Eating in the car: it still counts

Michael is a delightful restaurant owner – he is the epitome of what you might imagine – jolly, jovial, larger than life. And you might be forgiven for assuming that the larger than life part is due to the abundance of food in his restaurants…. Think again. Because every night, on his way home from the restaurant, he buys a 1kg bar of Dairy Milk, and consumes the lot.

Perhaps you’ve done it? You’ve just filled up with petrol, and somehow a bar of chocolate is in your lap, bought in a rush, an impulse at the checkout. You fumble at it, fingers slipping on the wrapper as you try to keep your hands on the steering wheel, heart pounding. You glance at the other drivers. They aren’t looking at you, their focus is on the road. Unlike yours. Your focus is on the wrapper that isn’t tearing.

You put both hands in your lap and rip, and the paper tears. Saliva rushes into your mouth like a dam breaking. The chocolate is already melting with the heat of your lap and the urgency of your desire. You break a piece off, the brown staining your fingertips as you cram it into your mouth. The traffic ahead stops sharply and you slam your foot down, pulse racing as you swallow down the sticky sweetness.

A long drive, you might think? Maybe a two hour commute where he’s hungry and needs sustenance? That’s not the case – his drive is approximately ten minutes. Maybe fifteen if the traffic is bad (which, by the time he leaves the restaurant, it never is). And in that time, during that brief drive, he ate (although I’m not sure this is the best word – perhaps inhaled?) a kilogram of chocolate.

Did he really taste it? Did he enjoy it? Did he focus on it? Or did he shove it down as fast as he could so that no-one would know?

When Michael came to see me, he told me this, with a bit of a giggle: laughter to cover his shame. He knew what the problem was, he just couldn’t stop it.

Neuroscience is proving what food manufacturers have known for years…

Until recently, research focused on physical hunger, and assumed that being obese meant you were just incredibly hungry and therefore had to eat loads. I suspect a number of us could have told them that eating dessert has nothing to do with feeling hungry or full. And at last, research is catching up.

Michael Lowe, a clinical psychologist at Drexel University coined the term “hedonic hunger” in 2007. He says: “A lot of overeating, maybe all of the eating people do beyond their energy needs, is based on consuming some of our most palatable foods.” No kidding! Please don’t tell me it took years of scientific research to work that out. Who gets fat on cucumber?

Research shows that extremely sweet or fatty foods light up the brain’s reward circuit in the same way that cocaine, drugs, gambling and other ‘addictive’ behaviours do. The brain begins to react to fatty and sugary foods even before they enter our mouth: just seeing them excites the reward circuit. As soon as such it touches the tongue, taste buds send signals to the brain, which ramps up dopamine. The result is an intense feeling of pleasure.

Over time, the brain gets desensitised, so to get the same ‘high’ or pleasurable feeling, we need to eat more. It’s the same with any addiction. We need a bigger and bigger hit. The brain needs a lot more sugar and fat to reach the same level of pleasure that it once felt with smaller amounts of the foods.

This isn’t a sign of us being weak. It’s us being in thrall to an addictive circuit in our brain. When dopamine levels drop, we feel down. So no wonder we turn to fat and sugar. They are literally acting as an anti-depressant. Food is acting like a drug.

Excerpt from ‘Why we Cheat when we Eat and how to stop’.

How food porn arouses us

I love the introduction to the scientific paper called Eating with our Eyes: “One of the brain’s key roles is to facilitate foraging and feeding. It is presumably no coincidence, then, that the mouth is situated close to the brain in most animal species.”

The mouth is close to the brain, indeed! This same paper talks of ‘food porn’. We are currently obsessed with images of food. Instagram feeds are crammed with photographs of meals and snacks. Cookery channels dominate television with depictions of luscious ingredients whisked into appetising meals. Food has become more forbidden than sex. We are ogling pictures of it in the same way that men used to sneak glances at 1970’s centrefolds.

In America, digital media influences more than 70 percent of the food eaten by households. Research show that “external food cues, such as the sight of appetizing food can evoke a desire to eat, even in the absence of hunger.” Again – no kidding… these scientists seem to spend years researching things that you and I knew to be true from a relatively young age.

