Eating unhealthy food just because it tastes good seems to be accepted as normal in our culture. Even though we know certain foods are damaging and disease-promoting, many of us eat them anyway because the immediate gratification is so tempting. We also have traditions and social events centered on certain less-than-healthy foods, such as birthdays, Halloween, and Thanksgiving.
However, “because it tastes good” is the reason behind the high rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other degenerative conditions, especially in America. Food’s seduction has such a hold on us that we eat ourselves to an early, and often painful, grave.
Working in health care, I’ve seen well-meaning parents promise their kids a trip to McDonald’s or Denny’s to coax them through the medical testing process. It’s tragic that feeding children junk sets them up for unhealthy eating patterns and disease later in life, compromising the integrity of their genetic code. Using food as a reward is easy to do because certain foods taste good to us.
We’re largely driven by our sense of taste. How can we not be when food naturally contacts our tongue as we eat? We inherently crave sugar and fat, an adaptation that aided in our survival in times of scarcity. However, the modern food industry is incredibly adept at extracting and manipulating food purely to appeal to our natural cravings and increase the enjoyment we get from food, driving us to keep buying it. Before the invention of stripped, processed, and chemical-laden junk, even our Western culinary traditions brought us increasingly exciting yet unhealthy foods. Eating for taste without regard to the health consequences becomes easy when the reward pathways for sugar and fat are triggered and further ingrained. With such an abundance of calorie-dense foods today, it’s maladaptive that we seek out and enjoy the least healthy, processed foods.
Eating for pleasure certainly drove my food choices over the years. It led to my own morbid obesity and the reinforcement of a deep-seated attachment to unhealthy foods that began early in my life. Despite what eating food just because it tasted good did to me, I’ve had a hard time stopping. It’s been a long, slow road to come out of the unhealthy patterns. The pleasure and escape that can be derived from certain foods is alluring and hard to give up.
What seems like a high reward in the moment is just the opposite. I was listening to a lecture Dr. Brian Clement of Hippocrates Health Institute gave in New York last year. I was struck by one concise, simple statement he made comparing eating healthy foods to unhealthy foods. To paraphrase Dr. Clement, the affirmation of eating healthy foods is “I love myself, and I want to survive.” The affirmation of eating unhealthy foods is “I hate myself, and I want to die.” In the end, that’s what it comes down to.
If we find ourselves trapped in addictive eating patterns, there’s likely something internally going on. If we continually choose, or feel compulsively drawn to, unhealthy foods, we are not only experiencing a physiological reaction to them, but we are essentially saying that we don’t value ourselves. We may feel as if we are soothing or rewarding ourselves in the moment, but deep down, we know a sense of love and respect for ourselves would not lead us to eat foods that hurt us. If we keep eating unhealthy foods, we may be reinforcing negative beliefs and intentions about ourselves at the subconscious level.
Ideally, a healthy internal environment and core beliefs should already be established and driving us to choose foods that support and nurture our bodies. However, so many of us have limiting beliefs and programming that are keeping us stuck in the unhealthy behaviors. Until the internal blueprint is changed, sticking to healthy habits may be very challenging.
On the other hand, we can use food as a tool to consciously show love for ourselves. There’s a very different feeling between thoughtfully preparing a healthy meal and shoveling down some fast food or prepackaged snack items. It actually does take mindful effort to eat in a loving way if we’ve grown accustomed to seeking out pleasure from food without regard to our health.
While I don’t get the same “fix” from healthy foods that I do from junk, I enjoy making whole food, plant-based meals for myself because I know I am doing something good for myself. It takes focus and effort to eat differently these days, but I am doing so to start to build healthy behaviors motivated at least by a desire to treat myself differently than I did for the first few decades of my life.
We can still derive pleasure from our food but also take into account our wellbeing. Eating solely to pleasure our tongues can lead to devastating outcomes if we are not vigilant. When making food choices, think about what you are affirming in your life.