Imagine how much easier it would be to build (and maintain) a sexy physique and optimize your health if, instead of craving foods like pizza, ice cream and fried chicken, you subconsciously desired nutrient-dense foods like spinach, eggs, carrots and apples.
The reason it’s so difficult for us to ditch the toxic, disease-inducing, nutritionally bankrupt, calorie dense foods is that they’re full of ingredients that have been shown to light up the pleasure centers in our brains like a Christmas tree.
This chemical reaction is intense. In fact, it’s been shown to be comparable to what a drug addict experiences when taking a hit of their drug of choice.
This doesn’t absolve us of taking any personal responsibility for our health, of course, but it does explain why people have such an unhealthy obsession with processed foods that are loaded with addictive ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and artificial sweeteners.
So, what if we could take this scenario and flip it on its head? I’m talking about reversing our food cravings in such a way that eating an orange will induce a more pleasurable experience than eating an Oreo.
I tell my friends, family members and colleagues all the time that I’d much rather have a grilled chicken breast with rice and an avocado for lunch than something like a Big Mac with fries and a Coke. Anyone who follows the typical American diet, with 80% or more of their daily calories coming from processed foods, will contend that this kind of statement borders on insanity (as my friends, family members and colleagues usually do).
Years ago, when my diet was just like theirs, I have to admit that I would have agreed with them. It turns out, though, that I’m actually not crazy. Well, not because of my healthy dietary desires, anyway.
As Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., and director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA explains, “We don’t start out in life loving French fries…This conditioning happens over time in response to repeatedly eating what is out there in the toxic food environment.”
Like any addiction, America’s incessant, collective cravings for unhealthy processed foods have been developed over time on a person-by-person basis. Fortunately, as I and droves of others have personally experienced, these cravings absolutely can be reversed and replaced with healthy cravings.
Until now, I’ve relied almost exclusively on anecdotal evidence and esoteric experience to explain this phenomenon. Fortunately, science has recently validated what I – and many others – have known to be true.
The results of a recent study performed at Tufts University, where the aforementioned Susan B. Roberts serves as a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, indicate that it’s indeed possible to revert our unhealthy temptations for unnatural, processed foods back towards foods that are natural, nutritious and healthy.
You can read the details of the study here, but the following is a summary of the main points:
- The goal of the study was to find out whether the brain can be re-programmed to “desire” healthy food choices more, and unhealthy food choices less, by simply changing a person’s diet.
- The testing group consisted of 13 overweight and obese men and women.
- 8 of the 13 subjects participated in a specific weight loss program designed by Tufts University. Unfortunately, not a lot of details are provided regarding what said weight loss program consisted of, other than there being some type of behavior change education and the diets of these 8 participants being high fiber and low glycemic in nature.
- The other 5 participants comprised the control group that did not participate in the weight loss program.
- The study took place over a duration of 6 months.
- All 13 participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans at the beginning and end of the six-month study to measure any changes that occurred in the pleasure center of the brain that is commonly associated with addiction and learning.
- Those who participated in the weight loss program experienced an increased sensitivity to healthy, lower-calorie foods, along with a decreased sensitivity to unhealthy, higher-calorie foods. Sadly, no mention is made of the results experienced by the control group.
Based on the results of this study, Susan B. Roberts concludes, “There is much more research to be done here, involving many more participants, long-term follow-up, and investigating more areas of the brain. But we are very encouraged that the weight loss program appears to change what foods are tempting (and desirable) to people.”
But you don’t have to wait for the follow-up studies to start putting this information to work for you. I can tell you exactly why the weight loss program participants experienced a reversion of the foods they desire from those that are devoid of nutrition to those containing an array of essential, health-supporting, life-sustaining nutrients.
The shift happened through the two principles that are required for any positive change to occur in one’s life: education and consistent action. It’s clear that those who participated in the weight loss program were educated and taught what to eat, what not to eat, and why.
In other words, they were told why they ought to desire to make healthier food choices. Not only that, but they did what few in the real world would do, and followed through on that education by consistently eating healthier foods. Still, it’s safe to say that changing their food choices would have been quite a challenge for them – especially at first – regardless of the education they received.
When breaking any addiction, the first few days are critical – and the most difficult.
One day of eating nothing but clean, natural foods isn’t going to suddenly make your fast food and junk food cravings disappear. You don’t develop an addiction to these foods overnight, and it won’t be broken overnight, either.
In many cases, we’re talking about breaking a lifelong, unhealthy food addiction.
Each person is different, but my experiences have shown that it typically takes consuming 80% or more of your daily calories from whole foods for approximately 2 weeks before unhealthy foods start to become more repulsive and healthy whole foods become more preferential.
By the way, it’s imperative that you don’t miss the theme of consistency here. A crack addict has no hope of curing themselves if they continue to get high on it two or three times per week. Similarly, a few days each week of eating healthier foods just isn’t going to cut it.
With a substance like crack/cocaine, any amount of relapse can be disastrous and take you back to point zero. Fortunately, though, we can cheat a little on our healthy eating, while still continuing to train our brains to desire healthier foods.
This isn’t a license to go nuts and pig out on cookies and sour cream & onion potato chips, but it is meant to communicate the fact that a couple of junk meals each week won’t completely wipe out the progress you’ve made towards reprogramming your desires.
Still, it should go without saying that the more consistently you’re eating natural foods, the more efficient and powerful the difference will be.
Remember that commitment and consistency go hand-in-hand. Making a lazy and unambitious goal for yourself (you know, like “trying to eat better”, or “trying to eat smaller portions”) doesn’t lead to lasting change. It usually doesn’t lead to much of any change at all, for that matter. It does little more than indicate an up-front lack of commitment and seriousness that all but guarantees failure.
If this study shows anything, it’s just how important educating ourselves and taking action truly is when we desire to make a positive change of any kind in our lives. Through education and consistent action we can change our desires, we can move something into our comfort zone that used to be way outside of it, and we can transform ourselves for the better…
Including the foods we eat.