Friday, February 3, 2012

Foods that GRIP You: Eliminate or Moderate?

I have noticed that lots of us struggle with certain foods over and over and over again. There even seems to be a common theme: sugar/fat/salt. I've written before about about the physical whys of this phenomenon (thank you Dr. Kessler), but looking at the practical issues of eating, I find myself asking: Must I eliminate these foods? Or is there a way to moderate them?

We talk about "trigger" foods: ones that set you off into overeating or getting into a mental state of wanting to eat more. Some foods are just so yummy you don't want to stop eating them. For me, one of these foods is cheese.

Here is my issue. It is EASY for me to look at something like sodas or Snickers bars or Little Debbie Cakes and KNOW they are just all-around bad for me. They have no redeeming qualities. They are ALL negative for me. If I eat a Swiss Cake Roll, it does *nothing* for my body; it just causes inflammation and makes my joints hurt, makes my stomach ache, gives me a sugar-withdrawal headache the next day, and sets me up to want to eat more and more junk. So I can easily get my mind around eliminating them. It doesn't bother me to say I will never drink another soda, or eat another Snickers bar. I can make a rule that if I want a sugary sweet, it has to be *worth it* to me. It has to be *special*, gourmet, or homemade... not run of the mill grocery store junk. And I have to stop at a single portion. I can do that..

But what about other foods that GRIP you, make you want to eat more, yet are not so cut-and-dried "junk"? What about things that do have nutritional value, that *are* part of the general diet you grew up on, that are perhaps comfort foods your family loved? There are a lot of foods that have mixed research on whether they are healthy or evil; some people swear off wheat, others eat no grains, some avoid all beef or even all meat, while others eat no dairy. But what if you haven't eliminated whole foods groups from your diet? How do you deal with those foods that you might consider healthy, but when you eat them, you just want to eat MORE?

For me, it has always been cheese. I have loved cheese since childhood. All kinds of cheese! I can just sit and eat slice after slice on its own, or a bowl of grated cheddar, or have it with crackers or melted on a bagel. My biggest comfort foods include it: macaroni and cheese, lasagna, pizza, twice baked potatoes. I have switched to reduced-fat cheese over the past two years, but I still have a hard time keeping to a single portion. That's a big issue when you're dealing with something as calorie-dense as cheese.

Do I stop eating cheese altogether? Do I save it for special occasions? What about those super comforting, delicious recipes I love?

My solution so far has been to cut out the parts of the recipes that "bother" me (seem to trigger that urge to eat more) such as pasta and potatoes. My cauliflower mac n cheese is just as yummy as the noodled version, but it does not trigger me into eating second and third helpings.

So part of the answer is to find substitutes for those grippy foods. But sometimes, there *is* no substitute. What about warm, homemade, white bread, freshly baked and slathered with butter? My heavens, just thinking about it sets off pathways in my brain that I don't want lit up. I used to bake homemade bread often. And it was nothing for me to eat half a loaf right out of the oven. I'd eat a whole loaf if I could get away with it. So I had to stop baking bread. I know that if I baked a loaf of white bread today, the ONLY thing that would stop me from eating half of it would be the embarrassment of the kids asking who ate half the loaf. I have a *very* hard time moderating that food. So I have eliminated it. I will only allow myself hot fresh bread in a circumstance where I *cannot* eat more than one slice, such as in a group of people or at someone else's home. No way am I baking white bread alone at my house again, ever.

There are other foods I had to give up in order to control my reactions to them: fried chicken, french fries, donuts, pork sausage, and pretty much all pasta. I just cannot moderate those things. I am okay with them being literally off the table.

So I guess my solution is
1) find substitutes
2) eliminate the total junk
3) moderate the good stuff
4) cut out the uncontrollable

How about you? What foods grip you if you eat a small portion of them? What have you chosen to eliminate, and why?


Sarah Mann Willcox said...

Little Debbies are totally a trigger food for me. I ADORE them. I don't know why that's the one thing that I can't leave alone. For me, I have to eliminate them totally. My friends wanted to by them on a trip recently and I had to fess up that they would send me down a scary path. (as in, I'd be back the next week to buy some more!) Almost everything else I can eat in moderation. Maybe it's all in my head with the cake rolls, but I'm not willing to try!

Cecille said...

I'm with Sarah, Little Debbie "Boston Creme Rolls" - and while sugar doesn't cause me the physical issues , it DOES make me fall completely off the wagon. I have to be 100% or I'm eating big macs and pizza. As long as I stay 100%, I'm good.

LHA said...

