Written by Michael Kulla
In Part 1 (Why We’re Hooked on Certain Foods) I described how the food industry understands that sugar, fat, and salt drive consumption. They’ve layered and loaded it into foods to keep people coming back for more. Additionally, they glamorize the food through display, advertising and other titillating means to that we become driven and conditioned to respond. Every time we get cued and consume the stimulus food we strengthen the neural circuits. Translation: we’re hooked. If you give two or three year olds more calories in the meal, they will eat less in the next (compensation), but if they get exposed to sugar, fat and salt regularly for a few years, they will lose their ability to compensate.
How can we fight back? Here are some ways on how to resist the pull of unhealthy foods:
- Figure out how much food you need (probably less than you think). Put it on your plate and summon the will power not to go back for more.
- Pick foods that will satisfy, not stimulate, like foods that occur in nature (whole grains, beans and fruits) combined with lean protein and a small amount of fat.
- Stay alert to emotional stressors or other stimuli that trigger automatic behavior. Recognize emotions like anxiety, fatigue, sadness that might stimulate you to overeat.
- Change the TV channel. Turn off the image of the trigger food before you start to debate whether to eat it.
- Pair unhealthy foods with a stream of unappealing images. That’s the opposite of what advertising does when it links positive images to products (an Olympic athlete to a pair of sneakers).
How can we cool down a stimulus? Tobacco is a case in point. Tobacco was seen as something we wanted – made us feel better, cool and sexy. But the stimulus was changed from being glamorous to seeing it as deadly and disgusting. So, social norms and attitudes do affect us and affect our brain impulses. Policy changes result. In the cafeteria at Goggle’s headquarters they have red, yellow and green in front of each lunch item. Green means have as much as you want; yellow, have a moderate amount; red, taste it but be careful how much you eat. We need something like this on the front of food packages. Also, industry needs to set responsible portion sizes. We’re going to finish the package because once our brains are activated it’s virtually impossible to stop.