Thursday, April 29

Food Addiction

I’ve mentioned previously that I have and continue to struggle with an addiction to food. Today we get to do some learnin’ because I’m going to explain how this addiction works. Those of us with an addiction to food (which is more of us than we’d like to admit) struggle with a very drug-like addiction. Granted it’s not as severe as drug addiction; however, I would argue our social acceptance of obesity makes food far more dangerous to our society than drugs.

We have two chemical systems in our bodies that influence what we “like” (Opioid System) and what we “want” (Dopamine System) to eat.

Our Opioid System releases a kind of pleasure chemical when we eat a food we like. We’re sitting eating a hot fudge sunday and our opioid system is releasing chemicals that tell our brain we’re happy (I dare you to try to eat a hot fudge sunday and be sad about it). Our Dopamine System releases chemicals into our brains that our brains translate as a reward when we eat something we like (if we eat a hot fudge sunday every night except Thursday, our brains on Thursday begin to go through withdrawal).

High fat and high sugar foods increase the opioids in your system when you eat them. Interestingly, so does morphine (just on higher level). Check out this article on the research. Once we experience this pleasure, we seek to have it again and again. But we develop a tolerance—the second time we eat that sweet, our opioids system only releases a third of the opioids it previously released. Now you need more and more of that food to get the “feel good” experience you had the first time.

The dopamine system simply compounds the problem. When we continue to overeat foods we like, we teach our brains that every time we eat hot fudge sundays we get a dose of dopamine. When our brains don’t get the dopamine it tells us to go eat a hot fudge sunday. Interestingly, cocaine also causes our bodies to release dopamine (just on higher level).

Are you seeing the pattern yet?

The worst part is that dieting actually increases the reward effect that happens in our dopamine system. When you abstain from that hot fudge sunday for several weeks—then give in—that hot fudge sunday tastes like the best hot fudge sunday you’ve had in your entire life. You think to yourself, “Why don’t I eat these every night?” And you’re back to where we started.

Our food choices are driven by a pleasure and reward system rather than an energy deficit or excess signal system. How do you get back on track? Knowledge! When you know how many calories you’ve eaten and how many you need, it’s much easier to rationalize your brain back on track. But, when it comes down to it, everyone works differently. You may discover there are certain foods you just cannot have; otherwise you can’t stop yourself from overeating. You might find that abstaining for the most time isn’t too hard, as long as you let yourself indulge every once in a while.

Wednesday, April 28

A Unique Treat

Sometimes, I just have to treat myself! I used to use food as a reward, a lot. If I had a good day, then I deserved that Oreo. If I had a bad day, then I deserved that Oreo. It’s ridiculous the ways I would find to justify why I deserved a treat. I’ve worked really hard to find other ways to reward myself (amazingly, working out is one of them).

But sometimes you just want a treat!

Today I went to give blood. For me, giving blood is important but not particularly fun. They always want you to eat something afterward, but all they have is not-so-great cookies and pretzels. I decided to take a 3 Musketeers bar with me—if I’m forced to eat some empty calories, I want it to be something I like! (Thus, my above illustration.) That 3 Musketeers bar was so good…

Now I can’t wait until my three months are up and I can give blood again! I think I’m going to go with a Twix then. I’ve turned an occasion that I don’t necessarily look forward to and used my own weakness to make the situation better! This obviously wouldn’t be a good idea if it was something that happened every day (or even every week). But, for me, I can use giving blood as a kind of requirement to motivate myself to not eat a candy bar in between.

Do you have any tricks or rules like this that help you abstain from treats sometimes but allow you indulge at other times? Please feel free to share in the comments! I’m sure there are tricks I haven’t thought of or rules that might work better for people than mine.

Monday, April 26

Join the Revolution!

If you’re not watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, then you need to be. Friday nights on ABC, the man previously known as the Naked Chef is trying to revolutionize Huntington, West Virginia—a city with a reputation for being the unhealthiest city in America.

You can find all the episodes so far on Hulu.

