A-HA Moments

Processed Foods, Mental Mayhem, And The Lure Of The Dietary Pleasure Trap-A Series

Processed Foods, Mental Mayhem, And The Lure Of The Dietary Pleasure Trap-A Series

Welcome to the series of posts that I’ll be presenting on the various aspects of my mood-to-processed foods connection! the following quote says it all…..

We are digging our graves with our teeth.

Thomas Edison

Processed foods have an allure that is very similar to that of drugs. Ranging from minimally processed foods such as oils, to ultra processed foods such as potato chips, they can easily stimulate cascades of dopamine in the brain. Our brains have pleasure centers that are intended to reward us for things that support survival. Processed foods can often times trick these systems because they introduce a false sense of well-being.

It all starts early in life when we are introduced to processed foods that trigger dopamine releases. The brain is engineered to note the feeling of euphoria and to support eating more of whatever it was that created the feeling. Basically, the foods that trigger these systems are the ones that are more calorie-laden, and simple in design (i.e. ice cream). Our brains are programmed to look for foods that provide quick, easily-digested calories.

For example, most children who eat ice cream receive a a big spritz of dopamine in the reward centers of their brains. This sends a signal to the baby to remember what it just ate. The baby quickly learns that it likes the ice cream because the brain has picked up on the fact that the baby has eaten something that is packed with a high concentration of calories. Furthermore, the ice cream has been engineered to have an optimal ratio of fat and sugar to really get the brain going. Companies pay a LOT of money to have chemists and food researches figure these things out. The “bliss point” that they pay for is the optimal balance of salt, sugar, and fat in their foods that will set off a frenzy of desire in the brain.

TAKE A LOOK AT THIS VIDEO FOR AN EXAMPLE – did you see those eyes?!?!?!

And if that wasn’t enough, the food industry also discovered that developing these foods with a lot of convenience would also make snacking more habit forming.

What makes this even more complicated is that the brain itself plays a part in this. Sometimes, signals get crossed that cause us to change the process of eating food from a source of self-care and health to a source of obesity and the host of illnesses that come along with it. Our evolutionary survival instincts cross paths with moods and before we know it, there is a magnetic pull to the kitchen where we don’t even know if we’re hungry or not. Basically, we are feeding feelings.

The crossed signals occur due to the evolution of the brain. We have one part of our brains (our survival brain) that kicks in when we are emotionally triggered. The survival brain tries to distract us from those feelings, and leads us towards things that we find pleasurable so as to avoid pain. Since we have the memory of the ice cream (or other foods that have triggered dopamine releases) embedded, the brain recalls these and thus a craving is born.

Additionally, the part of our brain that handles planning and other reasonable, logical functions (the prefrontal cortex) actually shuts down when we are emotionally triggered, and we wind up with some crazy mixed signals. The survival brain is older (evolutionarily speaking) and takes control over other processes when we are triggered, because it is programmed to construe strong emotions as danger, and it is trying to steer us to safety.

So this is how I have gotten myself into this constant struggle with my weight. I am an emotional person. I learned at a very early age to soothe those feelings with processed foods as well as ULTRA-processed foods. Foods such as fast food hamburgers and fries, potato chips, frozen pizzas, candies, cakes, and the like fall into the category of ultra-processed foods. For me, those habits are deeply engrained. It takes a while to form new habits, which I had started doing 7 years ago when I began my plant-based life. BUT, it only take one slip up for someone like me (and others who are addicted to processed foods), and the whole system can be thrown into chaos; even decimated.

I am happy to say that I am losing weight again. I am losing a pound or two most weeks, as long as I maintain a mix of the following:

  • Whole, plant based foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds)
  • NO processed foods. If I want a sauce or a dressing, I make it myself
  • NO oils
  • NO sugar
  • NO salt

Basically, my optimal diet focuses on nutrient-rich plant-based foods that support my body’s ability to lose weight and become healthier.

I’ll be writing more about this in coming posts, and sharing recipes, tips, etc. It’s not as hard as you may think. It just requires a little planning and time in the kitchen. But in my opinion, it’s worth it!

Stay tuned for more!

Published by Tony Buffkin