Ask yourself: Can you eat just one potato chip? Can you take just one bite of an Oreo cookie and not inhale the rest? If you are baking a cake, can you refrain from a lick of the frosting bowl? How are these points connected? Because I’d like to further explain our discussion from the prior blog. Yes, we all have food addictions; and most of our food addictions are tied to sugars, salts, and fats – especially when they are manufactured into one processed food. Be honest with yourself. When it is time for some emotional eating – and we all experience moments of emotional eating – which would you grab? A plump, healthy, fresh strawberry? Or an unhealthy, but yummy strawberry tart?
What can you do about it? For starters, you can stop blaming yourself. As stated in the prior blog, sugar is more addicting than cocaine. That’s simple genetics and neurochemistry. Have I explained the process so that you understand addiction? Probably not. When you take a bite of something that is sugary and salty, your brain’s cortex lights up like it’s Christmas. The brain’s reward center has a moment of bliss. You feel wonderful. But your brain is much smarter than one of its parts. Your brain knows that the food (and that moment of bliss) is not good for your health and survival.
So, what action does your brain take? It down regulates a chemical called dopamine, which helps transmit the feeling of pleasure. As you take those second and third bites, your brain starts shutting down some of the dopamine receptors. Can you guess the end result? With reduced pathways to that reward center, you have to take more bites of those potato chips to obtain the same level of that initial bliss! Just as you have to consume more alcohol or more cocaine to rich the same initial high. Yes, your brain is trying to work for you, not against you.
I know, that does not answer the question: What can we do about it? Well, for addicts, do you know what is the 11th step in their 12-step recovery? It is meditation. No, I am not suggesting that you meditate between bites. Don’t get me wrong. I support the habit of meditation. I just know that most people are going to struggle establishing that habit. Instead, I am suggesting that you may want to pause for a moment. That’s not just a pause between bites; it’s a pause right now, as you read this blog, to reassess your eating style and life style. It’s a pause that should be a daily habit.
With a daily pause, maybe you can see that you have some control of your genetic inclination toward food addiction. Maybe you can see the value of detoxification for a few days. Maybe you can appreciate how your prefrontal cortex can finally have a chance to heal. Maybe you can understand how some genes, involved in addiction, can actually be turned off. The word is epigenetic and we have discussed how it is one the better discoveries in the last century. You have a chance to turn of those genes that help your health, and you have a chance to turn off those genes that hurt your health. Here is the good news. You do not need one of those pills, which inundate our commercials. You do not need another visit to your doctor. You don’t need to spend more health care dollars in a dysfunctional health system.
You just need to pause, reflect on your health, and make the necessary changes. In the prior blog I discussed the importance of cleansing your kitchen of those items that are addicting and unhealthy. You actually need to do more. You need to start cooking again. Do you know that 23 million Americans eat at MacDonald’s every day? Do you know that we are approaching a pattern where half of all of our meals are eating out, not at home? Fast food? It reflects our fast life. We’ve become a knee-jerk society. Quick to react and always rushing. Is that the behavioral pattern to good health? The behavioral pattern of a good life?
I know what I am asking. I am encouraging people – all you baby boomers – to participate in a grassroots revolution. Our generation has done it before. Why don’t we do it again? Come on, it’s part of our cultural DNA. Let’s put a stop to all of these manufactured processed foods. Let’s turn to more vegetables and fruits. In fact, as we age, let’s return to some gardening. Let’s enjoy the growth of our foods and the cooking of our meals. Let’s savor and honor our dinners. If we could just make this fundamental change, we would be healing ourselves. We would be ingesting healthy nutrients and we would be spending more time with our loved ones. What could be better?
Actually, I will tell you something that could be better. What is the definition of stress? Some experts claim that it is often a deficiency of time. Can you see the underlying theme with the above recommendations? I am trying to get you to step off the conveyor belt of life. As before, be honest. How it that conveyor belt working for you? About as well as your rushed meals and long hours of work? I want you to halt that stressful life. I want you to turn to a far better life. For today, it starts with a switch in your eating style and a move away from an addiction to certain foods. For tomorrow, it will hopefully progress toward more family time and greater joy. Just remember: with every pause in your life, there is a chance for growth and freedom. Even in our older years, isn’t that exactly what we want? More freedom.