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Tempting foods part 2

The competition was fierce (see prior post), but in the end, the brownie sundae took the crown. It didn’t seem to matter that it’s now winter and half the country is experiencing record lows, people have an unrestrained and almost delirious passion for ice cream.

I’m a nutritionist, but half the time I feel like an investigative reporter or an underpaid research geek. My last post and your amazing response sent me into overdrive. I’m obsessed with books, obsessed with research and my office is a study in organized chaos. And although I’m not proud of this, I’ve had an intimate relationship (a serious love affair) with Amazon.com since 1995. I’m a charter mistress. Talk about insatiable appetites – I have one for books. And damn that Amazon, their one-click ordering with free shipping makes it nearly impossible for me to resist. My UPS guy just shakes his head. I’ll get to why and how this ties in with brownie sundaes in a moment, but for now, let’s just say this whole dang thing with over-indulging is complicated business.

The brownie sundae was the hand’s down favorite, followed by the bacon cheeseburger and the chocolate cake. It’s no surprise that raw broccoli came in last. Other than being the choice of some of my hyper-healthy readers, it had no chance against ice cream and chocolate. I like broccoli, but when I’m craving a blissful treat, raw cruciferous veggies don’t jump to mind.

Why is that? Why do we choose to pig-out on ice cream and not bok choy? Who obsesses over Brussels sprouts?

Not me.

Studies show that we’re more apt to crave fat, sugar, salt and more fat, sugar and salt. A few of you did said you might choose the broccoli if it was covered with cheese sauce. And a few others mentioned that I failed to include nachos. You’re right, chips or cheese fries should have been on my “tempting foods” menu. But no one suggested parsnips or beet greens.

We’re almost three weeks into the new year and many of us started 2010 with intentions of eating better, losing weight and exercising more. I did, and right now I’m doing fairly well with my intention, mainly I believe, because I’m focusing on something that trumps the feel-good sensation I get from eating tempting treats. I have a goal and it has nothing to do with conventional dieting.

Diets are bad and they don’t work. Changing what you eat, how you think about food and replacing the buzz you get from over-indulging with something physical, is good. And don’t count on the food industry to help you out. In fact, be very suspicious of them, very suspicious indeed.

I grew up in Colorado and back in the 50s and 60s, hardly anyone was overweight. I look at old photos from my parents’ generation and from when I was a little girl and everyone appears to be a “normal” weight. Our serious weight gain has happened in the last couple of decades and along with it, a rapid rise in lifestyle-related diseases. Two new studies suggest that 2/3rds of adults are now overweight or obese. Check out these guys in the photo above. These are many of the men who lived in a small Colorado mountain community where my dad grew up. The photo was taken sometime in the 1940s. My dad is 4th from the left in the bottom row. Healthy looking guys, right? Fit, handsome characters. If you took the same sampling now, many would be overweight and out of shape. We don’t exercise as much and we eat totally different foods from what these guys ate.

There’s a variety of reasons we’re becoming a nation of overeaters, one of them being what is available to us now. Ridiculous “foods” that weren’t around back then. Quick-fix breakfast cereals that turn milk weird shades of pink and purple. Ding Dongs that never spoil. Irresistible brownie ice cream sundaes that are absolutely loaded with sugar, fat and salt and designed to make you want more. That kind of food gives us a sweet rush of dopamine, the “reward” neurotransmitter. We like that feeling and seek out the foods that give us that high. In fact, so much so that we often can’t think of anything other than the plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table or the brownie sundae on the menu. Add in the perceived depravation of having celiac disease (no gluten means less treat options) and all the sudden that gluten-free brownie sundae at the chain restaurant (I won’t name names) takes on monumental importance. If you feel deprived, you think you need and deserve the “reward” even more. The food industry knows this and has figured out the right mixtures to make us obsess over the brownie sundae or double whopper with fries. Fat, sugar and salt. It’s “almost” not our fault. We can “almost” blame the food industry, much like we blamed the tobacco industry. They are a sneaky bunch and they want you to want more of what they’re selling. Here’s the catch though, if you believe it’s not your fault, you have no control.

Power to the people, as Flo says on the Progressive ads! We get to choose.

Now, what do we do instead of overeating and then dieting and depriving ourselves? This one’s tough because we have imbedded in our neural pathways the delicious dopamine spike we get when we eat the tempting foods. It’s hard to replace that with a handful of raw broccoli. That doesn’t work for most people. We need something that trumps the buzz we get from the fat, sugar and salt. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix. No pill, no diet, no magic formula. We have to take control, retrain our neural patterns, adjust our lifestyle habits and change our perceptions. We have to find something physical that makes us want to eat better. That’s especially hard when there’s a donut shop, a burger joint or a chain restaurant on every corner. It’s way too easy to get the fix, just like it’s way too easy for me to hit “one click ordering.” (Ooh, but I get so excited when I do that.)

Does this make sense?

Yoga helps me overcome the food part because it connects me on a deeper level with my body. I have a greater respect and appreciation for what’s going on inside, even on a cellular level. I feel stronger, healthier and have more energy. I like that, it feels better than eating the brownie sundae.

I feel better, I look better, so I continue to eat better. And on it goes.

I’m taking a 4 week arm balancing class right now from one of my favorite yoga instructors. A 4 week inversion class will follow. It’s hard to do these poses if I weigh just 5 pounds more than my normal weight, it hurts my wrists and I find I’m not strong enough to hold that much weight upside down (or sideways). Five extra pounds is too much. That’s my “tipping point.” I need to weigh less and that is my motivation, that is my reward. Yoga trumps my desire to eat high-calorie, low-nutrition food. Most of the time, anyway.

Maybe this will add fuel to your motivational fire. Here’s the breakdown of what’s in that irresistible brownie sundae that is served at a major US restaurant chain.

Calories: 1911
Carbohydrates: 135 g
Dietary fiber: 13 g
Total fat: 153.8 g
Saturated fat: 88 g
Protein: 26.9 g
Cholesterol: 426.3 mg
Sodium: 401.4 mg

So, skip the brownie sundae and take a yoga class. Or ride your bike to the farmer’s market and buy some broccoli. You’ll feel much better if you do.

Melissa
P.S. Forgive me Lord, for I have rambled.

References:
1. Nutrition Action Health Letter (Dr. David Kessler)
2. Deconstructing the Vanilla Milkshake

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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