You probably like hyper-palatable food. In all likelihood you grew up eating hyper-palatable food. The majority of us grew up eating hyper-palatable foods every single day, as I did, and most Americans continue to consume them daily. I’m not saying that your diet is shit, or that your parents didn’t make home cooked meals for you; I am telling you that hyper-palatable foods are pervasive in our culture. But that’s not all I am saying. I contend that hyper-palatable foods, such as bread, pasta, fruit juices and protein bars have no place in a “healthy” eating pattern.
A few years back while researching for the book I am presently writing I came across the idea that ‘hyper-palatable’ foods were making Americans lose self-control and make poor food choices which lead to weight-gain and metabolic issues in this book. At the time I did not continue down that field, as I was more interested in how foods affected the biochemical disposition of the human than I was in how foods can affect the brain and behavior of people.
However, recently I decided to resume my investigation of the pleasure and reward aspect of food upon observing how remarkably influential this element of life is when it came to clients and associates making serious improvements to how they eat. In my professional work of helping people improve how they eat (among other things, as I employ a comprehensive plan) I have found that for someone to make long-term changes they not only have to re-construct how they view food and how they evaluate food but they also need a strategy for reducing the most harmful foods in their diet; the hyper-palatable kind.
In this article I will present the basic strategies that you can employ to successfully reduce your consumption of hyper-palatable foods and become a healthier (and happier) version of yourself. Prior to that I will briefly cover the following: what makes a food hyper-palatable, what a hyper-palatable foods does in your brain, what they can do in your body, beginning with what ingredients hyper-palatable foods use.
Above all, an ‘eating pattern’ that encourages health should have very little food that is highly processed with a combination of the following: flour, fat, sugar and salt which are the main components of hyper-palatable food. A hyper-palatable food (or drink) may also have chemical additives like caffeine, MSG and aspartame which are known to increase the psychoactive and neurological affect of the “food”(or drink) to which they have been added. This leads one to ask whether or not these are actually food. If a “food” has been highly processed it may be more appropriately described as a ‘foodstuff’ in order to differentiate it from the real, potentially ‘healthy’ food as Michael Pollan suggests in his classic manifesto about food.
Therefore, a hyper-palatable food is a highly processed foodstuff that has been engineered to pleasure the consumer and drive him or her to eat more than they initially wanted to, and seek that specific food in the future.
In order for a food to be considered hyper-palatable it must processed and you, the consumer have to find it tasty or pleasurable. Therefore, a delicious cooked grass-fed steak with some butter, an enticing piece of well-seasoned chicken, vegetables that have been curried or spiced with garlic in such a way that they instantly become much more satisfying are all descriptions of highly-palatable foods. Whereas a piece of bread, a glass of Sunny Delight, a bowl of cereal and a plate of lasagna have hyper-palatable potential.
If you consider a real food tasty and pleasurable without the addition of the previously mentioned ingredients (with some fats being an exception…more on that later) and without an extreme measure like frying (yes, that is extreme) then it is probably pretty good for you and worth using as a replacement for any hyper-palatable foods you have a drive to eat.
Hyper-palatable is a relative concept; the person consuming it has to find it pleasurable. Sometimes these type of foods may not be even pleasurable at first, possibly only convenient, like drinking a Gatorade when you are thirsty or eating the piece of plain bread (or two) that was served with dinner. A hyper-palatable food will meet the inborn preference we have for quick, dense sources of energy (like sugar and fat), which means that even if we do not immediately like the taste it can actually create a new acquired taste for us to crave in the future. In order to put ourselves in a good position to behave responsibly in terms of eating we should avoid foods with hyper-palatable potential.
These foods can initiate a chain of biochemical reactions in your body that lead to reactive hypoglycemia in healthy people (especially the young) which often times leads to more poor choices for “quick” energy sources that are concentrated with sugar and/or flour. If your metabolism is somewhat compromised, and most Americans meet this qualification, then hyper-palatable foods can alter your brain chemistry in a way that drives you to seek more food than you need, especially hyper-palatable foodstuffs, which directly contributes to the underlying systemic inflammation and oxidative stress of a low-grade metabolic disorder.
“This professionally engineered food drives our behavior in a way that is only loosely under our conscious control, with a small percentage of the population succumbing to frank addiction.”– Stephan Guyenet, PhD, obesity researcher
These foodstuffs have been designed to ‘hit’ the pleasure system of your brain (the hedonic system) which is closely integrated with the food reward system of the brain, in such a way that it may alter your behavior in relation to eating patterns and specific food choices. Some people will eat more at a given moment, while many more will make assemble, directly or indirectly an eating pattern densely populated with hyper-palatable foodstuffs. This may be the underlying reason so many people, even health-fitness enthusiasts practice less-than-optimal eating patterns where they continuously eat throughout the day by snacking, consuming beverages and munching on various foods.
Constant munching and persistently consuming small meals is not part of the eating pattern for vitality for many physiological-biochemical reasons (leptin-insulin resistance promotion being foremost), but from a practical perspective why would somebody sincerely pursuing vitality want to base their life around eating? Aren’t there other more rewarding and a lot more interesting things to be doing than eating or planning your next meal? After all, a “problematic fixation with healthy food” itself is a problem arising in the health-fitness enthusiast sub-culture.
In addition to challenging your self-control via brain chemistry hyper-palatable foodstuff also lack nutrient density; even the so-called “healthy” versions are only fortified with synthetic vitamins that have very limited bio-availability. Not only that but they also have the potential to deplete your body and your brain of the essential fats, vitamins and minerals that you need to operate well. I believe that the human body is incredibly resilient, but when someone continuously supplies themselves with poor fuel choices that deplete their nutrients and irritating your gut they are setting themselves up for a low-grade metabolic disorder which I strongly feel is the underlying condition which compromises health and thus vitality.
