Artificial delicacies. Emotional eating. Or why do we regularly overeat?
A couple of chips turn into 100, and suddenly it turns out that the whole pack of chips has already been eaten. And you think - what's going on with me?
You are not alone - this feeling is familiar to us all.
But, self-blame does not help and in fact everything is fine with you. The problem is what you eat. Many foods are specially formulated to be irresistibly delicious and easy to eat in large quantities.
And you feel bad because you can't control yourself - but crave something again.
This article is about why this happens. And how to control yourself to avoid overeating.
Some foods are designed to be eaten more
You are not overeating because you do not have the willpower.
The truth is that the producer is interested in selling more and therefore his goal is to create especially delicious food - food that is so delicious that it is almost impossible to stop when you start eating it.
Your body and brain react exactly as they should. It would be abnormal if you didn't want to eat them over and over again.
But we are not talking about products such as celery, broccoli, wholemeal brown rice or fried salmon fillet…
How often can you say, “I eat so much steamed broccoli! They were so delicious I just couldn't stop! ” Has it been at least once? -😊
The situation is different with industrially processed foods that are beautifully packaged, enjoy immediately and that we can easily eat in large quantities. And that is relatively inexpensive and available almost everywhere.
Depending on the degree of processing, the texture and taste of the products are changed so that they reach as many centers of pleasure as possible - and our brains react according to the irritants.
For example - potatoes.
When cooked, they have a good taste and are easy to digest and, most importantly, full. You eat 4 to 6 potatoes and that's it. Nothing more is required.
Like chips, fried in oil and sprinkled with powders of salt and different flavors, they are incredibly delicious - you could eat them and eat them…
Boiled potatoes are delicious, but chips made from potatoes are super delicious. They are, well, they are lost, because someone has eaten them all.
Processing methods and additives
The food industry uses a variety of processing methods and additives that make food especially tasty and easy to eat.
Here are some examples:
- Extrusion - Under the influence of high heat and pressure, grains are transformed into airy, crunchy, easily digestible forms, such as crackers and other crunchy foods with a homogeneous structure.
This process not only changes the texture and makes the products easier to digest, but also destroys heat-sensitive nutrients, enzymes and vitamins. denatures proteins and changes the composition of the grain starch. As a result, the nutritional value of the product decreases and the glycemic index increases.
- Emulsifiers - smooth and thicken the texture, creating a feeling of rich "full-bodied" taste. Although there are natural emulsifiers such as egg yolk, chemical emulsifiers such as polysorbate-80, sodium phosphate and carboxymethylcellulose are often used in the food industry.
Emulsifiers are often found in processed products with a creamy structure. for example - in ice cream, flavored yoghurts (with taste), etc.
- Flavor enhancers - e.g. monosodium glutamate (MSG) whether artificial flavorings allow food manufacturers to enhance and / or create flavor without the addition of real fruits, vegetables or spices. This is beneficial because artificial flavors are inexpensive and do not change the texture of the product.
- Dyes - very strongly affect the attractiveness of the product. We choose beautiful golden crackers instead of gray ones, as well as salmon and trout should be beautifully pink, chips golden, orange or slightly pink…
Dyes such as Yellow #5 (tartrazine) and Red #40 (allura red) are added only for the appearance of food - they do not add nutrition.
Recently, several large food manufacturers have switched to natural food colors, such as beet powder or turmeric. However, this happened only after the association of artificial colors with children's behavioral problems was discovered.
- Hydrogenation of oil - vegetable oil is converted into solid fat - unsaturated fatty acids are converted into a completely new form - trans fatty acids, which are more resistant to heat and have a significantly longer shelf life.
Fats are needed for almost any confectionery, sweets, etc. production. And with hydrogenated oils, their shelf life is significantly increased (the appearance, taste and texture of the products do not change for a long time).
But hydrogenated fat or trans fatty acids consumption is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
How industrially processed food "makes" us overeat
Do we "make" us eat more? Unfortunately, yes, and often we are not even aware of the extent to which we are affected.
