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Ever eaten food that’s been too delicious to stop? Nowadays our taste buds are under attack. It’s a full on war.

Let me introduce you to an era of foods known as hyperpalatable food: food that is so delicious that when you take a bite, you feel like you’ve been taken to a new world. Food that just hits the spot. Food that we end up craving, can easily overeat, and is oh-so-satisfying.

There is a chemical formula to creating foods like this. Certain combinations of flavours come together to completely and utterly annihilate your taste buds leaving no option but to have those dopamine shots exploding in your brain, making you even do a little dance with each bite. These are the foods even when you no longer feel hungry, find yourself craving or wanting and can always make space for.

Cake, bacon, chips, chocolate, Biscuits, burgers, milkshakes; have you ever wondered what makes them so tempting as opposed to craving apples, grilled fish, or spinach?

Hyperpalatable foods have played a big role in our increase in worldwide obesity – which was previously seen as a first world problem. Nowadays the rate of non-communicable disease has a faster growing rate in low and middle income countries. Especially since alot of these foods have found themselves internationally available – even the smallest village i know has access to Simba crisps and even Lays and Doritos.

According to Medscape.com, hyperpalatable foods are defined by foods that have combinations of:

  • Fat and sodium – for example, bacon and pizza; or
  • Fat and simple sugars – for example, cake and ice cream; or
  • Carbohydrates and sodium – for example, bread and chips.

Individually, these flavours are not inherently addictive – have you ever had a craving for a teaspoon of salt, or tablespoon of sugar? Or even a block of butter? Probably not. However when they are combined, they have a very super-tasty result. The food industry knows this and they try to take advantage of it so they can keep you eating and buying.

A glorious example is Doritos – or pick any of your favourite potato chip/crisps. Firstly, they have a combined sweet, salty, fat flavour bomb. Have you ever really wondered why it’s so hard to have one or two and just stop? It’s because the flavours are too delicious and designed to be. They are not only calorie dense, they are cheap, easy to access and are utterly irresistible

Your Taste Buds Are Skewed

Have you found that when you eat the normal food that “healthy people” talk about, the instinct is to not like it, or worse, to be disgusted by it? Or at the very least, find it boring, and not what you look forward to eating when you come home from work hungry.

That’s because your taste buds have gotten so used to the unnatural flavours of hyperpalatable foods that simple flavours that are usually associated with simple foods such as baked potatoes (plain starch), grilled steak with gravy (mostly protein with minimal fat, and some salt) and roasted veggies (plain carbs) – these will seem so boring.

These will not trigger the same dopamine spike you were used to. Due to your brain getting used to instant gratification in the form of these dopamine shots, you will instinctively not like them.

Even white bread hypes up your taste buds – they are carb-sodium combinations (with low fibre too). Eat just one plain slice and let me know if that was enough (it likely won’t be).

I know people who shun these foods because the claim they don’t eat to live, they “live to eat”. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with making your meal process enjoyable (mindfulness and joy all the way), do try to be mindful of the meals you have. Are you mindfully enjoying these foods or indulging in these foods because you need the taste/flavour?

Eating out is also a weight gain bomb for this very reason – most foods prepared outside the home are laden with fat,salt, sugar, and/or a combination of all those. It’s a reason why restaurant food is so delicious. Adding salt, sugar and fat in food is a cheap way to make food more delicious than it naturally is. It’s all in the annihilation of the taste buds and creating a hyper-natural experience that produces dopamine levels that you don’t usually get with homemade meals.

Reclaim Your Taste Buds – And Health

The risks of submitting to the widespread culture of regular consumption of hyperpalatable foods will be that you’re programming your taste buds to prefer instant gratification. It will also leave you less likely to prefer whole natural foods – high fibre, lean protein, satiating and nourishing.

If unchecked over a long period of time, due to the higher calorie content and lower nutrient, you are at a much higher risk to develop these metabolic conditions (hypertension, diabetes, obesity and some cancers).

Something happens when you decide to cut off these foods. In the beginning it will feel like an upward mountain – your body is now craving that dopamine it was used to. Choosing the lean steak over the fried chicken wings will be a test of willpower initially. Choosing a salad instead of mac and cheese will feel like lifting a 1000kg boulder. It’s all your brain playing tricks though.

