry? Most likely not..
Cravings are very common and play a major part in weight gain, food addiction and binge eating. Being aware of your triggers and cravings makes it much easier to avoid them.
Junk food is designed to keep you coming back for more. Telling someone to just ‘stop eating crap’ or that they need more willpower isn't helping, changing your diet takes time and discipline and understanding the science behind it is an important first step.