Much of the show is emotionally devastating for me. Jamie takes fresh vegetables into a first grade classroom and the kids can’t even identify what they are. During a cooking class, a woman in her 50s admits she’s never cooked in her entire life. An entire family suffering from obesity eats nothing but fried food and pizza for every daily meal.

The most devastating thing to learn is that government red tape and restrictions are what keep much of the sugary and fattening foods in our schools. Schools are required to offer varieties of milk, even if chocolate and strawberry flavored milk has more sugar in it than a can of Pepsi. Schools are required to offer a vegetable choice separate from the main dish (regardless of the dish having vegetables in it), and that vegetable choice can be French fries.

Hopefully the show helps to horrify our country into some serious change!

Saturday, April 24

Know Your Fats

We have a question submitted by a reader this week! Jessica from Tennessee would like to know: “I found some carrot chips I like, but they’re made in sunflower oil. Is that high in saturated fat?”

The quick answer is no, but let’s chat about fats! Why do we consider saturated fat bad? What kind of fats are good? What’s the different between them?

The first 2 types of fats we’ll discuss are unsaturated fats and saturated fats.

Unsaturated fats are divided into 2 groups—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are called “unsaturated” because of their chemical makeup (monounsaturated fats having only one double bond in the chain of fatty acids, polyunsaturated having more than one). So, without using a microscope, how can we tell if a fat is unsaturated? The lack of hydrogen atoms (eliminated by the double bonds) makes the melting temperature of a fat lower meaning, at room temperature, unsaturated fats will remain a liquid. A quick test: which is unsaturated fat, olive oil or butter? Olive oil, because it remains a liquid when it’s sitting on your counter.

Polyunsaturated fats help to keep your LDL cholesterol low. Your LDL cholesterol is what clogs your arteries, the “bad” cholesterol. You can find polyunsaturated fats in fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and trout. However, monounsaturated fats actually raise your HDL cholesterol. Your HDL cholesterol takes the LDL cholesterol back to your liver (keeping it out of your arteries), the “good” cholesterol. You can find monounsaturated fats in plant sources of fat like walnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, avocados, and olives.

Saturated fats are called so because they have no double bonds in their fatty acid chain and are fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. As mentioned above, the hydrogen atoms make the melting temperature higher, so these fats are solid at room temperature. A quick test; which is saturated fat, canola oil or Crisco? Crisco, because you can keep that sucker in your cupboard and it’s still a solid.

Saturated fats contribute to your LDL cholesterol; however, we do actually need a certain amount of saturated fat in our diets. Saturated fats contribute to cell growth, are preferred fuel for some muscles, and are an important component in certain hormones. So you certainly don’t want to cut saturated fats completely out of your diet. But most of us get plenty of saturated fat in our diet, so we shouldn’t focus on adding any in. Saturated fats are found in animal sources like cheese, milk, beef, eggs, and ham. Some plant sources also have saturated fat, like coconut and palm.

The last fat to discuss can be thrown into the “bad” or “unhealthy” foods category without pause. Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats, are unsaturated fats that have had hydrogen atoms forced onto them turning them partially or completely into a saturated fat. These fats were discovered in the early 1900s, and scientists used to think they would solve all our cholesterol problems. Turns out, they only contribute toward them and have absolutely no health benefits. Trans fats, thanks to the FDA, are required to always be marked in the nutritional information of a product (since these fats are only found in processed foods). Check your labels!

Wednesday, April 21

Think Nutritionally, Not Healthy

I find it interesting that we insist on classifying foods as “healthy” and “unhealthy”. As if all food could be classified into 2 distinct categories of “eat” and “don’t eat.” That somehow cucumbers are something we eat and ice cream is something we don’t eat.

On one hand, it would be nice if food were so black and white. It would certainly make choosing what to eat easier. However, wouldn’t we just be miserable if we just never ate the foods that we classify as unhealthy? Let’s be honest—none of us choose not to eat foods because we think of them as unhealthy. But we do make many choices about what we think we should eat based on what we think is healthy.

