I know the feeling, one slice of pizza turns into 2, and two turn into a whole box! I’ve been there before and you start saying to yourself “what’s wrong with me”?
But don’t worry, you’re not alone. It is perfectly normal.
It happens to the best of us and when that happens you just got to get back on track.
Even with the best intensions, the pull of certain foods is so strong it can leave us feeling powerless.
You’re not overeating because there is something wrong with you or your willpower. I mean come on, who wants to overeat on brocolli?!!
See processed foods are designed to be “irresistible” and to be eaten in large quantities. If you ate a whole pizza then the food has done its job.
Processed foods are foods that have been modified from their original, whole-food form in order to change their flavor, texture, or shelf-life.
Often, they’re altered so that they hit as many pleasure centers as possible — from our brains to our mouths to our bellies.
Processed foods are highly cravable, immediately gratifying, fun to eat, and easy to over-consume quickly (and often cheaply).
Processed foods will also look and feel different from their whole food counterparts, depending on the degree that they’re processed.
There are four sneaky ways processed food can make you overeat. Often, we’re not even aware of how much these factors affect us.
That’s why, awareness = power.
1. Marketing convinces us that processed foods are “healthy”.
Processed foods come in packages with bright colors, cartoon characters, celebrity endorsements, and powerful words that triggers all kinds of positive associations.
Take, for example, “health halo” foods.
“Health halo” foods are processed foods that contain health buzzwords like organic, vegan, and gluten-free on their label to create an illusion, or halo, of health around them.
Companies come out with organic versions of their boxed macaroni and cheese, gluten-free versions of their glazed pastries, and vegan versions of their icing-filled cookies.
You’ll see chips “prepared with avocado oil,” sugary cereal “made with flaxseeds,” or creamy chip dip with “real spinach.”
The nutrient content of those foods isn’t great, but the addition of nutrition buzzwords and trendy ingredients make us perceive them as healthier.
Marketers also choose words that relate more broadly to self-care.
Ever notice how many processed food slogans sound like this?
“Have a break.”
“Take some time for yourself.”
“You deserve it.”
Words like “break” and “deserve” distract us from our physical sensations and tap into our feelings — a place where we just want to be understood, supported, soothed, and perhaps just escape for a moment.
Health buzzwords and emotional appeals can make us perceive a food as “good for me”; it seems like a wise and caring choice to put them in our shopping carts, then in our mouths.
And if a food is “healthy” or “we deserve it,” we don’t feel so bad eating as much as we want.
2. Big portions make us think we’re getting a “good deal”.
People get mixed up about food and value.
We’re taught to save money and not waste food.
We’re taught to buy more for less.
Given the choice between a small juice for two dollars, and a fizzy drink like Coca Cola with endless refills for the same price, the coke seems like better value.
What we don’t calculate into this equation is something I like to call the “health tax.”
The “health tax” is the toll you pay for eating low-nutrient, highly processed foods. If you eat them consistently over time, eventually you’ll pay the price with your health.
When companies use cheap, poor quality ingredients, they can sell bigger quantities without raising the price.
But what’s the deal?
Sure, you’ll save a buck in the short term, but you’ll pay the health tax — through poor health, excess body fat — in the long term.
3. Variety makes us hungrier.
Choice excites us.
Think of those “party mixes” — pretzels and corn chips and cheesy puffs and barbeque rings — all in one bag! The fun never ends because there’s a variety of flavors and textures to amuse you forever!
When we have lots of variety, we have lots of appetite.
It’s hard to overeat tons of one thing, with one flavor, like apples.
How many apples can you eat before, frankly, you get bored?
Reduce the variety and you also reduce distraction from your body’s built-in self-regulating signals. When we’re not so giddy with choice and stimuli, we’re more likely to slow down, eat mindfully, and eat less.
4. Multiple flavors at once are irresistible.
If there’s a party in your mouth, you can guarantee that at least two out of three of the following guests will be there:
These three flavors — the sweetness of sugar, the luxurious mouthfeel of fat, and the sharp savory of salt — are favorites among those of us with mouths.
However, when you combine these flavors, they become ultra delicious and hard-to-resist. This is called stimuli stacking — combining two or more flavors to create a hyperpalatable food.
Food manufacturers know: When it comes to encouraging people to overeat, two flavors are better than one.
Food manufacturers use a specific “stimuli stacking” formula to create hyperpalatable food.
They call it “The Big 5.”
Foods that fulfill “The Big 5” are:
- Calorie dense, usually high in sugar and/or fat.
- Intensely flavored — the food must deliver strong flavor hits.
- Immediately delicious, with a love-at-first taste experience.
- Easy to eat — no effortful chewing needed!
- “Melted” down easily — the food almost dissolves in your mouth, thus easy to eat quickly and overconsume.
When these five factors exist in one food, you get a product that’s practically irresistible.
So what is the solution? Well you have to start educating yourself about these foods, examining your own relationship with food, and employing strategies that put you in control.
It’s not about will power. If you are relying on will power you will be facing an uphill battle.