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... is a question of psychology as much as nutrition. We have to find a way to want to eat what’s good for us.
We make frequent attempts – more or less half-hearted – to change what we eat, but almost no effort to change how we feel about food: how well we deal with hunger, how strongly attached we are to sugar, our emotions on being served a small portion.
All the foods that you regularly eat are ones that you learned to eat. Everyone starts life drinking milk. After that, it’s all up for grabs.
But in today’s food culture, many people seem to have acquired uncannily homogenous tastes: food companies push foods high in sugar, fat and salt, which means we are innately incapable of resisting them but that the more frequently we eat them, especially in childhood, the more they train us to expect all food to taste this way.
... and another 1% are bulimic, with rising numbers of men joining them.
What statistics are not particularly effective at telling us is how many others – whether overweight or underweight – are in a perpetual state of anxiety about what they consume, living in fear of carbs or fat grams and unable to derive straightforward enjoyment from meals.
Consumer scientists have found that when a new product is described as “healthy”, it is far less likely to be a success than if it is described as “new”.
Many people have absorbed the lesson from childhood that vegetables and pleasure – and more generally, healthy food and pleasure – can never go together.
Once we accept that eating is a learned behaviour, we see that the challenge is not to grasp information but to learn new habits.
... eating is a classic form of learned behaviour:
Food-seeking learning is driven by dopamine, a neurotransmitter connected with motivation.
This is a hormone that is stimulated in the brain when your body does something rewarding, such as eating. Dopamine is one of the chemical signals that passes information between neurons to tell your brain that you are having fun. It's one of the mechanisms that “stamps in” our flavour preferences and turns them into habits.
There are 3 big things we would all benefit from learning to do:
All these three can be taught to children, which suggests that adults could learn them too.
... as well as educating ourselves about nutrition, we need to relearn the food experiences that first shaped us. The change doesn’t happen through rational argument.
It is a form of reconditioning, meal by meal.
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