“Dear God, Thank you for this food. Please bless it. And please tell mom to stop hiding the treat popcorn in her room and eating it all because we’d like some too. Amen.*” Hiding treats from the kids for a little mommy down time later on is a time honored tradition among those of us who have to share nearly everything with little people who will either backwash in it, break it or handle it with fingers that did not get washed after the last bathroom visit. (And I include my boobs in this – can you backwash breastmilk? If there’s a way, I’m sure my kids did it.) However, this particular incident went beyond a divine mandate to stop hoarding treats and be a better sharer and as my son finished his prayer I felt the heat rising in my face. I didn’t think my kids had noticed. I should have known better.
See, this wasn’t any ordinary treat. I’ve always had a sweet tooth – we call our baby Jelly Bean for pity’s sake – but last Christmas I was introduced to the wonder (or horror) of the Archer Farms Spicy Caramel Popcorn Clusters.
The popcorn came into our house intended as gifts for friends (you know, the kind that show up with a gift for you but you didn’t think to give them anything so instead of just admitting you’re a jerk, you can produce a container of generically pleasing treats with a bow on top!) but it quickly became apparent that no friends were getting any of this stuff. Sweet, chewy, crunchy, buttery and with just a hint of hit-you-in-the-adenoids red pepper – this “treat” popcorn became my obsession. If it was in the house, I couldn’t think about anything else until I’d eaten it. As in, eaten all of it. All eleventy billion servings in one day.
It went way beyond enjoying a simple holiday treat. As I talked with a friend the other day about his binge eating disorder – yes, “him”, binge eating is the one eating disorder that seems to effect men in equal number as women – I immediately recognized the robotic, out-of-control, out-of-body feeling he was describing. His package of Oreos was my canister of spicy caramel popcorn. It was a sobering realization. Never in my life have I ever felt so controlled by my food — and I’m the girl who once attended an Easter feast and ate nothing but lettuce leaves (after having dusted the cheese off of them) because I was so in thrall to my food rules.
It’s a scary feeling.
So what is it about some foods that cause this reaction in people? Except for the one time in college when my roommates and I ate 50 pounds of farm-fresh green apples in one weekend because we were so nutrition deprived (and then spent the rest of the week playing musical toilets), I’ve never binged on produce. According to food scientist David Kessler, it’s due to three magic words: Sugar. Fat. Salt.
Any one of those three ingredients can be harmful in excess but put them together and you have a recipe for a dietary disaster. Think of all your favorite snack foods – the ones you “can’t eat just one!” of. Chips, cookies, chicken wings, soft pretzels, funnel cakes and basically anything else you can buy at the State Fair all have one thing in common: they are, as Kessler put it, “fat layered on sugar on top of salt” dipped in a sauce of fat, salt and sugar. There’s something about the one-two-three punch of these ingredients together that makes them addicting in a way other foods aren’t. And food companies know this. This is why the majority of our “trigger” foods are processed, boxed and slickly advertised products.
This is important because knowing this, at least for me, is the difference between feeling like eating all that popcorn was a moral failing and feeling angry because the popcorn was intentionally designed to be addicting. Since having my weight-gain epiphany (and thank you all so so so much for all the helpful tips, supportive comments and love yesterday – you have no idea how much it helps me!!) I’ve been trying to pay more attention to what I’m eating and why I’m eating it. And the more I pay attention the more I find that fat/salt/sugar torpedo aimed at me.
I think I’m probably luckier than many people, at least in this regard. Whether it’s from retraining my taste buds or lucky genes, many of these trigger foods hold little appeal for me. Soda pop, fried foods, hamburgers, cookies and even chocolate don’t inspire this kind of feeling in me. They can be in my house and while I might occasionally crave them, I won’t have to eat them until they’re gone. Unlike spicy caramel popcorn. But now that I know this about myself what can I do?
- Don’t buy it. Since Christmas I’ve only bought that popcorn once. And the entire container was gone by the end of the day. Lesson learned: moderation will not work with this food. It may not be entirely my fault if I overeat a food designed to be overeaten but it is my fault if I buy it.
- Don’t beat myself up over it. Guilt only leads to more bad eating. That idea of “I already ruined it! Might as well eat whatever I want now and start over fresh tomorrow!” is insidious.
Do you have a food that once you start eating it, you just can’t stop? What do you do to stop a binge before it starts?
*We are big fans of the passive-aggressive revenge prayer at our house. Example: Dear God, thank you for helping me forgive my brother even though he is the biggest jerk ever and he deserves that kick in the Brazil nuts I gave him.