Positive Path Recommended Reading

Why People Crave Fatty Foods
By Matt Church

You are driving home from the gym, you have just huffed and puffed your way through 30 minutes on the stair-climber, run your brains out and battled the ego of the change rooms. After all this effort you deserve to feel virtuous. Certainly you must have burnt off some of that excess fat. You drive past a petrol station, decide to fill the car up, you go inside to pay for the fuel and feel this overwhelming urge to buy every chocolate bar at the register. Why?

From a body image perspective we all want to stop fat going into the fat cells and promote the release of fat for use as an energy store. Nature on the other hand has an alternate plan. Your body does not favour the emaciated look. It does not care about unsightly dimples or bellies that defy correct tie length. Your body sees fat as the friend, not the enemy.

To your body, fat is the fuel for survival. It is the richest source of energy, with more than twice the energy value (calories/kilojoules) of any other nutrient. Alcohol is the only other nutrient that comes close. It is this biological respect for fat that makes it so hard for people to defeat fat cravings. Indeed we have a basic instinct to eat fat.

The Australian aborigine, when hunting in the wild, would eat the high-fat part of the kill first. Scientists are suggesting that a brain protein called galanin is triggered in greater amounts when we eat fat. They also suggest that galanin levels are increased when we go without eating for a period of time. Galanin is a neuropeptide that causes us to eat or crave fat. This may explain why, when eating a packet of chocolate biscuits, a significant proportion of consumers have great difficulty stopping at just one biscuit. It also offers an explanation as to why, when we are hungry, we are likely to crave fat.

There is an emerging link between stress and people's desire to eat fatty foods. Often under pressure, people tend to reach for the fatty foods. There are two explanations for this:

1. At a psychological level the emotional comfort that fatty food has played in your life could drive you towards the chocolate bar on "bad hair" days. If, when crying as a child, you were comforted with fatty and sweet foods, then this nurture pattern may prevail.

2. At a biological level, under stress we tend to use our adrenal system or "fight or flight" chemistry. Fatty food stimulates dopamine and nor-adrenaline, both responsible for giving us the "rush" we need to cope with crisis.

To combat this we need to manage our stress levels better and practise pausing before reacting to stress triggers. Foods high in dietary fibre such as bran cereals and wholemeal breads are suggested as ideal tools for dampening this fat craving. The first step to controlling your emotional hunger is to identify whether you are hungering for food or simply emotional satisfaction. You can do this by keeping a food journal. Write down for one week what you eat, the time you eat and the amount and quality of the food you eat. As you write each entry, note down how you are feeling emotionally. Then review the week and identify when you ate food that related to how you felt emotionally at that time.

Some typical emotional eating scenarios:

1. You have been distracted or upset about your partner all week and have not slept well, so you eat a packet of potato chips. Once the chips are gone you feel heavy and sluggish but you are now thinking less about your problems.

2. On your way home from work you grab a bucket of fried chicken with greasy French fries. When you are bored or feeling lonely heavy meals make you feel less empty.

3. You snack whenever you get anxious, yet deny that you eat more than three square meals a day. A lot of bad food goes unnoticed or not acknowledged throughout the day.

Confusion surrounding food and feelings is common. It begins when we are very young and food and love seem to go together. Our mother held us when we were being fed, and we felt her warmth and love at the same time as we were receiving nourishment. Often we carry this connection between food and comfort into our adult years, creating bad food habits that must be overcome. If we recognise this, we can take positive steps to eat sensibly for better health and vitality. 

About the author: Matt Church is a speaker and trainer who travels over 100 days a year delivering seminars to corporations helping their employees lay the foundations for success. If you would like to help your employees get their priorities right or would like to find out more about a seminar run by Matt Church then visit his website at www.mattchurch.com.au

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