Saying no to addictive foods

Patricia West-Barker
For The Taos News
Posted 1/17/20

So 2020 is here and you've decided this is the year you will improve your diet and lose weight. Not surprisingly, that's the number one resolution for most Americans. Also, not surprisingly, a study conducted by the University of Scranton has found that 80 percent of New Year's resolutions have been abandoned by February - only about 8 percent of us hang in there long enough to achieve our goals.

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Saying no to addictive foods

Posted

So 2020 is here and you've decided this is the year you will improve your diet and lose weight. Not surprisingly, that's the number one resolution for most Americans. Also, not surprisingly, a study conducted by the University of Scranton has found that 80 percent of New Year's resolutions have been abandoned by February - only about 8 percent of us hang in there long enough to achieve our goals.

Some states thought that seeing the calorie-load on fast-food choices would help diners make better choices. But, according to a study published in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), while people did cut back a little after calories were posted on fast-food menus in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, the change did not last the year. Although orders did drop by an average of 60 calories per transaction in the weeks following the posting -- largely from bypassing fries and desserts -- by the end of the year the drop had stabilized at just a 23-calorie reduction.

Recent research by Tera Fazzino and Kaitlyn Rohde of the Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment at the University of Kansas may have at least a partial answer as to why it is so hard to stay away from certain foods.

"Certain foods," they report on theconversation.com, "such as pizza, potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, are almost irresistible. … In these foods, a synergy between key ingredients can create an artificially enhanced palatability experience that is greater than any key ingredient would produce alone."

What they found was that foods with two or more key ingredients -- specifically sugar, salt, fat and carbohydrates -- that boost their flavor and increase their appeal "can activate brain-reward neurocircuits similarly to drugs like cocaine or opioids. They may also be able to bypass mechanisms in our bodies that make us feel full and tell us to stop eating."

Almost two-thirds of the foods widely consumed in the U.S., the researchers say, fall into three hardest-to-resist combinations: high fat and sodium, which includes processed meats like hot dogs, meat-based dishes, omelets and cheesy dips; high fat and simple sugars, which includes cookies, other sweets and desserts, and vegetables (like caramelized carrots) cooked with fat and sugar; and carbohydrates that are also high in sodium, which includes items like pizza, breads, cereals and many snack foods like chips and pretzels.

A more surprising finding: Close to half the foods studied that were labeled as containing reduced, low or zero levels of sugar, fat, salt and/or calories also fit the addictive-foods profile.

One way to take charge of our eating habits and weight, Fazzino and Rohde suggest, is to take a look at the things we regularly consume that contain high levels of fat, sugar, salt and carbohydrates -- the combination of ingredients that influence brain chemistry and make it harder to eat just one of anything. Eliminating even one part of an addictive combination may make a difference in the way we respond to certain foods.

Is a pizza without cheese, or chips that have been baked rather than fried easier to resist? How about a burger without a bun or a side salad in place of fries? An apple instead of an apple pie? The answer is "Of course!" -- these things just don't taste as good! If you can't deconstruct a favorite food, can you just stay away from it altogether? The challenge is to think of these changes not as a deprivation, but as a way to beat a food addiction that can be as powerful as any drug.

Practice your new food choices for about 66 days -- the average time it takes to create a new habit -- and you may just keep that resolution this year.

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