Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Food Isn't Fun Anymore

Diet books are nothing new. They’ve been littering our bookshelves forever and, even though they’re all glitzed with different titles, they all end up giving us the same broader-stroked message, “Just stop what you’ve been doing.”

I know it’s not that simple. Having practiced nutrition for over twenty years, I am intimate with the complexities of the simple human need to eat, but I’ve had the forced experience of “stopping what I’m doing” these past couple of weeks and am now asking a new question.

What if we took the pleasure and fun out of food?

Before you pounce on me, let me explain. I was diagnosed with maxillary hypoplasia a couple of years back (fancy word for tiny upper jaw) and finally took the plunge to surgically correct it. As a result, I cannot put my teeth together for six weeks while the broken upper palate bone heals. My food intake is now limited to what can be tossed down the gullet effortlessly – creamed soups, puddings, mashed potatoes, and shakes. I am a crunchy girl at heart, detesting the bland, white and mushy food world. I prefer the textured world of salads, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Anything with crunch! I am now imprisoned in pudding hell, but can’t help but try to find a silver lining.

What is it?

Well, for one, I’m being forced to evaluate what life is like when you take pleasure and fun out of food. It’s not the same for me as it would be for others because I prefer salads to ice cream, but pleasure has been ripped away from my eating experience. It’s no fun cooking a beautiful meal for my family and then sitting down to slurp my bowl of soup. This new reality brings me back to my original question.

What if we all took the pleasure and fun out of food? Even for an imaginary moment. How would that change your life?

Don’t panic. No one is going to actually do it. Let’s just examine the concept and the basic equation of eating.

Eating  = Necessity + Pleasure

We must eat to live, no? Necessity is eating to survive and choosing those foods that will enhance survival. Necessity is food for fuel. But we also enjoy eating food, which is a good thing. It gives us the drive to eat. If the pleasure component is missing completely, we might not be compelled to eat and we would risk malnutrition. In summary, we need both necessity and pleasure, but in balance.  

I can assure you that we’re collectively out of balance, which is a big culprit in our plight with obesity and obesity-related diseases. Our scales have tipped to pleasure (and it shows), but it’s not really our fault. After all, we are wired to get pleasure from food. It’s human, natural and wonderful.

However, food addiction is at an all-time high because the dopamine-releasing ability of food is at an all-time high.

Scientists are discovering that our human brains reach a bliss point, which is when our brain’s pleasure centers get bombarded and stimulated, when we eat foods with a triple threat power of sugar, fat and salt combined. We can all picture the salted caramel flavors flooding our markets and giving us that sublime eye-roll to the backs of our heads. It’s instantaneous pleasure. Chocolate-covered bacon, anyone?

Don’t think for a second that “food” manufacturers (do I have to call Cap’n Crunch “food”?) are not fully aware of food’s addictive powers. They’re jacking up our food every day. Even Bolthouse (sorry guys), which produces “healthy” juices, has a salted caramel flavor now. When I asked the booth guy at the food show why they went in that direction, with added sweet and salt, he explained, “It’s a healthier alternative to Starbucks.”

Is cocaine a healthier alternative to crack?

I can rant. And I will. But I’ll stop now and leave you with the original question.

What if we took the pleasure and fun out of food?

First off. Most food companies would go out of business because most of the food we buy is for pleasure, not necessity. Just troll the aisles and most of what we eat isn’t even food anymore by the time it goes into a box on a grocery market shelf. We eat it because it tastes good and our brains sing with pleasure. Is it really enhancing our survival? No. It’s probably killing us, but we still buy it because it is the pleasure part of the equation driving us to eat.

Is there anything we can do to reverse it? Food addiction is serious. In addition to obesity and obesity-related diseases, it can lead to a slew of mental health problems because our brain chemicals go whacky when we eat for pleasure. It starts a vicious cycle of highs and lows that begin to drive our eating behaviors. Skittles are just sugar-coated crack. Pretty and colorful and blissful sugar-coated crack.

Perhaps America could start a national twelve-step program.

“Hi, my name is America, and I’m a food addict.”

Admitting it might be the first step.

Now -- where is that salted caramel pudding?

(Photo robbed from

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