- Indulging in rich, delicious food may help you lose weight and eat healthfully better than diets.
- Certain processed foods ‘lie’ to your brain prompting cravings and binges, says a nutrition expert.
- To break the cycle, focus on experiencing good food and worry less about calories, he said.
If you want to eat healthier or
, you may want to start by enjoying a decadent pasta dinner, according to an expert.
Abstaining from indulgence can backfire, nutrition writer Mark Schatzker says in his new book “The End of Craving,” available November 9.
When we cut out tasty high-calorie foods in favor of artificial substitutes, our bodies and brains aren’t fooled, according to Schatzker. As a result, we wind up deprived of deliciousness and kick off a chain of physiological and psychological responses that can drive unhealthy habits like junk food binges.
Eating foods you enjoy taps into your body’s natural ability to tell you what it needs, he told Insider, and may leave you healthier and happier as a result.
Processed foods can disrupt your body and brain, causing cravings
Eating what you love to avoid yo-yo dieting is part of a popular anti-diet movement called intuitive eating. Schatzker’s philosophy differs in two ways from intuitive eating.
Unlike many intuitive eating and anti-diet advocates, Schatzker says many people need to lose weight for health reasons. He also says not all foods are fair game for eating intuitively — some try to trick you into eating more, due to complex food science.
“The idea that if you follow urges and inclinations, you’ll feed yourself well is almost right,” Schatzker said. “Intuitive eating works as long as you eat food that does not lie to your brain,” including processed foods like chips, snack cakes, and sodas.
Processed foods have a potent combination of artificial flavors that spur on brain chemicals associated with desire. We’re drawn to them because of flavors typically associated with calories, fat, and carbs that we need to thrive. But processed foods don’t deliver on that promise.
Focus on foods that are fulfilling
The crux of food cravings is a distinction between “wanting” and “liking,” according to Schatzker. Food that seem tempting may not be satisfying to eat, prompting you to eat more.
“There are foods that prey on this wanting circuit and don’t deliver much on pleasure,” he said.
For example, you might find yourself eating handfuls of potato chips (Schaztker’s personal vice) without really enjoying or even noticing them. In contrast, leisurely enjoying a well-made meal offers both physical and emotional satisfaction, make you less likely to be left wanting afterward.
Schatzker said this explains why cultures famous for indulging, like Italians, still have significantly lower rates of obesity than Americans.
Social factors like time, money, and access to food can be significant barriers to enjoyable, healthy eating too.
“In a broader social context, we have to find a way for people to have access to those experiences,” Schatzker said.
You don’t have to buy imported Italian pastas to eat well. Schatzker said you can start by focusing on enjoying food, whether that’s a bite of artisanal chocolate or a simple home-cooked meal.
“No one ever looks back and remembers a great bag of potato chips they ate a few years ago,” he said. “It’s about getting away from the idea of counting calories and nutrients and more about the experience of eating.”