I’m sure you’ve stood in the cereal aisle and reached for your favorite sugar cereal. Then you change your choice and grab a box of granola because you think you should be eating healthy and you’ve classified granola as a healthy food in your mind. Wait! Turn that box over and give the nutritional information a good look over! I’ll bet you didn’t realize there’s so much sugar in most granola cereals that in half a cup you’ll be eating close to 40 grams of carbohydrates and only 5 grams of protein. Hmmm. From what we learned about carbohydrates, if you eat a bowl of this cereal (which I guarantee you will be more than half a cup of cereal), then you’ll be hungry again and looking for something sweet in no time.

So, unless you plan on accompanying this bowl of granola with some cottage cheese or a cup of greek yogurt, then a bowl of granola is not your best option for breakfast.

Uh oh. Does that mean granola is actually unhealthy? No! Granola has great value in breakfast—as long as you pair it with some protein and heart-healthy fats. I would go so far as to say most all foods have great nutritional value—as long as you are being smart in how you balance them in your diet.

There are some foods we can leave in the “unhealthy” category: any foods with trans fats, for example. And there are obviously foods that have a greater nutritional value than other foods: whole grain wheat versus refined wheat, for example.

But let’s pull ourselves out of our black and white thinking and begin to be aware of the nutrition in our foods and how to build them into a diet that keeps us healthy for life!

Friday, April 16

The Difficulties of Travel

I’m recently recovering from a trip to Pennsylvania I took for about a week and a half (the Fam on Easter to the right). These trips to visit family are wonderful and fun, but rarely relaxing. My biggest concern prior to the trip was: how do I maintain control over what I am eating and when I am exercising outside of my normal environment and schedule?

The best thing I did for myself was plan! I planned what I was going to eat at the airport. I planned out with my mother to have foods at the house I could eat and dinners that were pretty close to balanced. I planned my schedule so I could see where I had free time—and then I planned trips to the gym or the park during those times. I scouted out where the gyms were in the areas I would be visiting. And, when possible, I dragged my friends and family out for exercise and activity with me!

So, with all the planning I did, how did my actual trip go? The results speak for themselves: with Easter weekend and a road trip to Tennessee squeezed in, I only gained a pound! Now, this isn’t to say I was sitting around on Easter eating rice cakes while everyone else had ham (I would never eat rice cakes for a meal, anyway, because they’re nothing but carbs!). But I was able to take everything I’ve learned about food and exercise and make good choices when I decided to go “off plan.”

Planning for the airport was great—there’s rarely any healthy food at the airport. There’s rarely food that anyone even likes to eat at the airport, so it wasn’t much of a sacrifice to bring my own. I packed my favorite protein bars, sunflower seeds, crackers and those Starkist Tuna Salad packs. I also packed a few M&Ms 100-calorie packs, because who doesn’t like a little candy when you’re traveling? All in all, the planning went well! I found that I wanted to splurge on breakfast, which wasn’t a horrible idea considering it gave me a good amount of calories to start my day. So breakfast came from a cafĂ© at the airport. But the rest of the day, it was easy to depend upon the food I brought with me. They were foods that I liked and knew were balanced.

When I got to Pennsylvania, again, my planning paid off. I was able to eat pretty low-calorie for 2 meals of my day, then I usually made an exception out of dinner. I knew I wouldn’t want to try too hard on Easter, and I didn’t. I think Easter was the first holiday that I just let loose since losing all the weight. But it went well! Since my body is used to a specific amount of calories and has chemically normalized, I found that I would eat a big (and fatty) Easter lunch but wouldn’t be hungry again for 5 or 6 hours (I normally eat every 3 to 4 hours).

The road trip to Tennessee was another matter—my planning all went down the drain. I brought balanced snack foods with me on our trip, but wasn’t able to bring meals with me. If I thought eating well at the airport was difficult, eating well on the road is impossible! Once we got to Tennessee, I found I didn’t want to even try to eat well as I was visiting and sightseeing.

I have to say that I think the whole trip went well, but here’s the key to my success: this week, back at home, I’m back on my normal (or a little lower) calories range and healthy foods. The key during my weight loss and the key to my keeping it off will be my ability to bounce back from decisions—planned decisions and unplanned decisions—and jump right back into the eating I’ve established as normal.

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