Marketing convinces us that processed foods are "healthy"
Processed foods are delivered in bright packaging, with images of cartoon characters, celebrity recommendations and strong slogans that evoke all sorts of positive associations in us.
On the labels, we see the words 'organic', 'natural', 'vegan', 'gluten-free', 'whole grain'…, which gives us the illusion of the health of the products in question.
We offer gluten-free confectionery with a rich layer of sugar icing, vegan cookies, greasy creamy chip sauce with "real spinach"…
The nutrient content of these foods is not particularly impressive, but the addition of health claims and modern ingredients makes us perceive them as healthier.
Have you noticed how much of these similar slogans are used in food ads?
"Take a break!"
"Choose the best!"
"You deserve it!"
These words distract us from our physical feelings and affect our feelings, the world in which we simply want to be understood, supported, to which we would at times be happy to escape from this cruel reality.
Fashion words and emotional appeals can make us perceive this food as "good for me", put it in a shopping cart and then in our mouths.
And if the food is "healthy" and "we deserve it" - we don't feel as bad about eating as much as we want.
More is better!
We are taught to save money and not waste food.
We all want more than the same money.
If we can get more for the same price - we automatically choose where there is more. For example - next to the usual chip package there is another one that says "100g Free!" - We take it where it's free. Often without even comparing the price per kilogram, the stock of the product is often higher.
And since we can't stop, we also eat the grams that are free.
And we pay a "health tax" because if we regularly eat ultra-processed foods that are low in nutrients but more than anything else, we will end up paying for our health.
So what was the deal?
You have saved a little money in the short term, increased your weight a little and polluted your body with substances that many of us do not recognize and therefore do not know how to excrete or process.
Do you still feel that the deal was profitable?
Diversity and Choice fascinate us
Calendula crackers, nuts - both salted and in chocolate, caramel…, potato, corn, bean… chips, various crispy balls, plates, rings… Various combinations, all possible flavors!
And the fun never ends because there are so many different flavors and textures!
When the choice is so wide, our shopping carts perform much better because you always want to try something new.
Because it's hard to eat the same thing all the time.
How many apples can you eat before, frankly, you get bored? 😊
Combinations of flavors that are hard to resist
If you find something particularly delicious - it is guaranteed to have at least two of the following ingredients:
I've never heard anyone want to eat sugar or salt with spoons or drink a bottle of oil.
However, by combining these flavors, the products become so delicious that it is difficult to resist them. This is called combining stimuli - combining two or more flavors to create a particularly delicious dish. For instance:
- Fat + salt - chips, french fries, nachos…
- Fat + sugar - bakery products, ice cream, cookies, chocolate…
- Fat + sugar + salt - chocolate brownie with salted caramel, caramelized corn, french fries with ketchup…
Food manufacturers are well aware of the effects of sugar, fat and salt on us. Remember, the goal is to sell more.
Creating an irresistibly delicious product is not difficult at all.
It must be:
- High in calories, usually high in sugar and / or fat;
- Intensely flavored - with a strong taste;
- Give immediate satisfaction to your pleasure sensors - both in the mouth and brain;
- Easy to eat - no effort to chew;
- We eat quickly and in large quantities - the food almost dissolves / "melts" in the mouth.
If all these five factors are combined in one product - it is practically irresistible.
Minimally processed foods are "harder" to eat than ultra-processed foods.
When eating fresh or minimally processed products to chew 1 mouthful, you need to chew it about 25 times. This means that your eating pace is slowing down. And this, in turn, means that satiety signals "keep pace" with the speed of your eating and the feeling of satiety occurs when you have eaten, not overeated.
This is probably why you have never eaten Brussels sprouts (and also because you look around and spray).
Ultra-processed food producers, on the other hand, try to have 1 mouthful chewed about 10 times or less.
One, two and so on.
But it was so delicious!
And you want more - and as soon as possible…
The feeling of satiety is "not with you" and - You are overeating again.
