the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Craving - And 7 Steps to
End Them Naturally
by Neal Barnard, M.D.
Book Review by Dan Balogh
A few years ago I decided to give up chocolate for the third time. My childhood sweet tooth had mushroomed into a nasty adult habit of eating far too many chocolates for my own good. I finally stopped rationalizing my behavior and decided to go cold Tofurkey. I was doing quite well for at least a couple of weeks when something terrible happened - the holidays arrived. Some relatives, unaware of my new lease on life, presented me with a large box of chocolates. I smiled and graciously accepted, mentally promising to meet this challenge head on. The next day I stuffed the box into a small space on the top shelf of the pantry - out of sight, out of mind. I needed time to contemplate my next move. Should I foist them on my cherished friends? Should I trash them?
Before I knew it, I was sampling the sweet delicacies. First it was one a day, then two, and eventually three after lunch, three after dinner and three more during the evening. I was back to square one. Feeling frustrated and foiled, and personalizing the chocolates into uninvited intruders, I decided to rid our humble household of these beasts. I emptied the entire contents of the box into the kitchen trash. I watched with self-righteous glee as the candies fell to their deaths among the banana peels and stale bread. But as I puttered around the house during the remainder of the day, proud of my strength, my craving started to creep back. Perhaps it was ungrateful of me to trash the very nice gift my relatives had given me. Perhaps I shouldn't have thrown such an expensive gift into the trash. It wasn't long before I found myself back downstairs, up to my elbows in banana peels and stale bread, combing the bottom of my kitchen trash in a pathetic attempt to rescue my poor chocolate friends - who I promptly ate by the mouthful!
For the record, I have never scoured a trash bin for a pear, an apple, or a cherry (unless it was chocolate covered). Not once. It was obvious to me back then that there was something different about milk chocolate, this man-made creation of the past couple of centuries. I just didn't know what that difference was - until now. Dr. Neal Barnard explains the difference in his excellent new book "Breaking the Food Seduction". If my deplorable tale resonates with you, I urge you to run out and purchase this book as soon as possible.
In short, chocolate stimulates the same parts of the brain as morphine! Quoting Barnard "For all intents and purposes chocolate is a drug - not necessarily a bad one and not a terribly strong one, but strong enough nonetheless to keep us coming back for more." Researchers at the University of Michigan gave a group of chocoholics the drug naloxone, an opiate blocker that stops the effect of morphine, heroine, and other narcotics on the brain. The drug knocked out all desire for chocolate. After taking naloxone, the subjects of the experiment found chocolate about as enticing as a crust of dry bread! The same researchers found naloxone to have the same effect on the desire for cheese and other dairy products. Other researchers noticed the same effects on sugar and meat.
Building on this introductory analysis of the chemical characteristics of addiction, Barnard provides an abundance of detail in Part I regarding why these four "foods" - chocolate, sugar, cheese and meat - are so addictive; with each food getting a separate chapter. The bottom line is that since these foods are chemically different than natural foods, dealing with our food addictions through brute force of willpower is bound to fail. Instead, we must change our own body chemistry so that our attraction to these foods dissipates. Quoting Barnard from the introduction, "Instead of struggling to summon the willpower to force yourself to change, an easier way is to make yourself more physically resilient to food cravings." And showing us how to become resilient is precisely what Barnard does so beautifully and completely throughout the rest of the book.
In part II Barnard presents his 7-Step plan to reduce our cravings. The steps include starting every day with a healthy breakfast, choosing foods that hold our blood sugar constant throughout the day, getting enough exercise as well as enough rest, and building a social network to help the transition. It all sounds like common sense, but the devil is in the details. Take breakfast, for instance. You might decide to replace your daily donut with oatmeal, but it's not that straightforward. Barnard cites a study at Boston Children's Hospital in 1999. Teenage boys were fed an instant oatmeal breakfast and then their snacking was monitored during the rest of the day. The experiment was then repeated with the teenage boys being fed regular oatmeal, and again their snacking was monitored. Amazingly the researchers found that when the boys ate regular oatmeal, they snacked 35% less! The complex carbohydrates of the regular oatmeal broke down much more slowly than those of the instant variety. This resulted in a steadier blood sugar level throughout the day, which meant that the boys were less hungry and snacked less.
In Part III of the book, Barnard discusses the New Four Food Groups: vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fruits. Those who have read Barnard's previous books will find themselves in familiar territory - after thorough discussions of food addictions, and the ways to counter them, we find that dietary veganism is once again the lifestyle of choice. For those who are thinking of cutting down on these addictive foods (if you're still not convinced that they are addictive, re-read Part II) by gradually decreasing the number of donuts or candy bars consumed daily, take note - this is not an effective way to deal with addictions. Quoting Barnard, "Just as quitting smoking is easier than trying to limit yourself to one or two cigarettes a day, it is easier to simply skip cheese, meat, and other less-than-healthy foods than to continually tease yourself with them day after day." Given that our taste memory is about three weeks, completely halting these foods may be bumpy for the first couple of weeks, but by the third week we will be completely entrenched in our new lifestyle - provided we don't cheat during that time.
Finally, as in Barnard's other fine books, this one ends with a host of recipes (nearly 100 pages worth) as an answer to those asking "But what am I supposed to eat?" In previous books Jennifer Raymond had supplied the delectable concoctions (she's the author of two of my all-time favorite vegan cookbooks "Fat-Free and Easy" and "The Peaceful Palate"). This time Barnard has enlisted the aid of vegan epicure Joanne Stepaniak, author of "Vegan Vittles," "The Uncheese Cookbook" and many others. In addition to the recipes, the book presents a one-week meal plan, various checklists, questionnaires, and a glossary to assist readers in making the transition. In essence, Barnard has done everything except spoon-feed the reader himself.
So how do we know if we're addicted? Face it - we usually know. If a food seems to be in control of us instead of the other way around, it's safe to say that we could use some help. When George Costanza, in an episode of "Seinfeld", snatched a half-eaten chocolate éclair from a friend's trash, we knew. When I was up to my elbows in banana peels, I knew. And then there's the inimitable Tallulah Bankhead, famed Hollywood actress from the Thirties and Forties. When asked whether she thought cocaine was habit-forming she responded "Cocaine habit forming? Of course not. I ought to know, I've been using it for years."
What more can be said?
Dan Balogh is a member of EarthSave® New York City and a frequent contributor to VegSource.com. He works full-time as a systems engineer in the telecommunications industry. A recovering chocoholic for over two years, Dan is now able to manage his chocolate instead of his chocolate managing him. At least for now.