Fed Up Follow Up-#1 Know the Backstory

In my last blog I reviewed the movie “Fed Up”. In a nutshell, my personal take-away from that movie is: Eat less processed foods.
These food-related documentaries and breaking news stories about harmful food ingredients always come back to the same valuable message: consuming too many processed foods is harmful to our health. Though whether the biggest “villain” is sugar, trans fats, saturated fats, refined grains and white flour, artificial colors, flavors or dyes, GMOs, pesticides or highly processed/chemical ingredients, remains to be seen.  But that really is a moot point because we don’t need to know which one wins the prize for being the worst in order to take action.  If you do wait around for that to happen then that my friends is called procrastination . Let’s face it, we have enough information to know these ingredients are all bad to a certain degree and especially when they work in combination with each other. So let’s just run with what everyone including the USDA recommends we do: LIMIT THE PROCESSED FOODS IN OUR DIET. 
As far as how to accomplish this goal, well that’s the real trick – our current food environment makes this endeavor extremely difficult. Processed foods have become a way of life and is so deeply rooted as an acceptable food source in our current food culture. It’s EVERYWHERE you turn.  To be successful, I think we just have to look at it like any other bad habit we'd like to change: devote the time and energy you need to change it and simply take it one step at a time - it’s a process. 
So here is Step #1 to wean you and your family off of processed foods: 
#1 KNOW THE BACKSTORY
Educate yourself and your children about why humans crave processed foods because as they say, with knowledge comes power. We are hardwired to crave these foods and it can be empowering to finally know that it’s not just “all in our head.”   It is a real craving and it is hard to stop eating something that’s so rewarding to our senses. We know we shouldn’t eat so much of these foods but it goes against every signal our body is sending us. If we realize though that our body is being tricked by these foods, we might look at processed foods differently and be better prepared to deal with these food traps in an effective way because we now know willpower alone won’t do it. 
Here’s the Backstory:
Back in the hunter-gatherer days, these craving signals were used to help man seek out foods like sweet berries (i.e. sugar) and nuts and seeds (i.e. fat) because these foods:
1.    Are safe to eat – sweetness often signals something is not poison.
2.    Provide energy and nutrients
3.    Help us store fat in case of famine (or just for the “winter famine”) since food was not plentiful back then. 
 
As far as salt is concerned, salt is essential to our body and we cannot survive without it so our taste buds and pleasure centers are also programmed to crave salt. In the end our “feel-good” senses are activated when we eat foods containing fat, sugar, and salt. So we ARE programmed to crave these foods and to eat them in abundance because they are important to our survival and so rare in nature that we need to “stock up” whenever we encounter them.
So we now know that processed foods basically prey on this primal sensory programming and Big Food creates their products specifically to exploit our natural food preferences. Food scientists work hard to find the perfect “bliss point” combination of fat, sugar, salt, create the perfect “mouth feel”, and design an explosion of flavor on the first few bites to keep us craving and eating more (Doritos or Cheetos anyone?) Yes, this is a scientific process and we are all guinea pigs in their experiments. (Michael Moss’s book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” explains this process in more fascinating detail as do the books “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite”, by David Kessler, and “The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health & Happiness” by Doug Lisle.)
So perhaps if you and your children feel that you’re “in on it” and understand why you crave these foods then that might help you look at this situation differently and inspire you to create a Plan B for when you are faced with a tempting food situation. We tend to lose patience with our kids for always gravitating towards these foods and get down on ourselves for being “weak” and having no “will power”, but if we realize that it’s because we are PROGRAMMED that way, then this information might help us shift our focus. We can turn our frustration outward and devote our energy instead in a positive, productive way and develop some personal strategies to avoid these processed foods (because we’ve learned that if the food is in front of us, we WILL eat it.)
In my next several blog posts I will continue to outline steps you can take to slay the processed food dragon and talk about some hands-on strategies. Until then, take a hard look at the processed foods you have in your house and see them for what they are: magically delicious manufactured food-like substances that prey on you and your family’s evolutionary programming in order to get you hooked and make profits for their company at the expense of your health! 
Start cleaning out your cabinets now…