Why is it we crave chocolate cake and not broccoli? I know I can't go past a cake shop without being tempted to buy chocolate cake and have to really stop myself from going in because I know I will most likely walk out of the cake shop with an entire cake rather than a slice and eat the whole thing! It takes a lot of self control - so why is it so hard to resist some foods?
One study recently found that the 10 most addictive foods are pizza, chocolate, chips, biscuits, ice cream, fries, soft drinks, cake, burgers and muffins (in that order). By being classified as the most addictive, these foods are being eaten more than they should, with many people being unable to quit and certain foods being problematic with addictive behaviour.
The reason being that these foods are all rich in fat and sugar or salt and low in fibre and protein - the exact opposite of what we are supposed to consume and they compete with the least addictive foods like carrots, brown rice, strawberries, beans, salmon, cucumber, bananas and broccoli.
Sugar, fat and salt aren't the only reasons the most addictive foods have in common, they are also high GI - meaning they are rapidly absorbed into the blood, creating high spikes in blood sugar, which stimulates the brain to product 'feel good' chemicals in the same way drugs do!
Exercise also produces these 'feel good' chemicals but it isn't as instant and requires a lot more work, making junk food the easy choice. But instead of being hard on yourself or feeling guilty for consuming a whole packet of Tim Tams, you should know food companies spend millions of dollars on making sure certain foods are addictive.
But... there is a way of teaching our taste buds that fresh is best and enjoying more food that is low in salt, sugar and fat. It takes about 3 weeks to retrain your taste buds by starting to reduce your intake of processed packaged foods and introduce whole foods into your diet.
Eating more fresh veggies by eating salads for lunch and loading up your dinner plate with veggies is a good start. You can always satisfy a sugar craving with a piece of fruit too. Don't forget legumes like lentils and chickpeas and use herbs and spices for added flavour without the added salt. Your taste buds will then start adjusting to eating less salt and sugar so the cravings aren't so strong because you don't feel you 'need' those addictive foods anymore.
Keeping a food diary of what you're eating is also useful so you can see in a whole week what you've been eating as we tend to forget the takeaways and eating out with friends. Instead of writing it down, you can also just take photos on your phone of every meal and snack you have in 1 week and then you will see visually pretty quickly where you're going wrong and can see what foods you could cut back on to improve your energy, mood, weight and overall health.
When trying to retrain your taste buds, be aware of foods that claim they're 'natural' and read the label on everything - packets, tins and anything in a packet. You know the rule, if sugar or salt are one of the first 3 ingredients listed on the packet or tin, don't buy it because it's loaded with either or both!
Believe me if you start giving your body less salt, you won't crave sugar and when you have trained your taste buds, the cravings won't happen so often. The funny thing is most times when I have craved something so badly and give into my cravings, when I get it and eat it, it wasn't as good as I remembered.
The more you resist, the stronger your willpower will be and when you wait to indulge, you will be in less of an impulsive mind-set and in more of a reflective, ready-to-savour the moment one and enjoy it more!
Studies show that we crave what we eat, so if you eat good-for-you foods, you'll start wanting them instead of chocolate cake. The key is getting your mind on board until your body can take over.
Hope this helps
Lifestylist Health & Wellness