My trusty NY Times included an article by runner Alex Hutchinson in last Sunday’s edition, called “How Salad Can Make Us Fat.” The title certainly caught my attention! Really? Now how does that work? I asked myself.
The brain betrays our best efforts and intentions I learned! Even for very dedicated, self-controlled individuals who generally can resist temptations and make healthy choices.
Of course fast food restaurants have capitalized on research that Hutchinson reports, knowing that just adding some healthy choices like low-cal salads or dressing on the side to their menus somehow tricks the brain into choosing the less healthy alternative while staring the salad menu right in the face. Just having the choice available justifies our bad behavior to ourselves.
It’s called the “licensing effect” by researchers. Furthermore, if we are grocery shopping and choose lots of fresh fruit, then when we walk by the Pop Tarts, we feel justified or “licensed” to just “pop” a box or two into our cart. If we choose healthy then somehow we feel justified to also choose badly. Research shows that dieters who take a weight-control pill then feel justified to eat more, not less, at buffets and mealtimes.
Not only is that true and sad, it’s just not fair!
You might want to purchase and download the 2012 documentary “Fed Up” narrated by Katie Couric. Once again it is a one-trick pony as I say, containing one focused perspective against sugar (and processed foods) that really doesn’t fit with our multidimensional world or considering complex personal motivations and the need for personal responsibility in what we choose to do and eat. Still some of the facts in the film gobsmacked me, such as:
— from1977 to 2000, Americans doubled our sugar intake;
— of 600,000 food products in the marketplace, 80% have added sugar;
— when cocaine-addicted rats were given the choice of more cocaine or sugar, they chose sugar! The brain simply “lights up” when eating sugar;
— as a nation it is impossible politically to both support the message “eat less and better” and at the same time support “more farms and more products for the health of business”. We can’t support public health and promote agriculture at the same time since they are non-sequiturs;
— when we went to skim milk and low fat in the early to mid 2000s, the extra fat was siphoned off into, get this: more cheese and more marketing about cheese. Remember that on tv ads? I do!
–when Big Food adds low fat products to the marketplace to demonstrate their commitment to health, they don’t take high fat foods off the shelves; they just leave it all there and increase everything, knowing that many will continue to choose (justify or “license”) high fat foods just by looking at the new low fat foods, which fits with the research and principles summarized in the article listed above!
Sigh…with Big Food bombarding us with gorgeous and amusing messages about new varieties of processed foods to hook us on sugar and calories, why is our brain also deserting us?
But knowing this, what can we do? I like solutions better than I like problems (once we know the problems, we need to move forward). Some solutions proposed by the article I agree with and some I do not.
The writer says that we should “focus on the process of living healthfully rather than the goal of being healthy.” To me that sounds like ambiguous and vague gobbledygook. How the heck are those two things truly different? They are not.
But I do agree that focusing on changing our eating behavior (action: how we eat and choose food) is more important than focusing only on losing weight or inches. In fact I advise my waist training students to look only for a down trend in three months or perhaps more, not to obsess about specific numbers along the way, then get on with planning, shopping, eating “clean”, giving up sugar forever, staying away from fast food restaurants totally, and exercising vigorously twice a week at least, with waist-targeted exercises included.
The author of this article suggests that we focus on one thing at a time, don’ t look too far into the future or take on too much or we will end up using it as an excuse to sin and sin again. For example, don’t worry too much about temptations for the next two months which includes Halloween, Thanksgiving, Xmas and New Years parties and temptations to excess: worry only about Halloween. Bear down and focus, determine to make good choices this coming weekend, and don’t give yourself an excuse to pig out on candies and parties, because if you do, you will most likely not recover from the excesses — if you are like most human beings and most brains.
Hold yourself to a high standard, stick with the basics (KISS remember?), and try to tune out the noise of Big Food. A few simple, easy rules you impose on yourself and commit yourself to, seem to work better than any complex diet plan or short-term corset waist-training or surgery “fix.” I guess it takes a lifetime to be healthy.
The benefit of all these rules and of trying hard at first to clean up one’s diet, is clear to me since I gave up refined sugar on June 15. In only one month all foods tasted much, much better. My taste buds clearly changed. Veggies now taste sweet as does home-made soup, and fruits and yogurts (no-sugar ones like Oikos Zero) are positively sugary to my new taste buds. I like it, and now don’t feel deprived at all. But it did take a firm commitment to try for one month to see what happened. Liking the results I saw in one month, not to mention weight and inch loss plus energy enhancement, I think I can make this no-sugar personal program a lifelong commitment.
At least I can–if my brain will not desert me along the way!