by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
We all know the feeling of temptation when it comes to food, especially in this day and age when we are all trying to lose weight, get fit, regain energy and health. Then you are at a family, church or community event and one salty crunch turns into 100, and suddenly you’re licking the cheese dust or salt off your fingers, looking for more and wondering: What just happened to my self-control?
It’s normal to feel like you can’t stop overeating chips and 90% of manufactured food products. Today’s hyper-palatable food is creating a modern-day food crisis — one that’s leaving us feeling sick, out of control, and always craving more.
Manufactured foods are scientifically engineered to be irresistible and easy to eat in large quantities. We all have been challenged – You show up to a potluck with quinoa salad goals and find yourself inhaling a plate of chips, cookies, some chocolate-peanut-butter-marshmallow thing that some devil, um friend, made.
If you’ve felt this, you’re not alone (and you’re not broken). Understand millions of dollars have been spent on marketing research and product development to achieve the goal – of uncontrollable consumption by consumers. If you’re overeating, it’s not because there’s something wrong with you or your willpower.
Modern Marvel Manufactured foods.
Manufactured foods are foods that have been modified from their original, whole-food form in order to change their flavor, texture, or shelf-life. Often, they’re altered so that they hit as many pleasure centers as possible — from our brains to our mouths to our bellies.
Let’s take corn as an example. Boiled and eaten off the cob it’s pale yellow, kinda fibrous, but chewy and delicious. Corn that’s a bit processed — ground into a meal and shaped into a flat disk turns into a soft corn tortilla. A tortilla has a nice flavor and a soft, pliable texture that makes it easy to eat and digest.
However, what if you ultra-process that corn? You remove all the fiber, isolate the starch, and then use that starch to make little ring-shaped chips, which are fried and dusted with sweet and salty barbecue powder. They’re freaking delicious. That corn on the cob is yummy. However, those corn-derived ring chips? They’re… well, they’re gone because someone ate them all.
Processed foods come in packages with bright colors, cartoon characters, celebrity endorsements, and powerful words that trigger positive associations.
Take, for example, “health halo” foods. “Health halo” foods are processed foods that contain health buzzwords like organic, vegan, and gluten-free on their label to create an illusion, or halo, of health around them. You’ll see chips “prepared with avocado oil,” sugary cereal “made with flaxseeds,” or creamy chip dip with “real spinach.” The nutrient content of those foods isn’t particularly impressive, but the addition of nutrition buzzwords and trendy ingredients make us perceive them as healthier.
Marketers also choose words that relate more broadly to self-care. Health buzzwords and emotional appeals can make us perceive a food as “good for me.
People get mixed up about food and value. We’re taught to save money and not waste food. We’re taught to buy more for less.
What we don’t calculate into this equation is something I like to call the “health tax.” The “health tax” is the toll you pay for eating low-nutrient, highly processed foods. If you eat them consistently over time, eventually you’ll pay the price with your health.
Choice excites us. When we have lots of variety, we have lots of appetite. It’s hard to overeat tons of one thing, with one flavor, like apples.
Reduce the variety, and you also reduce distraction from your body’s built-in, self-regulating signals. When we’re not so giddy with choice and stimuli, we’re more likely to slow down, eat mindfully, and eat less.
If there’s a party in your mouth, you can guarantee that at least two out of three of the following guests will be there: Sugar, fake Fat, Salt
These three flavors — the sweetness of sugar, the luxurious mouthfeel of fat, and the sharp savory of salt — are favorites among those of us with mouths. When you combine these flavors, they become ultra-delicious and hard-to-resist. Stimuli stacking — combining two or more flavors to create a hyper-palatable food.
When processed food manufacturers evaluate a prospective food product, the “irresistibility” (the extent to which a person can’t stop eating a food) is more important even than taste.
Whole foods require about 25 chews per mouthful, which means that you have to slow down. When you slow down, your satiety signals keep pace with your eating and have a chance to tell you when you’ve had enough.
If you’re relying on willpower to resist these foods, you’re fighting an uphill battle. The solution isn’t more willpower. The remedy is educating yourself about these foods, examining your relationship with food, and employing strategies that put you in control.
To Health, Vitality, and Education