From the time we’re approaching our toddler years, we want to do exactly what we are told not to. We may grow out of this, or train ourselves to withstand the urge to do what we’re not to, but the desire is most likely still there. We’re trained to go the speed limit with the memory or threat of traffic tickets. Though not all of us had parents who called the Windham County Sheriff’s office to warn them of a 16-year-old driver about to come speeding through town in her mother’s red Toyota Corolla wagon, somehow most of us turn into law-abiding citizens doing as we are supposed to according to the law.
With food, it’s a little harder. We can’t just swear off sustenance like we can speeding, drugs, cigarettes or alcohol. Kicking anything to the curb that is addictive or provides exhilaration is difficult and a feat for anyone, even one who has been successful at doing so, but food isn’t one of those things. We know it can be difficult to swear off physically addictive processed food that we may have grown to love (and we also know that the food companies design their foods to trigger our reward center in our brain, where addiction lies). Diet soda, snack foods, frozen meals; whether it’s designer “diet” food or designed to be decadent like granola bars or desserts, we have come to rely on it for many reasons. Not only are these foods convenient and cost-efficient, but they’re tasty!
Tasty doesn’t always mean healthy and while it’s hard to say no, we often look to willpower to shed these foods and a few pounds from the scale. Willpower, resolve, fortitude, mental strength: whatever we might call it, it can often feel like the deprivation that it is. It’s no wonder that fad diets work for a period of time. We swear off the processed foods that are sabotaging our weight loss and health and then focus rigorously on preparing healthy meals from whole foods. This lasts for a while, maybe months, but many of us feel deprived like we’re missing out. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing and since we are surrounded by processed foods and advertisements for them, we constantly feel left out. We may shed some pounds, but often times we can’t wait to get back to our old friends: the processed food stuffs we left behind. Like an old shoe or a long-lost love, we can’t shake them. We know we shouldn’t eat them, but we just can’t help it.
Ironically, I was just feeling pretty guilty about snacking on a mid-morning bite of my son’s leftover chocolate birthday cake, when I came across a study about the effects of guilty feelings regarding chocolate cake. (Why did I bring it home again?) The quality of ingredients was fine and it was mostly organic, since I had made it from scratch, but that didn’t prevent the flood of guilt that rushed in, swallowing up my sugar rush.
I had a friend in New York City who would tell me “Kat, you ate it. Now own it,” every time I lamented about my food choices. It’s true. Feeling guilty (especially about food) is a waste of time. We spend time making food choices, sometimes choosing the not-so-wise thing to eat and immediately spend even more time feeling guilt about that choice. Guilt leads to shame and anxiety, which are all stressors. If the reason we try to make wise food choices is to stay healthy and fit, aren’t our stress levels and guilt over food counteracting those attempts?
A study that looked at the way participants viewed chocolate cake, either with guilt or celebration, found that those who associated guilt with it were “less successful at maintaining their weight over an 18-month period.” The thing we focus on tends to be the thing we manifest; so not eating something and thinking about it and the fact that it’s sinful and decadent and a taboo only makes us want it more, which can lead not only to FOMO, but to overeating as well.
Undereating … overeating?
Being too restrictive or omitting certain foods can lead us to eat the very thing from which we’re trying to steer clear. I don’t think I’m unique in my desire to throw myself into a vat of whatever I tell myself not to eat. We focus on it, we seek it out and about or at our friends’ houses. We see it on TV and suddenly, it’s everywhere and it’s all we can focus on.
In a second study out of Tel Aviv, dieters who ate a small 300-calorie breakfast lost the same amount of weight as the group allowed a 600-calorie breakfast, which included a dessert item at the halfway point in the study. Curiously, the dessert eaters went on to continue to lose weight whereas those on the lower-calorie breakfast gained about two thirds of their weight back. Those who were less restricted were more successful than those who were allowed fewer treats.
The FOMO is real when you’re missing social events. Whether it’s a fast, a diet or swearing off a certain food group or food product, many of us make arrangements to stick to our plan … at least for a while. We may shut ourselves in, only to go wild when we again let ourselves back out, or we may choose to throw our decisions out the window and climb into the drive-thru window for better access.
If there’s anything we have learned from the pandemic, it’s that we’re social beings and need other people around us from time to time. Foregoing social activities, even for a short period of time, is depressing, and navigating them while under the strict guidelines we may have placed upon ourselves can breed anxiety. According to Carrie Gottlieb, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York City, “Anytime someone sets up black-and-white rules to their food and eating, it creates anxiety about how they’re going to stay within these boundaries. You wonder ‘how do I avoid that party or restaurant meal?’ in hopes that you won’t need to eat certain things.”
Instead of swearing off every bad food forever, try to incorporate a few of your favorite treats in moderation. It’s hard to pass up cake or ice cream at a birthday party and doing so may make us seek out treats later in the day or week. Stick to a basic plan most of the time: lots of veggies, fruit, protein, healthy fats and healthy whole grains. The 80/20 rule applies here like in all things: 80 percent of the time, abide by moderate, reasonable menu choices and exercise; the other 20 percent of the time — party. Ahem … I mean, allow for small transgressions and enjoy your life guilt-free.
Everything’s Peachy Baked Brie
1 splash olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 round good-quality brie cheese
2 peaches, peeled and sliced
Basil, chiffonade for serving
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Grease a ramekin or small baking dish with olive oil.
Place smashed garlic cloves on bottom of dish in oil, coating on both sides with the oil.
Place brie round in dish, atop garlic. Dust with pepper.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and cover with peaches.
Bake until peaches are tender and brie is oozy.
Sprinkle basil on top of dish prior to serving.
Serve with crackers or whole grain baguette or — eff it, regular baguette works too!