Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's All in Your Head

I had a bit of an epiphany the other night as I was munching a chocolate chip cookie. (Yeah, the ones I blogged about the other day. Just writing about them sent me into the frenzy I was talking about, and I ended up making 2 dozen from scratch and eating about 8 of them myself). I realized that the ecstasy and rapture we think we are going to get from a particular food is just that: what we THINK. It is usually not reality. That's why, as I said in that earlier post, we can dream about how great that meal from McDonald's is going to be, but it's almost always a disappointment. It is all in our HEADS.

I think we often get ourselves all worked up about the thought of some certain food we crave. Then when we give in and eat it, it isn't as good as we had imagined, but we shrug and eat it anyway. Do you really think that candy bar is going to taste fantastic?? Well, okay, next time you have one, sit yourself down and really TASTE it. Don't INHALE it... take some time to taste the flavors. Pay attention to the texture and the sensations in your mouth, throat, and body as you eat it. I guarantee you it is not that great. It's only that great in your head. I truly believe that if we can re-train ourselves to taste food each time as if it were the FIRST time, we can yank your heads out of that food fantasy that is driving us to binge.

You know how there are certain foods that we associate with childhood? We remember them fondly. Maybe it was the pie your grandma made, or the cheese potatoes your mom made. Or maybe, like me, you fondly remember eating a bag of Lay's potato chips and a can of Coke. Do some foods make you think of your parents? Do you remember how GOOD a Twinkie used to taste when you were a kid? Or an Oreo? Well, I think that is what is driving my cravings. I REMEMBER how delicious Oreos tasted to me AS A CHILD (with immature tastes), and so I expect them to be like that now. Never mind that my taste buds have matured a little, and don't mention the fact that they took the yummy, creamy, rich Trans Fats out of Oreos so they literally DO NOT taste the same anymore. When I think of Oreos, I remember the joy of having a 5-stack of them on the table with a glass of milk. Yum! So I go and buy a bag, sit myself down, and munch through 5 Oreos, expecting to have that same experience. But I don't. They don't taste as good as I remembered, or expected, so I have five more. I am still hoping for that past memory or experience, so I keep on eating them until the bag is empty and I feel gross and unfulfilled. Huh. Wonder why I am fat.

And so I had this thought the other day, as I was popping a hot, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie in my mouth. "Hey," I thought, "these are not as good as I thought they would be." They were really awfully sweet, a bit too gooey, and they didn't have a very distinct flavor. Just SWEET. Mind you, I am a good cook, and this is my tried-and-true, favorite, crispy-on-the-outside, melty-on-the-inside, chewy-when-cooled cookie recipe (NO you can NOT have the recipe!!!! Bad bad bad!!) So it was not that the cookies weren't as good. It's that the memory of them, and the expectation of them, was far better than the actual cookies.

Practice paying attention every time you eat, but especially when you are eating something unhealthy or off-plan because you WANTED it. Think about how you EXPECT it to taste and what you think it is going to do for you. Then take a bite (or a slurp or a sip or a lick), and notice how it tastes. Sure, there are some foods that really are ecstasy-inducing and do taste fantastic, but the majority of your craved junk foods are going to let you down if you let them. By "let them," I mean let go of the THOUGHT of the food, and experience the reality of that food in that moment. You might even think, "I don't even really like this!" and put the food down.

On the other hand, I have found the opposite to be the case with most healthy, natural foods. When I eat a crisp, juicy apple, it is almost always better tasting than I thought it would be (and please, don't give me the "I Hate Apples" line if all you have ever tried is Red Delicious ::gag me:: or Granny Smith. Have a Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Fuji or Gala, for heaven's sakes!). Usually roasted vegetables or baked acorn squash or even grilled chicken breast tastes WAY better than I thought it would. I guess we don't have emotional associations with things like romaine lettuce. Homemade, healthy foods usually do taste the best.

Make it a goal to pay attention to your food, your thoughts, expectations and memories, and the actual experience of eating. If it's not worth the calories, don't take a second bite. Build your body with good things, and good things will come to you!

16 comments:

Hanlie said...

I couldn't agree with you more. The more natural the food, the better the taste and the healthier it is for you. Why is it that we have to add flavourants like sugar, cinnamon, chocolate, salt, garlic, MSG, cheese powders, pepper, chilli, spices, you name it to unhealthy foods to make them taste nice? And then we forego the healthy stuff?

One of the most satisfying snacks I can have is a sliced yellow bell pepper. Or a fresh, ripe (not cold-storaged) tomato. I bought my first mango of the summer today and I can't wait to have it tomorrow. And don't get me started on avocado...

Great post!!!

Chubby Chick said...

Chocolate Chip Cookies... I made a bunch over Christmas, ate a bunch over Christmas, and GAINED a bunch of weight because of them! Honestly... I hadn't made them in awhile... and they were delicious. I loved every bite of them! But... they were not worth the extra pounds hanging onto my hips.

I also got some Cream Horns from the Walmart bakery over Christmas. I was "craving" those little homemade Clothespin Cookies... but had no intention of making them because they're a pain in the butt to make. I kept THINKING about the cookies... how sweet and yummy the filling was... and went and bought the Walmart Cream Horns. All I can say is... YUCK! Yes, they were sweet, and yes... the filling was kind of good... but overall... they tasted like CRAP! And I ate every one of them... the whole time thinking how AWFUL they were and thinking about the Clothespin Cookies!