So when my customers struggle with overeating, I'm not talking about willpower, because it's only with willpower that these products are hard to resist.
Instead, I try to educate them and recommend cooking more yourself using fresh, unprocessed products. I do the same myself and it is difficult for me to stop if chocolate or ice cream "happens" on the way 😊.
Our love for certain tastes has very primitive and ancient roots
For example, our desire to absorb calories.
Food supply was a problem for our ancestors. Not only was food difficult to obtain - collected and hunted, but it was often unsafe.
Plants, their berries, roots or leaves could be poisonous.
That is why our ancestors developed survival instincts.
For example, sweet foods are less likely to be poisonous. That's why our brains prefer sweet, starchy foods.
Babies and children are especially attracted to sweet foods, possibly because their immature body is less likely to recover if something poisonous is eaten.
If so, then children's craving for sweet (safe) food is a mechanism that prevents poisoning and death.
Fat was also a real jackpot for our ancestors, as they often went hungry and ate low-calorie, high-fiber foods (roots, greens, lean meat). They could fill the stomach, but they did not have much energy to survive.
As a result, fatty, high-calorie foods are good for our brains!
Today, to feed ourselves, we do not have to run, dig, collect, hunt all day… Just go to the store and choose something tasty.
Evolution is now working against us.
But what can we do about it?
How to control yourself?
It is one thing to know theoretically how industrially processed foods affect us, but it is even more valuable to discover for yourself how certain combinations of ingredients and marketing affect your choices.
We have found that ultra-processed foods are specially designed to be easy to eat and to eat more.
For food to be "easy to eat", it must have:
- "Melting in the mouth" - one that breaks down easily (less chewable);
- Small in size (physically takes up little space in the abdomen).
That is, because the product is easier to chew and smaller in size, the more we eat it before the feeling of satiety occurs.
When you eat, your stomach fills up and expands. And when it is fulfilled to a certain extent, there is a feeling of satiety. Processed foods take up less space in your stomach - so you can eat them a lot and by the time you feel full, you're overeat.
And in addition to the heavy feeling of heaviness, you have also consumed a lot of calories you do not need…
Listen to your feelings:
- Count how many times you have to chew one mouthful of vegetables, fruits, lean meat… And how long does it take to eat a whole portion of such a dish? Do you feel eaten? Do you want to eat more?
- After eating some ultra-processed products, count the number of times you have to chew one mouthful. And how long does it take to eat a whole portion of food? Do you feel eaten? Do you want to eat more?
This is just an experiment to help you understand how you eat different foods. Note the differences. Is there a relationship between how long you eat each of these foods and how much you feel after eating them? Do you want to continue eating? How many calories have you ingested?
Manufacturers must indicate the number of calories per 100 g on the product label.
Attention - marketing!
Food producers are very creative. A variety of techniques are used to make sure that the food they produce is healthy (or healthier than similar products from other manufacturers). And even if you know they're just scammers, they have other ways to get them to buy their products.
For example, have you noticed that when you go through a supermarket, the industrial goods department is usually first, followed by the fresh produce department and then the ultra-processed food department.
Do you think this is a coincidence?
But maybe after you have already loaded the shopping cart with fruits, vegetables, meat. It is easier for you to pick up ice cream, cookies and crackers on the way to the cash register?
Yes, the supermarkets where we all shop are also designed to make you buy more.
Therefore, it is better to plan your purchases and go to the store with a list of products prepared in advance.
Evaluate the contents of your refrigerator and pantry.
Without self-blame - You don't do it to evaluate yourself, but to be receptive to marketing techniques. When you know this, you will be able to make more informed food choices.
In this experiment, you simply check what products are in your home and what manufacturers' reports tell you about them:
- Look for products that you consider to be somewhat healthy. Do you have any? Think about why you chose them? Did you choose them based on product advertising? Was what you attracted to their packaging or any inscriptions on them? Maybe some modern "superfood" ingredient? Did you choose them because they are "Natural", "From Organic Products", "Gluten Free", "Lactose Free", "High Protein", "Fat Free", "Sugar Free"…?