Keep it up for a month or so and you “re-set” your taste buds – simple whole foods will become tasty once again, and you’ll need less additives such as salt,sugar and dressings to fully enjoy your meals.

You’ll begin to appreciate the taste of favouring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt, and find that when you once put 3 teaspoons of sugar in your tea turns to 1, that it tastes “equally” as delicious.

Then one day when you have a sip of a milkshake, because your taste buds have reset, the milkshake will actually become wayyy too sweet, to the point of disgust with more than 1 sip(this happened to me).

The reason to do this is that you will no longer be a slave to your cravings, to your urgent needs for a family sized bag of Doritos (which you can easily wipe by yourself). You will then be able to eat these foods on occasion and ENJOY them mindfully, instead of eating under a subconscious compulsion (which you may not be aware of).

And then the argument of balance becomes truly applicable – once in a while, when you eat these foods eg on a special occasion, as they should be eaten, it’ll be a memorable moment.

So how do we do this? There are strategies that you can implement in your life, however as with everything that you may wish to change, it begins with AWARENESS.

  1. Audit your food environment

How many times a week do you have those chips? Or how many times a day? Do you always have a store of them in your house and graze all day? Do you indulge every tea time at work with those free cookies/pastries/cakes/fat cakes?

Reduce their presence in your common areas – work and home. Out of sight and out of mind, truly works in this case.

2. Change your normal diet + stay hydrated

As far as altering your normal diet, increasing your protein and fibre intake, will work to alleviate your hunger. You will feel less ravenous thus will have less of an impulse to dive into the whole box of Oreos.

Drinking plenty of water and reducing your added sugar intake is very helpful in reducing cravings and getting on a better track. This will make sure when you are hungry you are actually hungry rather than thirsty.

3. Non-food appetite control

Incorporate exercise in your routine if you haven’t or alter it if you already have. Activities such as HIIT training and resistance training can lower your appetite, and some such as steady state cardio (running, walking, swimming,aerobics, cycling) can actually increase your appetite. This is not to say stop walking and start Phil Heath’ing it up only – these are just some observations in terms of specific activities.

Of course ANY exercise is a positive step, so if you do love that aerobics class, you’re doing awesome and you should be proud of yourself. With any activity, the most important is to make sure you don’t eat back the calories you consumed if you are aiming to lose weight – it’s a common trap that I want you to avoid. Otherwise exercise is an excellent additive to regulate your hunger directly – plus your mood and emotions.

4. Tackle emotional eating

Emotional eating is such a huge hinder to most of us – and the relationship with emotion and food is a very complex one. The main thing to gather for yourself if to work on not attaching food to emotion and mental state – such as indulging when happy, or when sad, or when angry. Instead, try to find non-food ways to release those emotions.

How many movies do we see where the girl is dumped by her boyfriend, and in her sad, shattered state, grabs the 5L tub of chocolate caramel ice cream and has a night in. While completely unfortunate, when we do have emotional equivalents in our life (work stress,relationships, business etc), how often do we each and every time give in by heading for a hyperpalatable food.

Their ultra deliciousness feeds the vicious cycle – they give you the immediate, feel good high, are easily accessible, are reliable – after all, that cake is always going to be there and have your back, unlike that snake Susan.

In the moment where you feel an emotional craving to eat due to a particular feeling or mood, pay attention to what you are thinking, feeling and imagine how you will feel after eating the whole box of Oreos after having a large pepperoni pizza. Instead choose to do something else you equally enjoy – that has nothing to do with food. Call your best friend, listen to your favourite music, hug your pet, tell someone you care about that you appreciate them (PS when you express positivity to another person, you feel it too).

Even if you are unable to eliminate emotional eating, increasing it’s awareness is the first step towards overcoming it. As you eat these foods less and less, you will not only discover better ways to cope with emotions but also help reset your taste buds.

5. Sleep enough

Sleep plays a big role in appetite control – not enough sleep can make you overeat and give in to your hyperpalatable foods. Regular sleep patterns regulate your circadian rhythm and appetite. Give your pillow a chance to make it up to you. It’ll do you wonders.

In summary, these foods are around us at an increasing and alarming rate, but fret not because you have the ability to restore your taste buds once again, improve your health and come out smiling for it.

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