Sugar and flour are notorious for disturbing metabolism by jacking up blood glucose and insulin, potentially depleting your brain of Omega-3’s and causing a dysbiosis to the flora of the gut which appears to be at the root of many (if not most) of the common health issues. In my book I present the hypothesis where the underlying metabolic condition is initiated by gut issues and accompanied by poor red blood cell quality which can be caused by, and undoubtedly contributed by excessively consuming sugar, especially fructose, flour and all wheat products. Just eat real food instead.
Fat and salt are also key ingredients for many hyper-palatable foodstuffs; they tend to be fused together so you “can’t eat just one”. Potato chips are obvious here, but how about the so-called “healthy nuts“? I have a perspective similar to that of Mark Sisson, in that nuts are generally “too available, too plentiful, and way too easy to consume in excess”. In addition, the conventionally available nuts have likely been roasted and cooked at such high temperatures that the fats in them are probably only stressful to the human body anyways. Therefore, eating some occasional uncooked (raw) nuts without salt in the course of a meal can be good. Just eat real food instead.
The other types of hyper-palatable foodstuffs are alcohol (I haven’t mentioned it yet, but did I need to?), caffeine and chemical additives which can directly influence behavior and encourage more hyper-palatable food. Alcohol even at somewhat moderate consumption levels seem to encourage people to persistently munch on food, lead to cravings and remove peoples inhibition from eating pure crap. Caffeine is psychoactive and whether or not it has been chemically added it has the ability to create a drive to bring back that feeling of pleasure. Chemical additives like MSG and Aspartame have been used by food processing companies for decades to excite the neurons in the brain to the point of pleasure (and cellular death of course).
If you are sincerely trying to improve your health and make some notable progress in your pursuit of vitality then you will likely need to limit or entirely cut out the alcohol (if you are metabolically compromised to a significant degree; i.e obese, chronic-fatigued or auto-immune), avoid foods and drinks with chemical additives and take control of your caffeine intake. I also recommend micro-cycling caffeine intake (from coffee, espresso or green tea which appear to be the best) in order to maximize its effectiveness by not drinking any for 1 or 2 days of the week (heavy coffee drinkers will benefit the most).
At this point you may see that replacing hyper-palatable foods (bread, pasta, sugar, snacks, soda, alcohol, protein bars, cereal, fruit juices, etc.) with real food (vegetables, meat, fruit, seeds, nuts and some cold-pressed oils) and only eating during an actual meal (2-3 per day is optimal) is the basic outline for eating healthy. But how can you make this reality?
Strategies for Replacing Hyper-palatable Foods
Use knowledge of yourself. This means that you begin by acknowledging what “triggers” you to make poor choices, and respond accordingly. This can go a long way to restricting the number of times you have to overcome temptation when you first begin removing hyper-palatable foods. Additionally, you can assemble a support system for your newfound eating pattern which can go a long way to making this change sustainable.
- Adjust your self-image. If you truly want to be a healthier person then you have to view yourself in such a way, and align your values and choices in a manner that reflects a healthier version of yourself. Your self-image shapes your confidence and plays a formative role in the long-term employment of a “healthy lifestyle”. This plays a role in the deep, subconscious belief you have in yourself which may have great power in whether or not you make long-term improvement to your health; in my book I teach the reader how to practically perform this feat.
Prepare accordingly. This will put you in position to avoid the “triggers”. Schedule yourself so that you can regularly go to the grocery store or farmers market and buy real food. This schedule will put you in position to wake up earlier to cook a fresh meal, take a longer lunch break to properly eat and potentially even assemble and cook your meals for the week on Sunday night.
Remember the ‘big-picture’ goal. Your overall health and wellness supersede the more immediate desire to please yourself or be a part of the crowd; you may have to repeat this to yourself when facing temptation. Sacrifice and discipline are a part of every worthwhile endeavor; and by doing such things you will become a more formidable human specimen. In my book I teach the reader a variety of useful tools and strategies that help people maintain their focus and even prevent distractions.
Begin a lifestyle journal. Write down when you wake up, how you feel, what you eat and when you eat. This will allow you to see your pattern and put you in position to manage your lifestyle in a better fashion.
Use self-assessment and hold yourself accountable. First, you have to be honest with yourself. When you fall short and eat a hyper-palatable foodstuff that you have decided to avoid then something has to happen, right? In order to prevent shame and guilt you have to give yourself uncomfortable consequences for behaving in a poor manner. Some people take away their favorite activities as a means of holding themselves accountable; no shopping, no tickets to a sports game, no watching of their favorite show.
You are ready to begin reducing bread, cereal, pasta, meal-replacement bar, fruit juice, or whatever hyper-palatable food you allow to compromise your health. The key is to replace the nutrient-poor, nutrient-depleting, gut irritating, metabolism compromising hyper-palatable foodstuffs with highly-palatable real food.
This may take time (possibly even some coaching), but there is very little to lose, virtually no risks and the reward is better self-control and serious progress in your pursuit of vitality. Please remember when you encounter temptation that the reward of improved health and wellness (VITALITY) greatly exceeds the minor “sacrifices” associated with changing your eating pattern and taking great control of yourself.
Finally, this is a basic overview for the general public to use as a means of understanding, identifying and potentially improving their relationship with hyper-palatable foods. In my book I go beyond the basic cognitive reframing that I suggest here; and this may be what it takes for you or someone you know to improve their eating patterns and form a healthy relationship with food. Presently, I am researching, consulting with professionals in the field and observing/experimenting with various ideas in order to fully understand and synthesize the best ways to help the reader of my book sincerely pursue vitality.
I love you all. For professional consultation and assistance with this process please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org