Industrial goodies: how to stop overeating? -

Industrial goodies: how to stop overeating?

Has it ever happened to you: you open the crisps, taste them, it’s all a blur… and then you’re shaking crumbs out of an empty bag in your mouth? With a bitter “what’s wrong with me?” thought. Don’t worry, it’s the norm! Junk makers long ago figured out the secret to the incredible appeal of certain flavour combinations, and naively we just can’t refuse certain treats (even knowing that they’re not quite healthy or not at all).

So don’t blame yourself. These goodies are specifically designed so that we snap and can’t stop. Sometimes the holiest of Zoholics lose control of themselves.

But there is a way out! Knowledge is power, and in this article we will tell you what’s wrong with processed foods, why they are so appetizing and how to stop gorging yourself on them.

A simple example is corn.

When you boil and nibble on the cob, you’re enjoying the taste of juicy (albeit slightly fibrous) natural kernels. If lightly processed – shredded and baked – you can have an excellent tortilla that still retains the corn flavor but becomes much softer, making it easier to digest.

However, ultra-processing removes all the fibres from the maize, releasing only the starch, which is what the chips are made from. And then they are also fried in oil and sprinkled with salt and sugar, not to mention a bunch of less natural additives and flavour enhancers.

That’s why we can gorge ourselves on a couple of cobs of natural corn, but we won’t stop until every bag of chips we can reach has been emptied.

Tricks of the food industry

The food industry uses many tricks to make the product tastier and more desirable… even if you’re already full. Here are a few examples:


Grains are processed into a mush and passed through a machine called an extruder. Under the influence of high temperatures and pressure, the ex-grains are turned into airy and crunchy things of a given shape – breakfast cereals, crackers, etc. This process, of course, increases digestibility, but it also destroys nutrients and enzymes, denatures proteins, and changes the proportion of starch originally contained in the grain. All this reduces the nutritional value and increases the glycemic index of the product.


Makes the product softer and fuller, so it feels more palatable on the tongue. Although there are natural emulsifiers (like egg yolk), the food industry often uses chemical ones like polysorbate-80, sodium phosphate and carboxymethyl cellulose. They are most commonly found in products such as ice cream, flavoured yoghurts or cheese spreads.

Flavour enhancers

Allow manufacturers to intensify the taste of products without adding wholesome food ingredients (fruits, vegetables, spices). Very convenient because artificial flavourings are cheap and do not change the texture.


An important point since we eat food with our eyes first. No one would choose grey crackers; but add the right colours and everything immediately becomes more appetising. Dyes such as yellow #5 (tartrazine) and red #40 (red charming AC) are added purely for looks – they don’t add any nutrients.

Recently, however, major food corporations are switching to natural dyes (beet powder, turmeric, etc.) after finding some correlations linking artificial dyes to behavioural disorders in children.

Hydrogenation of oil

Natural fats go rancid quickly; to make them more stable, hydrogen atoms are added to them during the hydrogenation process. Food manufacturers are pleased as products with such oils can stay on the shelves longer without losing their taste. However, consumption of hydrogenated fats, or trans fats, has been linked to higher rates of heart disease.

How recycling makes us consume more than we wanted to
There are four devious ways used by junk food manufacturers and retailers. And we often don’t even realise how much these techniques affect us.

1. Marketers write on recycled products that they are ‘healthy’

Recycling comes in bright packages with cartoon characters or celebrities and some kind of slogan to form a positive image of the junk food. “Organic”, “vegetarian”, “gluten-free” and similar words give us the illusion of goodness.

Companies produce organic versions of cooked macaroni and cheese, gluten-free and vegan versions of glazed baked goods, ‘cooked with avocado oil’ chips, sweet cereal with ‘flax seeds’ or fatty sauce with ‘real spinach’.

The nutrient composition of these dishes is not particularly impressive, but such labels on the packages make you perceive them as healthier.

