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How to Control Extreme Eating

Over the last several decades, food producers have discovered that we have a seemingly insatiable desire for sugar and salt. They’ve responded by stuffing our food with mind-boggling amounts of these substances. This full-scale assault on our taste buds has the dangerous side effect of making us want more food.

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That’s because processed foods place us on a flavour seesaw: We eat something terrifically sweet, and almost immediately we want to counter it with something salty. That means you can feel completely full from eating something salty, yet your sweet-related hunger sensors can still be craving satisfaction.

Sweetness and saltiness also send important messages to the brain. For example, when sweet sensors are activated, your brain may register that sweet-related nutrients-such as those found in fruit-are being digested. For nutritional balance, the brain may then communicate a need for salty food. This might explain why you often crave something sweet with your bag of potato chips.

In a related phenomenon, high levels of salt and sugar trip satisfaction sensors in our brain similar to ones activated in drug addicts when they get a fix. Think about that: Your fast-food breakfast sandwich is like a drug, as is your favourite peanut butter cup.


Rx for Extreme Eaters

If you’ve become accustomed to the salt and sugar blast from fast food and prepackaged meals, your biggest challenge will be retraining your overwhelmed taste buds to taste-and enjoy-subtler flavours again. You’ll be happy you did it: Within a few days of following the tips below, you’ll discover that healthy food is bursting with a wide variety of flavours, not just sweet and salty. And savouring them all will go a long way toward satisfying your hunger as well as pleasing your palate.

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Wean Yourself Off Fast Food

If you typically eat a fast-food lunch with a soft drink, start by having the meal with water or unsweetened iced tea. Even if you drink a diet beverage, make the change. The dramatic sweetness of diet beverages flips the craving switches in your brain, causing you to overeat. The last challenge will be the burger, and it’s a tough nut to crack. You could switch to a grilled chicken sandwich, but the sodium content is much higher-in some cases, higher than a cheeseburger. And at this point, you might be ready to start packing your lunch instead. Make your own sandwich with turkey or lean ham, lettuce, tomato, and pickle. Go ahead and throw on some mayo if that helps you make the adjustment.

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Cook Your Own Dinner

The convenience of microwaveable food is nice, but the price you pay is remarkable-in terms of both cost and health. Processed, packaged foods are loaded with salt, sugar, chemicals and fake flavourings that you don’t need. Cooking your own meal often takes just five to 10 minutes more time. Start simple. For greens, buy prewashed salad mixes. Then look for easy recipes using lean, easy-to-cook proteins like boneless chicken breasts or pork chops.

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Snack on One Piece of Dark Chocolate

Not exactly a hardship, right? A study from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that people who ate dark chocolate, with its bitter-and-sweet taste, eliminated both their sweet and salt cravings in one go. After eating a bar of either dark or milk chocolate, study volunteers recorded their feelings of hunger and/or cravings for the next five hours. After eating dark chocolate, the volunteers reported no cravings, while the milk-chocolate eaters began to feel hungry and desire salty foods within an hour or two. The dark-chocolate group also ate about 15 percent less pizza at a later meal compared to the milk-chocolate eaters.

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Add Your Own Salt and Sugar

Trust us: You’ll never add as much salt or sugar to food as manufacturers or restaurants do. Try this trick: Buy unsweetened and low-salt versions of your favourite foods, then sprinkle on what you think is missing. The advantage to putting the seasoning on the surface of the food is that it will hit your tongue first, thereby reassuring you (and your brain) that you’re getting the flavour you want.

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Substitute Less-Extreme Snacks

For a sweet fix, have a clementine or tangerine instead of candy. They’re easy to peel and easy to pack, so take some along with you to work or on errands. Need a salt fix? Try celery with peanut butter-you can make a few stalks in the morning and take them with you in a zip-lock bag. Spot hidden sugar.

If one of the first four ingredients in a product is corn syrup, sugar, or some other form of sweetener, you’re holding an extremely sweet product. Unless it’s a form of dessert, you’ll want to pass on it. This is especially true for things that shouldn’t be sweet to start with: salad dressings, pasta sauces, soups, and peanut butter. Plenty of seemingly healthy products like yogourt, instant oatmeal, and smoothies can contain loads of sugar as well. If a food isn’t supposed to be sweet, a serving should have less than 4 grams of sugar (check the nutrition label under carbohydrates).