We are actually full. But there's a really nice chocolate cake in front of us and we want to eat it - not out of hunger, but because of the extremely satisfying feeling of eating the cake. It just tastes so good. We remember that from the last time we ate cake.
When we eat the cake now, we feel very good in the moment. Our body releases dopamine and we have a really good time. That's the benefit of eating the cake.
Unfortunately, there are of course a few drawbacks. The first drawback is that the cake doesn't really have fitness-friendly macros. It has hardly any protein and actually far too much fat and carbohydrates for most athletes' dietary goals. But protein in particular is of course important both for muscle building and for muscle maintenance.
The second disadvantage is that it has a lot of calories, but is not particularly satiating. This makes it difficult for us to stay in calorie deficit when on a weight-loss diet or to gain weight slowly in a muscle building phase.
The third disadvantage is that the cake has virtually no vitamins, minerals, fiber, or phytonutrients. So the nutrients you need in your diet are virtually non-existent. There are definitely better foods for our health.
Although we are usually aware that the disadvantages outweigh the benefits, we eat the chocolate cake anyway. This can happen for a variety of psychological reasons.
We eat the cake to relax or reward ourselves at the end of a super stressful day. We eat it out of frustration because the day didn't go well at all and we want to experience at least one nice thing during the day.
Or we just eat it out of habit, because we eat a chocolate cake every Saturday afternoon when we go for coffee - we've done this for years.
So we eat it out of stress, joy, frustration, or habit, to name a few examples. However, eating behavior can also be changed, and there are many helpful resources online to help with this.
Even though we know we shouldn't eat the chocolate cake, we often eat it anyway - out of stress, joy, frustration, or habit, for example.
There are, however, many reasons why we eat the chocolate cake that are not necessarily related to these psychological and emotional reasons.
And this article is about exactly these reasons. Whether we feel the need to eat this food, even though we are already full, depends very much on the type and composition of the food.
Some claim that added artificial sugar is to blame for us eating too much of these foods. Others claim that it is the added fat in many foods that makes us overeat. There are also many other theories, most of which demonize a particular ingredient.
But let's take a look at the "critical" foods that we can't get enough of. These include burgers, pizza, chocolate, chips, and French fries - typical "junk food". Sure, not everyone likes fries, and not everyone likes chips either, but most people are pretty into at least one of these foods.
What almost all these foods have in common is that they are high in caloric density (i.e. low in volume and high in calories), consist of a MIXTURE of fats and sugars, and often have salt and flavor enhancers involved.
This results in them tasting really good. We can really take our hats off to the food industry. Creating irresistible foods... they're really good at that!
Typical "trigger foods" usually consist of a tasty mixture of fats and sugars.
But why does this type of food taste so good to us? As mentioned above, it's mainly because of the high calorie density and the combination of fat and sugar.
Don't forget that our bodies are still far behind in terms of evolution. Deep down, we are still hunters and gatherers who do not want to starve. In the past, when we found a beehive, we ate as much honey as we could. No telling when there would have been more food to eat.
Honey already has a pretty high calorie density. But nowadays, when we "find" a chocolate cake, our body signals to us all the more that we should eat this chocolate cake.
It has even more calories than honey, because in addition to sugar it also contains fat. This is perfect to store as much energy as possible in your fatty tissue and prepare to survive the next famine.
Our body releases hormones such as ghrelin that increase our appetite when we see and smell the chocolate cake, and it also releases hormones such as dopamine that make us feel good when we eat the cake.
We then remember this good feeling from the dopamine rush the next time we see a cake. Then we have even more desire to eat this cake, because we know: During and after eating cake we just feel really good!
Our bodies are signaling us to eat foods high in fat and sugar to protect us from future hunger.
By the way, these hormones are not just a theory pulled out of thin air. This can actually be observed in practice. For example, there is a super interesting study by Monteleone et al. (2013). The study was conducted as follows:
The study participants fasted overnight and then came to the laboratory early in the morning, still fasting. There they were asked to rate the level of their hunger on a scale. They were then given a 300-calorie breakfast. This was designed in terms of macros so that it roughly corresponded to their typical breakfast.
After eating, they were again asked to evaluate their hunger and had to wait for an hour. During this time, blood was drawn from them and the blood was analyzed for the level of certain appetite-related hormones.
After this lesson, they had to look at and smell their favorite food for 5 minutes. They were not allowed to eat it yet. Pretty brutal, right?
Then they had to rate on a scale how high their desire was to eat that food and how much of that food they wanted to eat. In addition, blood was drawn from them again.
After that, the participants were finally allowed to eat their favorite food. They had 10 minutes and were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Afterwards, blood was taken from them one final time that day.
One month later, the participants were tested again. Everything was exactly the same as in the first test, with one exception: they were not given their favorite food, but a meal with the same macros as their favorite food, but which tasted nowhere near as good.
The food in question was bread, butter, and milk. They had to eat exactly the same number of calories as they had eaten from their favorite food in the first test. This was important so that the two tests could be compared with one another.
The results looked like this: All participants had a much greater desire to eat when they saw and smelled their favorite food.
In addition - and this is the amazing thing - their hormone balance was also affected: the hormones that increase appetite were greatly increased and appetite-suppressing hormones were almost completely absent.
This means that it is a completely normal reaction for our body to feel like eating when a very tasty food is in sight, even when we are actually already full.
You don't have to think that you are weird when you feel this desire. It happens to almost everyone, and in fact your body just wants to help you. Always remember that your body wants to protect you from starvation and doesn't know that we live in a world where there is no shortage of food - at least not for most people in the developed world.
A study by Menteleone et al. (2013) showed that merely looking at and smelling a very tasty meal causes appetite-increasing hormones to be released and appetite-suppressing hormones to be lowered.