Let’s not forget the masters of advertising – all those “Take a break” and “You’re worth it” ads that no longer work with physical hunger, but with our senses. Everyone needs support, we all want to be understood, reassured and distracted from the stress of everyday life.

When you see all those pseudo-worthy labels and hear ‘worthy’, the junk food itself jumps in the bin to move to your tummy later.

2. large portions are a bargain!

We are taught to save money and not transfer food, buy more for less, etc. So which is better – splurge on an expensive cup of juice or pay for a large soda glass once and fill it endlessly while you chill at a fast food joint with wifi?

In this equation, we’re leaving out an important variable I call the ‘health tax’. This is what you will have to pay later on when you face the consequences of regularly consuming profitable but unhelpful recycling. Large companies can use very cheap and low quality ingredients and sell products in large volumes without jacking up prices. In the short term, you seem to win, but in the long term, your health (and medical care) will pay the price.

3 The more choices, the greater the hunger.

The variety of options only whets your appetite. Think of an all-in-one ice cream stand with chocolate chips, biscuit dough, caramel, a hundred kinds of jam, and, oh, and nuts… Before you know it, there’s a giant tower of sugary desserts in front of you.

Or remember those snack mixes that the manufacturer has thoughtfully mixed for you: salted pretzels, corn nachos, cheese balls, barbecue-flavoured crisps – all in one package! You’ll never get bored (until you run out), as each bite brings a different, unique delight.

It doesn’t work like that with some boring and monotonous products. Well, honestly, how many apples can you eat before you get bored?

Avoiding such junk variety, on the other hand, makes you much less likely to overeat.

4. The combination of several flavours is impossible to resist

If a heavenly delight is on your tongue, rest assured that at least two of the three components are present: sugar, fat or salt.

It is these combinations that give us the most pleasure. And they don’t work separately: not one of my clients has ever complained about spooning sugar and salt or blowing butter in bottles.

That’s why it’s impossible to stop eating foods that combine all three, such as chocolate with caramel and salted nuts, or Chips with ketchup. And the manufacturers calculate it all perfectly.

Add to that the ease of swallowing processed food – you almost don’t have to chew it! Natural foods – like an apple – you can’t just swallow, you have to bite down and chew hard, which slows things down and allows you to get full without overeating. No one goes overboard with cabbage or carrots.

Processors strive to make sure their produce flies into your stomach as quickly as possible (and you stay just as hungry and hungry for the banquet to continue).

Restaurants use the same trick, for example, soaking even a chicken breast in a super-flavoured sauce that not only makes it more appetising, but also softens the texture so you can swallow it faster and order an extra portion.

This is why I rarely talk about willpower when a customer can’t stop overeating. It’s not about character at all. We need to educate ourselves, learn more about both the foods we consume and ourselves, explore our relationship with food and develop strategies that promote control.

The story of the love affair with tastes

The love of certain tastes evolved in mankind in primitive times, just like the desire to load up on calories.

Once upon a time, food was scarce on our planet. It took a lot of effort to get it, not to mention the dangers of the world around us. That green leaf over there? What if it’s poisonous? Those berries? Would they cause vomiting or diarrhoea?

Our distant ancestors had to acquire a number of survival instincts. For instance, sweet foods, as a rule, are not poisonous. That’s why this passion for sugary, starchy foods sits in our brains – they are less dangerous. And that’s why children adore sweets – it’s a built-in defence mechanism against poisoning.

Fat is also a priority because it provides many of the calories our malnourished forebears lacked. They were surrounded by healthy fibre, but on the prowl for something more nutritious. The primitive hunter-gatherer who discovered a thicket of nuts was happy: the crop could feed the entire tribe!

As a result, we have the same mindset today: fatty, calorie-dense food = yummy/stuffy.

Today, though, we don’t have to run, dig or spend all day on the road to get food. Today we drive up to a fast food joint and order the crowning combination of flavours – a cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake.

The gifts of evolution are now working against us.

So, you’ve found out why recycling is so appetising. What to do? Here’s what.

