Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Each week on a Saturday I run a diet and nutrition class in the gym I work at. Each Sunday I put up a question box on instagram stories to encourage people to make requests for the following Saturday’s topic.

People every week identify that they have a sweet tooth, and consider this a barrier to them losing weight. Of my own in-person clients, over 50% of women consider themselves to have a sweet tooth when asked in a survey.

High sugar foods alone aren’t the problem though, it’s the combination of sugar with fats which make foods super delicious and difficult to say no to. A highly engineered result we call “hyper-paletable foods”.

So, if you can’t resist the Halloween treats in the supermarket this week, or you are drawn to the snack baskets in your house – you’re not alone and you’re not to blame. These foods are manufactured to be almost impossible to resist. Pretty sneaky.

Even people who have got very healthy relationships with food have a hard time saying no to certain “trigger foods”. These are different for everyone, but they’re almost always highly processed, high sugar, high fat, high salt – and highly available.

Food manufacturers have revealed Big 5 stimuli stacking elements of foods.

  1. Calorie dense – often high in sugar, fat & salt
  2. Intense flavours – often combining flavours in ways that psychologists call “supernormal stimuli
  3. Immediately delicious – the big flavours pack and immediate punch
  4. Easy to eat – this relates to the texture and ‘mouth feel’ of foods which don’t need to be heavily chewed
  5. Melts in the mouth – these foods disappear quickly from the mouth, making it hard to eat slowly, and very easy to eat more than you intended to. Specifically, these manufactured foods should be broken down in no more than 10 chews. Compared with around 25 chews per mouthful of whole foods.

These Big 5 components are what food manufactorers look for when designing foods for marketability and they are even more important than how foods actually taste!

Clearly, the solution to overeating these foods shouldn’t rely on willpower alone. There are some things you can do to stop overeating these hyperpaletable foods.

  • Observe as you chew how things feel and taste in your mouth. How long it takes to chew and swallow the foods, and do you feel satisfied after eating it? These things might influence whether we keep eating.
  • Pay attention to the less healthy foods that you buy and consider cutting down on the variety. By allowing yourself some ‘treats’ it can help adherence to a calorie controlled diet and by limiting your choices, that can take some of the temptation out of the picture.
  • Pay attention to the craving. This is likely to have been triggered by something – and it can help to keep a note book on your observations for a week or two to get to the bottom of what’s causing them.

Common triggers include:

Thoughts and feelings: thinking of food as a reward, or something that you’ve earned. Feeling bored, lonely or sad. Food can be something you’re using to fill the void.

Times of day: lots of my in-person clients recognise this one – so much so, that the “2pm twix” had become a running joke. These snacks are part of your routine.

Social settings: it’s my colleague’s birthday, and there are cakes in the staffroom again. It’s happy hour and I always have a bag of crisps with my pint.

Places: your parents’ house, a dark movie theatre, or the automated way you order at a familiar restaurant can all be triggers to eat without really thinking about it.

Once you’ve spotted the pattern, we can put other behaviours in place instead – behaviours which support your goals instead of sabotaging them. Then it’s a case of practicing.

You might not get it right first time – and the act of practicing can take a while, but you are able to make those changes that you want in your life.

If you’d like me to help you, fill out the form below and let’s have a chat.

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