Enjoy your food (but not too much)

I shop for food quite regularly, and so does my girlfriend. We hardly ever shop together, though. When my girlfriend asks me what we need I may have a few ideas but almost always end with this refrain: “Please don’t buy much s**t, because I’ll eat it.” I don’t have a great deal of self-control, so it’s much easier for me to keep unhealthy food out of arm’s reach. This is particularly true for foods that I find quite ‘moreish’, which for me include things like milk chocolate and biscuits (cookies).

Back in the day I used to think that the reason I would find it virtually impossible to eat just one or two chocolate biscuits, say, was down to my lack of self control or weak will or something. These characteristics no doubt play some part, but reading the work of Stephan Guyenet over at his website Whole Health Source made me aware of the concept of ‘food reward’. The idea is that some foods can be so rewarding (like recreational drugs) that it drives us to consume more of them. Stephan believes that the eating of highly rewarding foods is a potent driver of obesity. He may be right, though as I explain here, I have some reservations about the relevance of this concept to many people seeking to lose weight and enhance their health. Nevertheless, the concept of food reward is valid, I think, and Stephan’s writing on this subject are well worth a read, I think. Click here for the first part of a multi-part series of posts on the subject.

I came across an interesting video (below) here on the Perfect Health Diet site. It features an episode of the US TV show 60 Minutes which focuses on the work of ‘flavorists’ – individuals who create flavours for processed foods. Quite early on in the video you will see at least one flavorist admit that their job is to create foods with tastes that keep people wanting more.

I’m into the idea that people should enjoy the food they eat, but I’m most certainly not thrilled by the prospect that certain foods may drive people to eat far more than they need. This is one of the good things, I think, about eating a diet based on natural, unprocessed foods. While some meat or fish with some veggies or salad can be enjoyable to eat, such meals tend not to have the moreishness of processed foods. In short, such fare allows people to enjoy their food, but not too much. The fact that many processed foods are created to be ‘hyperpalatable'(very tasty) and highly rewarding is one of several good reasons to avoid them.

10 Responses to Enjoy your food (but not too much)

  1. Gracie 19 December 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    I always tell people that it’s easier to exercise self-control at the grocery store than at home.

    As to a partner bringing junk into the house, we don’t have that problem around here. I don’t think husband has set foot in a grocery store in five years or more. It’s just easier if I have complete control over food and the kitchen.

    I certainly wouldn’t recommend that to all couples, but it works well for us.

  2. Paul Jaminet 19 December 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the link! I’m a great admirer of your work so it’s an honor to be mentioned.

    However, the URL goes to the wrong post. I think you were looking for this one: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/?p=5231.

    Best, Paul Jaminet

  3. John Briffa 19 December 2011 at 10:44 pm #

    Hi Paul

    Thanks very much for your kind words!

    I have amended that link now to the one you gave.


  4. Maria Cross 19 December 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    Ah, John – a man after mine own heart! Whenever my husband goes shopping without me I always implore him to limit the crap. I’ve been a nutritional therapist for nearly twenty years, but put a bag of corn crisps (not chocolate, inexplicably) in front of me and suddenly I’m the incredible hulk – a different person whose normal self control has gone awol. There is definitely something addictive about these processed foods, which is gloriously absent from naturally self-limiting wholefoods. And knowledge of what these monster foods do to us is no hindrance – we just feel even worse!

  5. Tom Nikkola 20 December 2011 at 2:21 am #

    Good post Dr. Briffa. I know dining out gets blamed as the reason people eat poorly, but the reality is, most of the foods that sidetrack people’s nutrition plan are the foods they have in their own homes. We have two teenagers and we don’t buy any of the processed junk found at their friend’s homes. They never mention it though. If it’s not in the house, they don’t think about it.

  6. JanetH 23 December 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    I definitely believe in this. I try not to buy stuff.
    I do find that not eating sweets, crisps and chocolates I don’t miss or think about them but as soon as I have some I want more and more… Unfortunately I’m in a more phase at the moment.

  7. Feona 24 December 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    I can’t have biscuits or chocolate in the house either – so I have ‘just the one’ when I visit a friend. She knows my problem, so nmever brings out a packet of biscuits or chocolate – I just get offered a cup of tea and one biscuit on a plate and that’s fine.

  8. Anne Robertson 28 December 2011 at 2:07 am #

    Believe it or not, there are people, me for one, who don’t find sweets and biscuits, etc irresistible. There’s a stack of chocolate in the cupboard, but I rarely touch it, and when I do, I’ve soon had enough, even though I find it delicious! However, I piled on the weight from my mid-twenties onward because I believed the propaganda that I needed to eat potatoes, cereals and other starches; foods I’ve never been fond of. So, food reward had nothing to do with my weight gain, it was all due to bad advice.

  9. Doctor 29 December 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Don’t forget that Bacon is a highly processed comfort food with which many so called ‘primal’ types are strangely obsessed .

  10. Koko 14 January 2012 at 2:41 am #

    Great post, John. I too have to limit (ok, banish) all ‘treat’ foods from the house as I know I will not be able to resist eating too many.
    I’ve been thinking along the very same lines that junk foods are like recreational drugs. In that the eating of them forms a very bad habit, one that becomes very natural. I have decided that, since I have formed this bad habit, that I will not allow myself to eat any treats until the habit and cravings have gone. I’ve had this habit for well over a year now, so I expect it’ll take a similar amount of time to form better eating habits!

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