3 strategies for a healthy relationship with food

1. Become more inquisitive (in terms of food)

As already mentioned, manufacturers deliberately make processed foods a) low volume and high calorie, b) easy to swallow.

Less chewing + Less volume = More consumed

And the longer we chew, the better we perceive satiety signals. This feeling of “fullness” is also very important.

When we eat, the stomach expands. Even just the mechanical pressure of a full stomach signals that enough is enough. Recycling, on the other hand, supplies a bunch of calories without taking up much space, which means you can safely overeat without even noticing it.

Experiment 1: Get your brain involved in chewing

Firstly, I want you to start counting down your chewing repetitions.

Note: You don’t have to do this for the rest of your life. I’m not trying to make you outcasts that no one wants to share a meal with. Just try it for a while, researching and accumulating important data about yourself.

Then do the following: eat something natural – a fruit, a vegetable, a whole-grain product, a lean protein, etc. – and count how many times you chewed it after taking a bite. How long did it take you to eat the whole portion? How full do you feel afterwards? Do you want more?

Next, when fate presents you with your next encounter with a fine overprocessing, do the same thing: count how much you chewed in each bite. How long did it take for that bite of chips or biscuit? How full are you? Do you want more?

This simple comparison will give you enough food for thought about satiety and insatiability. Will you draw your own conclusions about your food choices in the future?

2. Recognise market tricks

Even if you’re aware that recycling isn’t particularly healthy, manufacturers and retailers still manage to influence your buying choices.

Here’s an example:
Ever notice that the fruit, vegetables and herbs section is the first thing that greens greet you in grocery shops?

Grocery store managers have found that this increases the likelihood of buying processed foods afterwards as well. Apparently, when your trolley is already full of spinach, broccoli and apples, you decide to indulge a little and grab some ice cream and biscuits.

Think about it:
The supermarkets we visit several times a month are deliberately set up to make it easier for us to buy foods that negatively affect our health.

But the good news is that just being aware of this trap is enough to get around it.

Experiment 2: Sort out your supplies

In this experiment, you’ll examine the foods that have already made their way into your kitchen and figure out why this happened.

Note: This exercise is not about self-judgment and nurturing guilt, but about developing awareness.

Look at your pantry with a new, curious (and more informed) eye.

Step 1: Look for foods with the previously mentioned ‘illusion of usefulness’. Do you have them in your home? Why did you choose them? Convinced by the labels on the packages? Do they contain fancy “superfoods”? Are they organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, paleo or something else?

Step 2: Study the composition fully. How different is your “healthy” organic dark chocolate peanut butter from regular peanut butter? Most likely only by the packaging.

Step 3: Count how many processed food options you have. If you like ice cream, for example, what collection of different flavours is stored in your freezer? Look through all the cupboards, have you stocked up on biscuits, popcorn, sweets and crisps too? Without, I repeat, judging, just count the total number of varieties of junk food in your house. Usually, the richer the choice, the easier it is to overeat.

And the more you know about the marketing tricks you used to buy into, the easier it will be for you to prefer healthy (truly) foods in the future.

When you are aware of your unhealthy cravings and reduce the availability (and variety) of unnecessary treats in your home, the likelihood of overeating is also reduced.

3. Uncover behavioural patterns

We don’t always snack solely because of physical hunger.

For example, if we are sad, we reach for a biscuit to lift our spirits (and they do for a while). The next time sadness strikes again, we remember this temporary relief and repeat the ritual. If we carry on like this, our hand will reach into the biscuit jar automatically; we don’t even think about anything at that moment, a habit has been formed.

Habits are powerful weapons, both useful and harmful. They can work for us or against us. Fortunately, we can already control this. We just need to spend some time and understand how they are developed.

Which brings us to the next experiment…

Experiment 3: Make habits work for you

When you intend to kick the habit of overeating, the trigger-behaviour-reward loop needs to be put to work for you. Here’s how.