It really is all in our head sometimes... even MOST of the times.

I've been eating healthy since Jan. 1st, and the other day I bit into a Gala apple. I could not believe how incredibly scrumptious it tasted!!! Much better than anything I ate over the holidays.

It takes a lot of time to learn hard lessons sometimes... but I think we're finally "getting it," girlfriend! :)

Anonymous said...

I wait very happily for fall when Honeycrisp apples are avaiable- the rest of the year I don't eat any apples.
I fell disappointed about suger cookies- my mom made great suger cookies growing up- and buttermilk biscts but last time she made some- nope wasn't impress but kept eating them anyway. I love you blog- so many of your thoughts are the same as mine

Susan said...

"If it's not worth the calories, don't take a second bite." Those are words to live by. Thanks for this insightful post.

Fatty said...

I agree 100% - and try a Pink Lady apple... they are awesome. I ate McDonalds every night for dinner. Maybe once a month it was cooked okay (not soggy, not burnt, not gross). Yet I kept going back. Your post sure helps shed light on the situation, thanks!!!

Alexis said...

I love your posts, you always make me think something I've never thought before! Thank you!

Lidian said...

I agree, absolutely! Veggies are so much better now that I am in charge of them. My mother gave us canned, grey green beans. No wonder I didn't like vegetables!

Karen (aka Deadbudgee) said...

Lyn,
That is all so true. I am always disappointed when I get some "forbidden" food and devour it, sometimes still in my CAR. Its not as good as I had hoped...but that never STOPS me from eating it! I have found that I am enjoying food MORE (these last 12 healthy days) perhaps because I am eating less!!! The first sip of that fresh juice or that first bite of fish actually tastes far better than the truckloads of cookies, candy, and ice cream that got me to the place I am today!!!

Honi said...

My nutritionist always tells me and it is a huge help in certain circumstances.. that the First 2 bites and the last 2 bites.. will taste exactly the same as all the bites in between.. because people only really taste the first 2 and last 2 bites... 4 bites .. is all you truely need to be satisified.. its worked for me on several occassions..

Dinah Soar said...

Your post is so timely---I ate at Wendy's on Wed...got my regular small chilli, diet coke, and decided instead of eating the crackers or having a baked potato, I'd have some french fries because it was a really cold day here and chilli and fries sounded good...plus I hadn't had fries in ages. But....they must have changed the chilli recipe...it had no flavor...and neither did the fries and they were barely warm...but for the first time in my life, although I was quite hungry, I didn't finish either of them...ate about half, threw the rest away, and went on to Target where among other things I purchased a protein bar to tide me over until my evening meal.

I guess there is a learning curve to understanding why we do the things we do....

Also--I did read that often when people have food cravings they are deficient in vitamin B complex...

You are such a good writer...I'm thinking you should write a book...have you considered it?

Heather said...

I hear you..a lot of times I would get so excited about eating a particular food that I would either inhale it and barely tasting it, or would be disapointed, but kept on eating. now if I dont like something, I stop and throw it away. just as life is too short, I think the same thing about what you eat in a day. we should enjoy what we are eating and maximize our c hoices.

I also think that the things we ate as kids tasted great because they were "treats" or special. I know I wasnt allowed to have an OREO every day, but when I did ,it was special and tasted fantastic and I enjoyed it. when I got older and binged, I knew I could have an orea every day, multiple times a day and I did. somehow it no longer became a "treat". it was just part of my daily food intake. and it lost all the goodness it once held.

Marshmallow said...

Great post, Lyn! I'm sure that this applies to a lot of people.

However, it doesn't apply to me, since I didn't have positive experiences with food when I was a kid - everything was banned, off limits, 'for your brother'. So when the parents were out of the house, I would go to the pantry and shovel them into my mouth before I got caught. And make up some lie about how I threw them in the bin because I knocked them onto the floor to explain their mysterious disappearance.

Nonetheless, you've brought up some fantastic points that are going to ring true for many people across blogland. Great post!

~W~ said...

Great post, as always, Lyn!
The other day I ate a falafel sandwich from a restaurant famous for it, and really liked it. I went for it a week later and it did not taste the same. I kept reminding myself of that the next time I was craving that falafel sandwich.

FatGirl said...

This just happened to me this week- I am home with my dad in NY (and eating like shit as a result but that's beside the point) and he had a bag of kettle cooked lays..

I LOVED these things, mind you. So I had some.

And they are definitely not what I remembered.

However, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Freihoffer Sourdough Italiano soft-white bread with a glass of 2% milk (as opposed to skim) WERE everything I remembered, except that the bread I had wasn't as fresh.

kazari_lu said...

Is it just me, or do you eat more because they don't taste that great?
I mean, you take the first one, and think, 'oh, that wasn't crispy enough' and look for a crispier one, and then a gooier one (or salty or whatever)....
you never quite recapture that taste you remember, but i can spend an awfully long time trying.
this happens to me all the time with fries.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! I had to laugh because as I read the vivid description of your homemade chocolate chip cookies, my first instinct was to ask you for the recipe. Then, in the the next line of your post, you wrote, "NO you can NOT have the recipe!!!! Bad bad bad!!" Very funny! I agree with other posters who say you should think about writing a book. Your writing style is really accessible and funny, and comes across as very personal.