Another great, thought-provoking post with a question to ponder. I have really "researched" this over the past couple of years, meaning that I have tried out all kinds of solutions to the question of what to do about foods that I feel I can't control myself around.

Surprisingly, here is what I found out about myself. There is no food that I can't eat in moderation as long as I do not make any food "bad" or "off-limits" or "forbidden". My solution has been part Geneen Roth, part various other bloggers and authors, part experimentation, and part nutritional counseling.

I have to work hard at NOT restricting my food intake, because if I do I will invariably overeat or even binge on foods that I have over-restricted. It happens every time, and this has been going on for decades.

The fact that these formerly irresistible foods have been demoted to "just another food choice" has amazed me! I try to make healthy choices but if some less healthy food is consumed, no big deal! I have lost around 50 pounds so this is working for me.

Princess Dieter said...

When I got serious about this journey 19 months ago, I mostly moderated and found substitutes. When I got more hardcore and wanted BETTER results, I eliminated trigger/super-tempters/hyperpalatable foods. I have not had my number one--Pizza--or lasagna, or mac n cheese (cheese is my biggie, too) in more than a year. I still eat both full-fat and reduced fat cheese--not fat free, as that sucks the big one--but I count the calories. I have to account for it.

But I could, like you, just sit and eat slice after slice if I let myself. No problem. I just love cheese too much to let it go, and since I gave up milk, it's my main calcium source.

When I find something makes me want more more more more...and I can't just be happy with a normal portion, it goes into the "eliminte or consider eliminating" list. I dont' have time to screw around. I'm 52 in a couple weeks. I may only have 10 years or 20 of life I figure, hey, I've eaten it before, lots of it, and maybe it's time to give it up.

But I do try MODERATING first...or modifying. And if that don't work, out it goes.

I did give up wheat...and didn't even try a substitute for a while. More than 7 months now. BUt I just bought gluten free stuff this month, and I plan on trying some (one is a bagel product, another is a pizza crust). If I can eat them in moderation, I'll reincorporate. If I can't, out it goes, buh-bye.

I can't dick around with food like in the old days. If it's my enemy, it has to go.

Anonymous said...

Ice cream. I can't have it in the house because it is the one food I continually refuse to measure and acknowledge how much I eat. Because it essentially becomes a liquid when consumed, I can eat several big bowls without discomfort. And I would often buy and eat an entire pint at a time so my husband doesn't see an almost-empty container (again) in the freezer and ask questions. I just can't do it.

Ordering a cone or scoop out at a shop is totally different--no urge to order and eat more. But no way can I keep it in the house. I can moderate just about everything else--cookies, candy, chips, etc., but there's something about ice cream.

Vickie said...

rye toast, can't even have rye bread in the house. that is the only one that remains. UNLESS I am going through a really tough time and then I am more sensitive to other things too. good post.

Erika said...

I think I am in the eliminate camp on this one, but not about a general food but a way a food is prepared. I used to love velveeta shells and cheese and could eat a whole box. I haven't touched it in almost 2 years. When I want mac and cheese I use whole wheet noodles, skim milk, reduced fat cheese and make one portion on the stovetop and add a ton of broccoli. Ditto with pizza, I just make it healthy or vegan.

Vickie said...

I am posting your

So I guess my solution is
1) find substitutes
2) eliminate the total junk
3) moderate the good stuff
4) cut out the uncontrollable

in a post on abstinence later this week. Wanted to let you know. I loved these five little lines. They say so much.

katie said...

Black and White, All or Nothing = restrictive extreme thinking..the thought processes of addicted brains.
The healthy "Middle Way" is a place where the color Gray in all it shades is celebrated. And there is space and room for Moderation .
Here is "right thinking"...and sanity and struggle and suffering around food and eating. I recommend the book "Mindful Eating" by Jan Chozen Bays.

Jane said...

I have to moderate ... elimination to me just makes me crave it more, and drives me binge-crazy! But there are things like ice cream that I just can't keep in the house, cause I will eat it! I'm with you on the cheese too though ... I love cheese!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to a particular dear blogger and some work I've done re. my long binging history, I've been able to eliminate or reduce considerably, foods that I love but that represent "empty" calories.
I am a calorie counter so, knowing that I'll be obsessed by certain foods (cheese, oatmeal, sandwiches), I O.D. on them by making that particular food the one item I will eat that entire day. Not something I recommend to others, but it works for me.
I may eat my entire allotment of calories in fat free cheese, turkey breast on rye, with a thin layer of olive oil mayo. Or, the last few days I've really craved brie cheese. I've had nothing but brie.