Step 1: Identify your triggers

It could be:

Emotion. We tend to overeat when we’re stressed, bored or lonely. Food fills that void.
Time of day. Eating biscuits at 11am or drinking a soda at 3pm all the time becomes part of the routine.
Social environment. Hey, everyone here is blowing beer and chicken wings, how can you not join in?
Location. A darkened cinema room (with a thrilling blockbuster) or your parents’ kitchen (especially after a holiday) simply obliges you to eat more.
Thoughts. Attitudes like “After all, we’re worth it” or “Life’s too short to chew cabbage” drive us to the Mac car window all by themselves.
As soon as you notice that it’s not hunger that’s causing you to snack again, pump your awareness with the following questions:

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What time is it?
  • Who am I with?
  • Where am I?
  • What thoughts have led up to this?
  • Keep a diary and note all behavioural patterns.

And remember: overeating becomes a problem when it recurs regularly (and your clothes somehow get tighter and tighter). Don’t get bogged down by worrying about individual episodes.

Separate overeating from binge eating: in the case of the latter you have little control, stopping is very difficult, and afterwards you are plagued by feelings of shame and guilt. (In ‘normal’ overeating you simply consume more calories than you should, without noticing it – note Zohodnik)

If you notice that you are experiencing compulsive binge eating or other PPDs, it is worth seeing a specialist (therapist, nutritionist or psychologist).

Step 2: Develop a new behavioural response to your trigger(s)

Once you’ve identified your triggers, start linking new actions to them that help with your fitness goals and bring you enjoyment. If the enjoyment isn’t there, you won’t repeat them and they won’t form new habits.

It could be a walk in nature, hanging out with friends, exercising-exercising, or just having pleasant thoughts. For example, I had a client who was triggered by talking to her ex-husband. After each conversation she became very stressed and could only relax again with the help of chips. Gradually she replaced the junket with beating a punching bag and walking up and down the stairs. Both types of physical activity were a great stress reliever and also – unlike chips – improved her health and figure.

Step 3: Practise

Now every time the trigger that made you snack before clicks, simply practice a new, healthy behaviour. Repeat this cycle until it becomes as automatic a habit as opening a jar of peanut butter.

Helpful anti-stress habits
Not all anti-stress habits are equally beneficial in terms of physiological effects. According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress relievers are:

  • exercising and playing sports,
  • reading,
  • listening to music,
  • prayer and attendance at religious services,
  • socializing with friends and family,
  • massages,
  • walking,
  • meditation,
  • yoga,
  • creative hobbies.

The least effective activities are gambling, shopping, smoking, binge eating, drinking, computer games, surfing the internet and watching TV for more than a couple of hours.

While we may think that the things on the second list are also stress relievers (as we experience temporary relief), in reality they handle it rather poorly.

The fact is that these habits use dopamine to inject us with a dose of pleasure. Dopamine, of course, is triggered, but it’s still an excitatory neurotransmitter, meaning it actually stimulates adrenaline release and initiates a stress response.

Activities on the first list, on the other hand, stimulate the production of serotonin, GABA and oxytocin, which calm the stress response and induce a sense of well-being. While they may not be as ‘addictive’ (as things on the second list), they are ultimately more beneficial and effective for dealing with stress in the long run.

It’s not (only) about food

I’m a nutritionist and I’m aware of the importance of eating right. But you may be a little surprised by my statement that it’s not just about food.

Yes, sure, it’s better to make your diet out of bright, colourful, natural foods rich in all the right nutrients, but you have to remember that a healthy lifestyle isn’t just about counting calories or a manic obsession with everything that goes into your mouth.

A healthy life is about taking time and paying attention to yourself as a whole.

Eating takes place in some kind of context.

What (and how much) you eat is influenced by your mindset, relationships, work environment, home environment and more. When all is well, we are much less likely to use food as a medicine or sedative. So I’ll give one last piece of dietary advice:

Take care of yourself.

Not just at the table, but in all other areas of life.

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