What’s really interesting is that physical things occur within us, just from seeing a picture. We salivate (we all know that). But more worryingly, we produce insulin. Our bodies shoot out the hormone required to deal with the sugar even when we haven’t eaten it. And of course, when our insulin goes up, we crave sugar even more to balance it out. Even our heart beats faster in anticipation of the food.

This is where we need to track back to hunger. Food manufacturers know that seductive images of delicious food will draw us in, hungry or not. And our brains will take the trigger and act on it, without even consulting our conscious selves.

If we can stay in touch with our natural appetite, and eat when we are hungry, it reduces the impact of these external stimuli, and allows us to remain in control of what we eat and when.

Excerpt from ‘Why we Cheat when we Eat and how to stop’.

When Food is Love…

Some foods can feel like love. They fill us, soothe us, comfort us. They are there for us after a hard day, no matter what. A few mouthfuls later and a sensation of bliss flows through our bodies. It can feel as safe and nurturing as a mother’s embrace, as sublime as a lover’s kiss.

Often, these are foods we have learned to crave since childhood. Strong memories and associations underpin some of the meanings they hold for us. Somewhere in the past we have had experiences where we made a connection between the food and the emotions.

A friend told me: “I’m going home and I just know that Mum is going to ply me with cake. She’ll have baked just for me, and I both want to gorge myself on it, and want to refuse it. Because I’ll feel crap the next day.”

Who wouldn’t want to gorge themselves on their mother’s love? To feel replete with worthiness, safe as a fluffy chick in a nest.

But food isn’t love. And cake isn’t worthiness.

They can feel similar physically, which is part of the mix-up. Both trigger dopamine, and can release endorphins and other chemicals that do indeed make us ‘feel better’. We have a physiological response both to hugs and love, and to certain foods, and that response in our body is close enough for us to get confused. In fact, it not only gets us confused, it can make us rely on  one when the other (usually love) isn’t available, or doesn’t feel like it is.

One of the first things we can do is to recognise that we have conflated the two, confused ourselves by mixing love into the pie.

Then, if we find ourselves turning to food, when what we really want is love, we need to ask what else might serve in its place? Would curling up under a blanket do it? Or walking in nature? Do you need to be with a friend, even if its on the other end of the phone? Or can you bear to be with yourself, take your need for love and treasure it, and love that need in yourself enough that all thoughts of cake fade away?

 

What about when you wake up wanting a chocolate croissant?

If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I believe in eating what will satisfy you. You’ll also know that you can set yourself up to fail if your blood sugar is all over the place.

So what do you do when you wake up wanting a chocolate croissant?

Do you have it, because you really want it? Or do you go without because you’re trying to ‘be good’?

An alternative is to see if you can clarify what you’re really after. If it’s the rich chocolate taste that you crave, along with a good hit of carbs, there are other ways to accomplish this.

A bowl of porridge – which is healthy and low on the glycemic index – can be pimped up with a generous spoonful of cocoa and a bit of honey or brown sugar to sweeten it. It’s amazing how chocolatey porridge can taste without chocolate – just cocoa powder. It’s worth a try – it might solve your cravings AND balance your blood sugar.

Weight loss – is it really so difficult?

Weight loss is a complex and difficult task.  It is made more so by the current waves of diets that sweep the market.  This blog is an alternative to those diets and methodologies.  It takes the best from each and allows every one of us to work out for ourselves what we like to eat, when we like to eat and how to work with our bodies to lose weight.

All of us want to be slim and attractive.  We all want to look our best.  But not many of us want to go the rest of our lives without eating birthday cake.  And even fewer of us really look forward to weeks of dieting, and existing on tasteless and unsatisfying meals that leave us hungry and irritable.

The simple idea here is if you engage in a program that actually suits you, and that doesn’t force you to eat foods that you don’t like at times when you’re not hungry, well, there is no reason why you couldn’t do it forever.  And that means that the weight stays off for good.

If you can lose weight while still eating chocolate, then losing weight doesn’t seem so punishing.  And if you can keep the kilos off for good, that’s even better.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