Like fashion, diet fads rise and fall, only to be recycled down the line into something that looks vaguely or very déjà vu. The current focus in popular books on how the food industry has taken Americans prisoner to their food formulations is a case in point.
The bottom line with these books—or at least how the media reports on them (I haven’t read them myself)—is that the food industry has used their magic to devise concoctions of fat, sugar and salt that, once we’re hooked, keep us coming back for more. The technical term being bandied about is food addiction, and it’s being used most often in connection with sugary foods, leading people to think they need to ban such foods from their diets.
Hence the déjà vu—anyone who has been on weight loss diets knows these foods are off limits, right?
Here’s where my thoughts take a turn, though. I’m not saying that food addiction doesn’t exist. I actually don’t think we have good enough evidence yet to say that it does or doesn’t. My blog post on addiction to food tells you more about this.
What I do think we have good evidence for is that this concern is taking place within a population of people who are not well fed. Those who the subject of food addiction seems to concern most is larger-size people, many of whom have spent too much time on diets or skipping meals, undereating then overeating, and otherwise just not feeding themselves well. What this does to our ability to make food choices in our own best interests is, in a word, destructive.
Basically, this style of eating monkeys with the hormonal regulatory system that drives our appetites—that tells us when we are hungry and when we are satisfied. And when that’s out of whack, it can set the stage for developing cravings for the very foods that we fear we are addicted to. We actually set ourselves up.
So how do we step back from this scenario? Start by feeding yourself well.
- Eat regularly. For most of us, that’s every 3 to 5 hours or so because that’s when we get hungry.
- Eat well-balanced. This isn’t tricky—it’s just making sure to include protein foods, starchy foods and vegetables and/or fruits in most meals. If you’re fairly hungry at snack time, try balancing those, too. Balance helps you feel more satisfied.
- Eat whole foods most of the time. That means starting with foods that don’t come out of a box or bag, using foods that do as garnishes or treats. Here’s one of my quick and easy favorites that fits this bill: A sandwich of whole grain bread spread with mayonnaise (Hellman’s!) with sliced turkey, tomatoes and romaine lettuce with a side of ruffled potato chips. A juicy piece of fresh fruit ends my meal with a sweet taste.
When we’re well fed, we’re much less vulnerable to the call of food for a very good reason—we’re not hungry! And when we are, the practice of eating whole foods teaches our taste buds what really tastes best. Sometimes that’s the sugary stuff, and when it is, being well fed can help you eat some sugar without feeling like you have to eat it all.
Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD, is the co-owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s healthy weight retreat that pioneered the non-diet approach to health, and an organization now in its 40th year of operation. Marsha’s personal mission matches that of Green Mountain’s: To help women change their focus from weight to health and adopt realistic, sustainable strategies for healthy living. A recovered binge eater herself, Marsha is a board member of the Binge Eating Disorder Association.
To learn more about Marsha, click here!