In my previous post, I talked about how eating processed food can make people fat. Processed foods are fabricated in labs, specifically and deliberately to use our body wisdom against us. The weapons they use are fat, sugar, and salt, which trick us into overeating. From the chapter on Stage 4 in Normal Eating® for Normal Weight:
“Humans enjoy sweetness because in nature, sweetness is a sign that fruits and vegetables are at their peak of ripeness, and when they’re at their peak of ripeness, they’re also at their peak nutritionally.”
“People love salt because it’s required for life, but was hard to come by for early humans living inland from the ocean. Those who had a taste for salt and sought it out stayed alive to reproduce; those who didn’t take the time to find salt got sick and died.”
“People have a natural liking for fat because it’s energy-dense – that is, it’s high in calories for its weight. For most of human evolution, the food supply was unreliable and going hungry was common. A taste for energy-dense food evolved to keep us from starving when food was scarce.”
Stage 4 of Normal Eating®, Choosing, is about making healthy food choices once you have overcome the compulsive urges that take away your ability to choose. But what if you’re not yet at Stage 4? How do you free yourself from the addictive effects of sugar, fat, and salt?
The groundwork for being able to take or leave these foods is laid in Stage 2, Reconnecting. The idea in Stage 2 is to notice how different foods affect your body. When you eat processed foods loaded with sugar, fat, and salt, don’t just notice that you have an urge to eat more and more. Also notice how these foods make your body feel.
If you take the time to pay attention to this, you’ll notice that these foods make your body feel like crap. Noticing this, fully experiencing this, is what leads to your being able to say no to them.
Pay Attention to Your Full Experience
Stage 2 is a time of experimentation. Compare how your body feels after eating real food that nourishes your body and satisfies your hunger, versus how your body feels after eating a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips. Even if you don’t overeat, there is an enormous difference. When you eat junk food, your body feels bad compared to when you eat real food. It’s very hard to describe these physical sensations, but if you’re paying attention they are unmistakable. You don’t feel the same sense of well-being and energy.
Junk food feels like a lump inside you. If you ate sugar, you may feel a buzzy kind of high followed by a low. After an hour or so you may feel tired, or even depressed or anxious. You also may feel gassy and bloated (sugar causes gas in many people). If you ate salt, you probably feel thirsty. And then after drinking to sate your thirst, you probably feel bloated from retaining water. If you ate fat, you may have heartburn (excess fat causes heartburn in many people).
Most of all, when you eat junk food you don’t feel a pleasant sense of satisfaction – even if you ate when you were hungry and stopped when full – because your body received no nutrition. You may even have a desire to eat food with nutrition despite feeling stuffed. Your body doesn’t feel good when you eat junk food. Notice this!
Noticing these negative bodily sensations turns on your natural internal controls. This eventually enables you to choose not to eat these foods, or to limit when and how much you eat.
Pleasure-Seeking Can Be Good for You
In the end, we all seek pleasure. But we have a tendency to eat mindlessly and attend to only a fraction of our full experience. If you only pay attention to feedback from your tastebuds, there’s nothing to incent you to stop. If you learn to pay attention to your full experience, you give yourself internal motivation to stop.
It is the natural instinct of every living being to avoid foods that make it feel unwell. When I was a kid, I tried a bowl of Froot Loops for the first time and promptly threw up. Probably I just had a stomach virus, but the association between Froot Loops and vomiting was unbreakable. I never ate them again.
Pay attention to your full experience when eating processed foods high in sugar, fat, and salt and your natural pleasure-seeking instinct will work for you rather than against you.
You’ll find more on the the stages of Normal Eating® and how it works in my book, Normal Eating® for Normal Weight.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.