Fine, but what can we do about it? Is the conclusion really that we should just stay away from junk food so that we don't see and smell it? Yes, that would actually be a possibility, but of course it's difficult to follow through because this type of food is almost everywhere.
If we really didn't want to come into contact with junk food at all, we would have to buy a house in the country and make everything we eat ourselves.
We wouldn't be allowed to go to supermarkets, because there's always junk food on the shelves somewhere. That wouldn't be a lifestyle that many people would want to put up with. So what is a more realistic option for people whose dietary goals don't involve eating lots of these types of foods?
The first step should always be to look for alternative foods that taste just as good or almost as good, but which have fewer "bad" qualities relative to your goals.
For example, this could be Coke Zero instead of normal Coke. This has no calories. If you eat a pizza, then you do NOT have to drink a normal Coke with it, especially when Coke Zero tastes just as good or almost as good.
The statement "Come on, if you're going to eat a pizza, you might as well order a regular Coke!" is total bullshit and just reflects the all-or-nothing mentality that many people have.
Why, if you're already eating a 1300 calorie pizza, should you also drink 150 calories in the form of Coke when there's a good alternative for you?
That would be like buying a new smartphone for $1300 and spending $150 on a protective cover, even though you could get the same cover for free.
In that scenario, of course, you take the free one and don't say to yourself "Yeah, well, if I've already spent $1300, then I might as well spend $150 more on something I can get for free!" That wouldn't make any sense.
Other examples of alternative foods would be protein ice cream, protein chips, or low-fat cheeses with fewer calories. Of course, these are only alternatives for you if you like them as much or almost as much as the normal versions.
Before anything else, look for good alternatives to your trigger foods.
So the first step is to look for alternative foods. If there are no alternatives, however, all is not yet lost. Here are four more possible strategies:
1) Think as rationally as possible. Weigh very carefully whether the enjoyment of the cake in the short term is worth the long-term impact on your goals.
If you set a goal of not exceeding 2500 calories a day, is it worth it to you to sacrifice 1000 calories for the cake instead of "using" those calories for more satiating and more vitamin/protein/fiber-rich foods?
Yes? Great! Then this is a very rational decision and you should eat the cake without a guilty conscience.
Weigh very carefully whether the enjoyment of the cake is worth the disadvantages to you.
So, that was the strategy for the emotionless robots among you. However, it won't be of much use to most of you if you're sitting right in front of the chocolate cake and simply can't resist. All rational thinking is then switched off.
2) Abstinence: Force yourself not to eat certain foods that are trigger foods for you for a period of time.
For example, force yourself not to eat chocolate for 1 month. For 1 month... you can do it! What you will then notice is that after this month you no longer have a craving for chocolate - even if it is in front of you.
Many people observe this effect when they give up sweets during Lent. Over time, your brain forgets how good this chocolate tastes. This almost always works. But you have to be strict at the beginning and really avoid these foods.
After this month you can then decide. Either you stay abstinent forever (that's not really hard if you don't have a craving for chocolate anymore) or you eat chocolate again from time to time - but much less often than before.
The latter method can work well if the cravings are not as big as before. However, the method can also go wrong if the cravings are just as big as before the moment you begin to eat chocolate regularly again. You'll just have to test it out and see how it works for you.
You can try forcing yourself to stop eating your trigger foods for 1 month to reduce cravings going forward.
3) Clear guidelines: For example, set a guideline to never eat your trigger foods in everyday life, but allow yourself to eat a certain amount of these foods on special occasions. But then be really specific and say to yourself, for example, "on birthdays I can eat 2 pieces of chocolate cake".
Then you don't have to let your shoulder angel and shoulder devil argue over how much you should eat. You have decided beforehand, and you don't want to disappoint yourself and eat more than the two pieces you decided on. This almost always works better than just eating at will.
Set clear guidelines for yourself such as never eating your trigger foods on a daily basis.
4) Eat mindfully: This is certainly the most effective method for most. But it's also the hardest to learn. If you manage to enjoy every bite of chocolate cake to the fullest and actually stop when you've had enough, then you've hit the jackpot.
After all, most people eat a lot less when they're fully engaged in their meal and don't just inhale the chocolate cake like a vacuum cleaner without even taking the time to enjoy it.
This does not mean that you will achieve your dream body with this strategy. However, many people will achieve much better results with mindful eating than if they constantly have the feeling that they have to go without something. This can only be achieved with a lot of willpower, intentionality, and discipline.
Learn to eat mindfully.
So, these are the strategies you can use to avoid eating too much of your trigger foods. By the way, these strategies are not mutually exclusive. For example, you can set a clear guideline that you eat a maximum of 2 pieces of cake on birthdays and then eat these pieces as mindfully as possible.
Furthermore, you can change the strictness with which you follow these guidelines depending on the nutritional phase you are in. In a diet, for example, it is advisable to be much stricter than in a muscle-building phase.
There are foods that are very difficult for us humans to resist eating. This is because, among other things, they are very dense in calories and consist mainly of fats and sugars.
Our Stone Age brain still thinks that we should eat as much of these foods as possible in order to survive. How can you deal with this and prevent yourself from overeating? First, see if there are alternatives to these foods that align more closely with your goals.
If there are none, then either try to evaluate as rationally as possible whether the short-term enjoyment of the food is worth the long-term impact on your goals, or force yourself to avoid the food for a period of 1 month.
After that, you will have to find out for yourself whether it is better for you to remain abstinent or to go back to eating that particular food occasionally.
You can also set clear guidelines and tell yourself, for example, that you will ONLY eat a certain amount of the food on birthdays. Another strategy is to learn to eat mindfully. Of course, you can combine some or all of these strategies.
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