Here’s something that might come as a “duh,” but I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it within this context before:
The easier it is to acquire something, the more likely I am to eat it… and eat a lot of it.
When my house was full of quick heat-n-eats, it was beyond easy for me to eat whenever I thought about food. All it took was a passing thought about something in the fridge, and before I knew it – it was in the microwave. It was in the oven. I was eating… until I felt stuffed.
It was quick. It was easy. It was overwhelming. And it all happened in under 20 minutes.
That’s why it’s so advantageous for companies to make food even quicker and even easier to cook… you get little time during the process to second-guess your decision to eat. Very little time to ask yourself, “Am I really hungry? Do I really want this? Should I wait?” And if it’s in your house already… you’re pretty much setting yourself up to lose.
For someone like me, who spends a large amount of time in an area with a kitchen and a refridgerator… I had to realize that the easier I made it to eat, the more likely it is that I would, in fact, eat. And because those “easier-to-eat foods” aren’t – by any stretch of the imagination – healthy for us, the more that I ate… the more that I was harming myself. The more of these foods that I ate, the more likely it was that I wasn’t actually filling myself at all… compelling myself to eat more:
Our processed foods are broken down to their most basic parts, mixed in with preservatives (which help, you know, preserve the final product), flavor additives, water, flour, various forms of salt, then manipulated to be whatever they want to sell us. The same ground up chicken carcass (which is what is in that photo) can be chicken patties, chicken nuggets, chicken fingers, “diced chicken,” the chicken in your chicken pot pie, the chicken in your soup… whatever. Just look for “mechanically separated [animal] parts.” You won’t have to look too hard.
Once it’s broken down to create this… goo… chemicals are used to hold it in place to form whatever shape it’s going to take. Once it meets your saliva and enters your body, it breaks right back down to the goo… with no fiber inside to help push it out. It essentially deflates inside of your system, making it easier to consume more calories because you’re “not full yet.” Couple all of this with the fact that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your digestive system that you’re “full,” and you start to see why a food that breaks down this quickly is a recipe for disaster – a breaded chicken breast on wheat bread breaks down much more slowly than a chicken patty sandwich on white bread, takes longer to chew (buying you time until that 20 minute mark… see what that 30 bites was important?), takes longer to digest (thus leaving you feeling fulfilled longer), and keeps you from overindulging. [source]
We are creatures of habit. We also are hard-wired to want to make things easier for ourselves. (I imagine this is also why so many of us dread the idea of working out – who wants to struggle and work hard and sweat all day every day?) There’s nothing wrong with innovating to make things easier for ourselves. The problem comes when that “easy way out” actually creates more problems than it solves. The problem comes when “easy” morphs into “damaging.”
I’ve written about how I make clean eating easier in my day to day life. I would pre-cook things. I’d pre-prep things. I spend a half hour each week chopping, grating, organizing, rinsing, freezing and soaking. In a sense, I’ve already bypassed most of the cooking process at this point – I’ve made my own processed foods, so to speak. I’ve made it easier for me to make healthier choices, if I’m going to be overtaken by the quick “Hmmm, I want some food because I’m bored” feeling. Now, I’m eating a cucumber dill sandwich (maybe 220 calries) instead of a handful of taquitos and sour cream (approximately 627 calories).
Luckily, for me, because I eat so often… I don’t really think about food because I know it’s coming. It’s to the point for me that now, I’m not overtaken by that eating-out-of-boredom or eating-because-I’m-starving thing. I eat when it’s time… because it’s time. For me, because I’ve learned how to make quick and easy full-bodied veggie snacks – even spent a while eating giant heads (and stalks) of broccoli to snack on – I don’t even bother pre-cooking or pre-prepping things anymore. I enjoy the process and, because it is now a priority to me, I don’t mind making time for it each day. I know dishes that take ten minutes to throw together, and I know dishes that take an hour to put together. I just make sure that I pick appropriately.
There’s a psychological aspect to this, too – from the moment we put an item in our cart, we’ve triggered a chain of events. If the food has adequate amounts of sugar, fat and salt… it has triggered that chain in our system that becomes excited (because the brain knows what’s coming), followed by sitting at home and staring at it all in your face every time you enter the kitchen/open the fridge/peek in the freezer, followed by the repeated effort you have to put forth to say “Nooooooooooooo you will not win this time!!” and lastly followed up by you diving in head first… and the longer the process takes to complete itself, the more you are likely to eat. That kind of pre-meditation (the process of thinking about the food, then saying no to it) creates an expectation… and you’ll eat and eat and eat the food until it has lived up to the expectation you had of it. (This seems to be especially true of ice cream… at least, in my experience. Just sayin’.)
This is why, for me, it is especially important for me to be careful of what I keep within my reach and what I allow myself to access. Like, sure… I may pick up something I know I have noooooo business having, and I’ll stare at it for a minute and try to justify buying it… but the end of the process isn’t me buying it and agonizing over it at home. The end of the process is me – literally – putting it back on its shelf, doing a little dance, and walking away. (This, again, seems to be especially true of ice cream. Needless to say, I don’t go in the ice cream aisle anymore.)
All of this is to say… convenience makes it easier for us to do things we know we shouldn’t, so even when we’re buying with the best of intentions in mind, sometimes we’re still setting ourselves up. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I can’t do it.. so I won’t.” and putting it back where it belongs. To me, there’s nothing wrong with stopping this cycle dead in its tracks and throwing away something we know we shouldn’t have purchased in the first place. I seek to be aware of my limitations and respect them, or use them to my advantage. Except for the ice cream… y’all better hope I never figure out how to make mint chocolate chip ice cream from scratch. Good grief.