Processed Foods, Hunger, And Overeating

You really can’t outsmart your brain when it comes to eating. Here is why processed foods force us to overeat.

Foods have certain qualities that make us crave them:

  • Highly Palatable Food - The texture of creamy, crunchy, smooth, and warm combined with the taste of sweet, salty, savory, and rich = delicious! Actually, it is too delicious. It’s so delicious that our brain bypasses a lot of it’s signals that tell us to stop. There isn’t a natural food that combines all of these highly palatable flavors and textures in one food and that is the problem. Our brain wasn’t designed to say “I’m done” to the combination of crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty. Most of our whole foods are either sweet or salty. If we combine them, they are a moderate level of sweet and salty, not off-the-chart chemically charged sweet and salty. We don’t stand a chance against processed, highly-palatable foods.

  • High Reward Foods - Some foods come with a high emotional or physical reward. Take alcohol, for example. Who doesn’t like a good buzz?! Alcohol is a high reward food because it gives us something emotionally and physically that we don’t get from anything else. It’s actually not very palatable at all. As a matter of fact, we usually have to acquire a taste for it because it’s not something we naturally want, we just want it because it has high reward. After all, it is processed and it is a toxin.

You can see how it is almost out of our control when it comes to these highly palatable and high reward foods.

The key isn’t to stop cold turkey. The key is to find the link that will allow you to change your behavior. Example: at the office someone always brings in caramel & chocolate-covered pretzels or brownies with marshmallows baked in them and everyday at around 2pm or 3pm, I can’t help myself when I walk by them. I’m telling you that willpower alone won’t do the trick. Being strategic will break the link. What if you packed a ziplock bag that had some sliced apples and carrots or some yogurt with granola? You could whip that snack out around 2pm or 3pm and you now have a better chance of saying no to the highly palatable foods sitting on the office treat table. Likewise with alcohol, you can’t outsmart your own brain, so what if you tried drinking 12 ounces of water before each drink you ordered at happy hour. You might go from 3 drinks at happy hour to 2 drinks. That’s better!

NutritionAaron Leventhal