Psychology of Giving Up Junk Food
Mark’s Daily Apple
by Mark Sisson: Is
'8 Uninterrupted Hours a Night' Flawed Conventional Wisdom?
the biggest thing that makes some people hesitate in going
Primal. Sure, they appreciate the logic and sensibility of the
Blueprint lifestyle. They value the chance to improve their health
and effectively lose weight. They love the idea of having more energy.
They salivate over the prospect of bacon. But then comes the proverbial
wrench in the plan. “What
about bread?” they ask. (Sometimes it’s diet soda, pasta, pancakes,
pizza, Skittles, etc.; I’ve heard it all.) Against all powers of
wisdom, self-interest, and rationality, how is it these isolated,
deeply entrenched cravings hold such sway over our lifestyles –
and diet decisions? Is a baguette really so enticing that it determines
a person’s willingness to live a healthier, more vigorous existence?
Is the de-grained life really not worth living?
It’s a common
refrain I hear: “Oh, I’d love to go Primal, but I just couldn’t
give up my breakfast cereal.” Okay. It’s got me thinking lately:
what is it about the psychological power of (non-Primal)
“The Best Thing I Ever Ate” (usually featuring the typical junk
food categories)? Of course, the guests play it up for the camera,
but the expression behind some of their descriptions parallel that
Harry Met Sally scene. Really? This level of enthusiasm
for a hamburger? (I won’t say it.) Even a few of the most diehard
PB converts I know still hold the torch for some pre-Primal item.
Some people get attached, I guess.
are the obvious factors that apply to most people’s favorites: the
ubiquity of these foods, the subsequent convenience, the cheap price
(e.g. Pizza Hut’s “Feast for Five” bucks – feast being their word).
For some of us, these favorite foods (past or present) are part
and parcel of our social landscape or our work environs. Then there
are the more complex influences: ethnic, family or community traditions
right down to low and lowly marketing forces. Finally, there’s taste.
Although, as I’ve said before, most people find these foods all
taste the same once they give their taste buds a chance to recover
on a Primal diet of naturally-occurring foods.
So, why are
some things easier to give up than others? If you told most people
tomorrow that the key to good health involved forgoing asparagus,
I can’t imagine most folks would consider it a major impediment
to their success. Why isn’t giving up bread, diet soda or cereal
the same? How does it involve more than a simple switch
of intention? Why does giving up a single favorite food feel like
serious deprivation for so many people?
It’s true that
our tastes are established earlier than we ever thought. Experts
have found that a
mother’s diet during pregnancy already begin to habituate a baby’s
taste. Researchers believe this happens because the habituation
early on helps teach children which tastes are “safe.” If the mother
has survived eating foods with these flavors, they will, too. If
you come from a family in which people routinely ate a lot of pasta,
you likely developed the taste for it earlier than you can remember.
We also develop
deep-seated emotional associations with certain foods
through early and/or recurring memories surrounding them. On a timely
traditions tend to play into these associations in a big way.
Any meaningful experience can create these connections, however.
Was there a special dish you always made with a parent or grandparent?
Did your extended family all go to the same pizzeria at every visit?
Do you and your spouse have a routine from early in your relationship
that influences how you enjoy time together today?
can play out in unconscious ways, eliciting cravings
or overshadowing your efforts to develop a taste for healthier,
Primal fare. If you’re still carrying the torch for old favorites,
it can be harder to fully enjoy newer
there are the temptations of the present. Experts say mental
imagery – that which we conjure ourselves and that which we’re presented
with (in ads, etc.) – plays
a sizeable role in our cravings. Have you ever found yourself
victim to an ad’s suggestion? Even if you normally wouldn’t touch
a particular food, those marketing folks have a fantastic way of
making it look good.
the rest of the article
February 26, 2011
© 2011 Mark's Daily Apple
Best of Mark Sisson