- Read about the nutritional information of these products. Compare how are these products different from other similar ones in terms of nutrition? Are the differences significant, or are the packaging and ad text only different?
- Count how many types of unwanted foods are in your home. If you like ice cream - how many flavors do you have? Do you have cookies, popcorn, candy, chips…? Without blaming yourself, just count how many junk food packages are currently in your home.
Well you have an idea of what products you prefer. Reduce the variety of unwanted products and you will also reduce the potential risk of overeating. Simple - the more options, the easier it is to overeat.
Look for connections
We often eat not for the purpose of quenching hunger, but for completely different reasons.
For example, if we are sad, we comfort ourselves with a cookie or candy. We feel better for a while.
The next time we feel sad, we remember the temporary relief that the sweets gave us - and we repeat the ritual. In time, we don't even think about it anymore - it becomes a habit.
Fortunately, we can control it.
It only takes a little time and understanding to develop habits.
And that brings us to the next experiment.
Habits are formed as follows:
- Something is happening in us or in the environment around us (Irritant);
- We somehow react to this irritant (Reaction);
- We solve the problem (We get paid).
Identify irritants that encourage you to eat:
- Are these feelings? We can eat more when we are tense, lonely or bored. Food fills the void;
- Is it a specific time of day? For example - I always have a break at 11:00 and I have a snack. It’s just part of my daily routine;
- Is this your social environment? Everyone else drinks beer and I like it too. Has a colleague brought a birthday cake and do I have to eat so as not to offend him;
- Is it a place? For example, a cinema;
- Is this a pattern of thought? I've had a hard day and "I deserve it" or "Life is too hard - I want something delicious";
When you eat under the influence of one of the irritants just mentioned, ask yourself the questions:
- How do I feel?
- What time it is?
- Who am I with?
- Where am I?
- What am I thinking about?
Write down and search for patterns / relationships.
Remember that overeating is usually problematic if it is chronic - so don't worry about a few, rare "breaks".
Find the right pattern of behavior
Once you have identified your irritants, try to create another, correct reaction to them. One that supports your health goals. It is important that the new pattern of behavior brings you satisfaction. If there is no satisfaction, it will not be repeated and strengthened as a habit.
When we eat, we try to meet a "need".
So when you think of a new pattern of behavior, find something that meets those needs - working in the garden, meeting or talking to someone, physical activity, meditation….
For example, I had a client whose eating attacks were caused by contact with an ex-husband. Eventually, she switched to a punching bag and walking. Both activities were effective in reducing both tension and overweight.
Repeat healthy behaviors until they become habits
Whenever a new irritant appears, find a healthy alternative to eating that makes you feel good. Which in this way gives you a reward.
And repeat it until the new pattern of behavior becomes a habit - something as automatic as reaching for chips or sweets before.
Not all healthy habits give us the same "good feelings".
According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress relievers are:
- Prayer / worship attendance;
- Spending time with friends / family;
- Nature walks;
- Creative hobbies.
The most ineffective stress relievers are:
- Video games;
- Surfing the internet;
- Watching TV / movies for more than two hours.
Although gambling, shopping, eating and other activities on the second list improve your well-being in the short term. In fact, they do not reduce stress, because they provide a sense of pleasure dopaminebut since it is irritating neurotransmitters, it actually stimulates the release of adrenaline and causes stress.
Although these activities are not initially as exciting as those on the second list, they are ultimately more effective in reducing stress in the long run.
I know how important nutrition is, how much it affects us. Not only physically, but also emotionally.
In fact, this article is not about food.
Remember that healthy lifestyle there is no continuous calorie counting or scrupulous examination of each mouthful.
Healthy living is about devoting time and attention mainly to yourself.
Eating is just one piece of the puzzle.
Pay attention to your way of thinking, relationships, work and the environment around you.
If we are all right in other areas of our lives, we will probably not use food as a means of calming ourselves, reducing stress.
Be curious and honest with yourself, move and be healthy.