Last week, I went to dinner with my dad at our favorite Mexican restaurant. We sat down, and almost immediately I felt my mouth fill with saliva as I stared at my favorite item on the menu: chicken chimichanga smothered in green chili. Did I just drool? I could hardly wait for the fiery deliciousness of their famous green chili. Before I knew it, I’d wolfed down two baskets of chips and my smothered chicken chimichanga. Poor Dad didn’t even see what was coming.
Now, I like to think I can control myself when it comes to food. But with certain things, like greasy, deep-fried Mexican food, I can barely stop myself from eating the entire plate–even long after I’m full. But a new book that came across my desk might explain why I can’t bring myself to put down the chimichanga.
David A. Kessler, PhD, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (Rodale, 2009) describes some of the ways that the American food industry and scientists have tricked us into overeating. They create what he calls “hyper-palatable” foods, loaded with high fat, sugar, and sodium. It’s the foods we love–chicken wings, milk shakes, even a Snickers bar–with ingredients designed to hit “the bliss point,” where we obtain the greatest amount of pleasure from the food. The combination of sugars and fats in the food stimulate the endorphins in our bodies, which make us feel good while eating the food, and dopamine, so that we continue to crave it long after we’ve licked the plate clean. Our brains get so over-stimulated and aroused by the food that it’s much like a drug, with the same addictive powers. In short, these foods are like the bad boyfriend you can’t seem to let go. You know he’s bad news for you, but you just can’t stop taking him back and wanting more.
Now that I know green chili is a hyper-palatable food with its high fat and sodium content, I’m ready to fight back. What really hit home for me is that Kessler isn’t blaming my chimichanga binges on lack of will power, but on a society that has conditioned us to “hyper-eat.” Kessler doesn’t say we have to cut back completely on the foods we crave and love, but learn to manage our cravings. One tip he gives is to change how we look at a meal. Instead of looking at my huge plate of chimichangas and feeling excited, I’m learning to cut my portion in half (still a lot of food), realizing that glutting myself will only make me feel terrible tomorrow.
So what’s the one food you all crave? Any tips on how to satisfy your cravings without overeating?
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