I’ve heard nutritionists and diet “experts” give the advice to only eat a few bites of something. While there is evidence that you can satiate your cravings through just two or three bites and that after that you are no longer getting that dopamine release that gives you the pleasure you seek through sugary foods – it’s not as simple as just stopping yourself.
Why is that? Why do we find ourselves eating a whole bag of candy or the whole bowl of chips? Three words…The Bliss Point.
The term was coined by a US market researcher and psychoanalyst, Howard Moskowitz, known for his work in creating soft drinks and pasta sauces. The bliss point refers to the point at which sugar, fat or salt are blended to delicious perfection. In other words, it's when the ratio of sweetness, saltiness or richness is most irresistible.
Foods that are created around bliss points have the power to override the body’s natural 'stop' signal in the brain that tells us when we're full and satisfied. As you would expect, foods like donuts, cakes, ice cream and candy are all created around a bliss point. But it’s more than just these obvious foods. Tomato sauce, soup, sliced bread, dressings and cereal bars are all products that contain that longed-for trio of salt, sugar, and fat that keeps us coming back for more and promotes future cravings.
Big food companies pay their scientists and chefs huge salaries to understand how we're attracted to food and how they can make their foods attractive to us. None of it is by accident. There’s as much math and science and analysis done at Nestle as there is at NASA. There are billions of dollars at stake. Getting the consumer to buy their products over the competitor's is their only job and finding that perfect amount of salt, sugar and fat that will get their products off the shelves and into our homes is all that matters.
With processed foods, it’s a balance though. Many ingredients in processed food have nothing to do with taste. They're there to reproduce a certain texture, to control the moisture level, to keep the various ingredients from separating and spoiling during the months that they will sit on the shelves or in your pantry. To mask the bitterness or sourness that the formulations can cause, the food industry uses flavor enhancers to trick the brain into tasting something that isn't there, and not tasting something that is there.
Just look at the ingredients list of must “flavored” packaged products and you won’t see the actual flavor they are creating anywhere on the list. How can a strawberry flavored Fruit Roll Up not have any strawberries or even strawberry extract in the ingredients? Simple, a Chemical Engineer came up with a concoction that tastes very close to strawberries. There's tremendous amounts of money spent on creating tastes and smells that feel real but in reality are completely artificial, but that keep you wanting more.
This takes us back to the bliss point. When we eat foods regularly that hit the bliss point, it disrupts the signals that our brain sends to our body when we're full. This makes us less sensitive to the dopamine rush from these foods, meaning we need to eat more and more to get the same satisfaction. It's a game food companies are playing with consumers...and we are losing!
So what can we do to combat the bliss point (other than just eating whole, natural foods)?
Pay attention to how much you are eating. – Pick and choose times to have your junk food. Plan out your week around a dinner or event where you know you want to indulge and then limit the amount that you have access to. Then stay away from it the rest of the time.
Eat more satiating foods. Having meals that leave you satisfied will reduce the risk of junk food cravings in between meals. Include fresh vegetables with meat or fish in your meals. Processed carbohydrates like pasta and bread will leave you not feeling full and have you reaching for that dessert.
Be aware of bliss-point foods. Just like when you are participating in The Holistic Hundred or No Sugar November, you have to read labels. There are unexpected foods that we use every day (like tomato sauce and salad dressing) that have also been engineered to have a bliss point. Try experimenting with making your food to replace store-bought ones. There are many online resources for these recipes.
Sleep and Stress. The more sleep-deprived we are, the hungrier we feel and the more we crave sugar, and fat-filled foods as opposed to healthy snacks. Getting 8-9 hours of sleep, compared to 6-7 hours, can massively reduce the risk of junk food cravings. Stress can also lead to binge eating. Cortisol increases hunger because the body craves energy to combat whatever stressors we may be facing.
The bottom line is that we must be advocates for ourselves and our health. The food companies are out to profit off of you and the pleasure you get from eating their foods. We should never trust them when it comes to providing healthy choices for us. We need to take responsibility for our own health, make informed decisions about the foods we eat, while allowing ourselves to enjoy food fully. By being aware of the bliss point and the way it works in our brains, we can make healthier choices that will improve our short-term and long-term health.
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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,