I was doing so well. With the help of a weight loss program at a university, I lost 55 pounds and by mid-summer I was on my way to losing more.
Then I went on vacation. Our family tradition is to eat things on vacation that we don’t normally keep in our home. I talked about this tradition years ago when I explained why there were Doritos in the back of my minivan. At that time, even though I had switched my family to organic and natural foods there was still a lot of sugar and fat in our diet in the form of organic cookies, ice cream and other organic treats. It was a step in a good direction, and since then we’ve made many more strides.
Over this past year, I personally made huge strides. I’d estimate the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables I added to my diet quadrupled while the amount of sugar in my diet decreased dramatically. This year, when we went on vacation and went back to our traditional vacation junk food diet, it made a difference like it never has before. I felt awful by the end of vacation – no energy, no desire to work out, and no desire to eat my fruits and vegetables.
I’ve been home for almost two weeks now and getting back to the healthier foods has been harder than I’d have imagined. I’ve put on a few pounds. In fact, just this morning I had to face the fact that if I didn’t force myself to get back on my healthy program today, I might never do it. So I fired up My Fitness Pal and started tracking my calories and made plans to walk later this evening with a friend.
Another thing happened this morning. I read on CNN about a study published in the Nutrition & Diabetes journal about how our brains react to high-calorie and low-calorie foods and some things started to click for me. MNN's family blogger Jenn posted some of the details of the study and about how to train your brain to eat healthy foods. In a nutshell, what the study found was that those who chose (with some help) to follow a healthy diet eventually craved healthier foods.
Participants in the pilot study who were given portion-controlled menus and group support sessions lost an average of 14 pounds over a 6-month period. Also, when they underwent brain scans, their brains reacted more positively to being shown pictures of healthy foods than when they were shown pictures of unhealthy foods. The conclusion is that it might be possible to train your brain to crave healthy foods by choosing them whether you’re craving them or not. Eventually, you’ll start to crave them.
That makes sense to me based on the events of the past few weeks. My personal experience is anecdotal and not scientific evidence, but the findings in this study help me to put some things into perspective. There’s a chance I had trained my brain to crave healthy foods like my favorite, go-to 275-calorie salad and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. They became my foods of choice after a while. And perhaps, my week of Pop Tarts and Cap’n Crunch messed with my brain.
Now, I can beat myself up for letting this happen or I can take this new understanding I have and let it give me some hope and inspiration. If I can make the healthy choices, even if I’m not craving them, maybe they’ll become second nature again. I can choose to try to retrain my brain. It’s definitely better than giving into the cravings for junk food.