My balance works out weekly rather than daily. When I need huge volume, due to change of weather or whatever, I make an enormous container of oatmeal with almond milk and fruit, cinnamon and possibly a protein bar or two blended in. Yes, I've done the same with Sugar Free ice cream. My meal for the day was ice cream and fruit or a "sauce" consisting of blended cooked carrots and sugar free syrup in a favorite flavor.
Sometimes I want creamy soups so I blend cooked carrots with low fat cream cheese or low fat ricotta and almond milk and add it to a thick soup filled with vegetables and chicken or...whatever.

Often it is not so much a specific food but a texture that I crave. Once I identify my need I limit myself to that one item and I find that after a couple of days the "need"/craving passes. As I said, not for everyone and I don't always do it this way but since the q. was about specific foods I wanted to address those occasions when I encounter what feels like a "must have" item. I lose very slowly (1#/wk) on 1650 calories, so this allows a reasonable amt. of the desired food each day.
I find that after a day or two I look forward to something new/different and throughout the week, most food groups that I should be consuming end up being part of my menus.


April said...

Low-Carb Comfort Food Cookbook (by the Protein Power authors) has breads. Not super-low like Medifast levels, but should be good for transition & maintenance.

Diandra said...

Honestly, I would not want to eliminate anything from my diet. Well, I have gone off caffeine, but I have found organic decaffeinated FairTrade coffee, and that tastes just as great. With everything else - I especially love crisps, and occasionally cookies. And with the BF around, I could not eliminate them from our home. So he is allowed to eat them, and most of the time I am just fine with it. If I really want to eat some of it - well, I eat some. And pay special attention to the moment the urge is gone. But I guess I have never really struggled with any food addiction, so that might be not a sustainable solution for others.

Angel said...

Funny you asked. I just eliminated peanut butter. It's a test to see if it is really a trigger food.
I know some say "moderation" and while that's true, sometimes we have a real allergy or sensitivity to certain things. We have to find these things out and sometimes the only way is elimination.

timothy said...

i simply cant do moderation for triggers and honestly i dont think anyone can. it's like an alcoholic having "just one drink" so i just simply cut them out

Anonymous said...

My mother makes amazing white bread and rolls. I almost never eat wheat (I'm very sensitive to gluten), let alone white bread.

A couple of years ago, when my weight was down about 20 pounds from where I am now (and that was about 30 pounds overweight, but I was doing great and losing), a sister made Mom's recipe for my birthday party and very forcefully pushed them on me. I had one. And that seemed to be the start of the slippery slope. I regained 30 pounds. Have since lost 10 again.

I do eat a little bit of wheat once in a while and can usually limit it and get back on track. I don't know if it was partially my inability to withstand the pressure, or what, but it's been a long time now and I've never yet gotten going the way I was before that event.

Just building up a head of steam now and using all the tools I've learned to beat this food addiction thing. Working on getting back to that point where I'm not always thinking about A. Food or B. How fat I am. Such a waste of time, energy, and human potential!

My main focus right now is eating when hungry, not otherwise, and only eating at the table when I'm alone. (I do eat very healthily as a rule but more than I need.) I'm trying to take a step back and reguide my thoughts when I start obsessing about food or body.

Last week I gave myself a pass to eat watching TV and... overate all week as a result. That's my trigger, more than anything. As of yesterday I've recommitted. It always takes a little while before the habit is solidified but once it is, it feels like freedom, like life has opened up. And I need to remember that.

All the best to you,


Anonymous said...

Arabella, sounds to me like you may have encountered a bit of sabotage. Not conscious maybe, but nevertheless, your previous weight loss may have created some ambivalent feelings in the sister who was so insistent that you eat a trigger food.

Normally I would not presume to address this without being asked but I found myself in situations similar to yours, when well meaning family members engaged in similar behavior and I became so angry that I self sabotaged in response. Sometimes it took me months to get back on track. Recently I've stopped allowing even the most gentle of gifts to "provoke" me in this manner. I thank the loving family members for their gift but I inform them that I will not be able to eat it during this period and as soon as soon as that changes I will let them know and will enjoy their offering.

This topic has been discussed on the 3FC forum several times and your post reminded me of it.
I wish you much success in achieving whatever your goal is.

Lindsey said...

I think with something like doughnuts, just eliminate because it has no nutritional value. However, something like french fries does have nutritional value and you and can make them healthy by baking rather than frying or doing sweet potato fries or something similar. They are a potato after all. Someone mentioned rye bread. Actually rye bread has one of the LOWEST glycemic indexes of any whole grain. So I say, eat it up. You have to have a reasonable serving of course.