Many women think that products labeled "fat-free," "sugar-free," or "lite" are the key to easy weight loss. The truth is that these so-called healthy packaged foods are filled with processed ingredients and chemicals that actually contribute to weight gain by causing us to overeat.
In Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food, nutritionist Christine Avanti explains why a diet rich in all-natural produce, whole grains, and lean protein packed with the nutrients responsible for maintaining stable blood sugar levels and speeding up metabolism is by far the more effective option. Avanti draws on the latest research to provide guidelines for what and how often readers should eat to ensure that pounds are dropped—and offers specific meal plans, grocery lists, and a collection of flavorful recipes filled with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
A guide to eating real food in a factory-food world, a weight loss plan, and a real-food cookbook in one, Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food will instruct and inspire readers to steer clear of fake food and eat the balanced, all-natural way we were designed to eat.
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About the Author
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Addicted to Factory Food
Factory Food Is One Hell of a Drug
When I was in my twenties, my best girlfriends and I nicknamed one of our favorite junk foods "cocaine munchies"--those mini powdered donuts that come about two dozen to a bag. Obviously, we called them "cocaine munchies" because of the powdered sugar's resemblance to that other white, powdery substance. But the donuts had something else in common with their namesake: They were downright addictive! It was impossible to eat just one. Once the bag was opened, the bag was emptied. While we were licking the powdered sugar remnants of one of them off our lips, our hands were already in the bag reaching for the next one. Back then, when we gushed that we were "totally addicted!" to these sweet little treats, we were unaware that our dramatics were backed by science. Fast-forward to today, and it isn't at all a stretch to say, "I'm addicted" . . . to donuts, chocolate, French fries, ice cream--heck, just insert any sweet/fatty/salty food. As I have learned working at the Passages alcohol and drug rehab facility in Malibu, California, it turns out there's a strong similarity between the pull of drugs and alcohol and the power of certain foods over our bodies and minds--a power like the one that resulted in all those powdered donuts I ate packing an extra 30 pounds on me shortly thereafter.
In this chapter, we'll take a close look at how the ingredients in certain factory foods get you hooked. Then we'll explore how those addictive foods reel us in and make us fat. Lastly, we'll take a look at the most common addictive eating traps, and I'll help you figure out which ones you've fallen into.
This Is Your Brain on a Chocolate Chip Cookie
Scientists have discovered that the same biological processes that cause us to become addicted to drugs and alcohol can cause us to exhibit addictive behavior toward food. But not just any food--no one is walking around jonesing for broccoli or obsessing about their next hit of grilled tuna topped with peach salsa. The foods under the microscope are those that contain a combination of fat and refined carbohydrates. (For the most part, the body reacts to refined white flour the same way it does to refined white sugar.) Salt plays a supporting role to the seductive combo. Foods containing particular combinations of these ingredients cause a very specific chemical reaction in our brains that is responsible for getting us hooked.
Here's a look at this reaction. Picture it: You've baked an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies. (Chocolate chip cookies are basically nothing but fat, sugar, and refined flour with a bit of salt in the mix.) You reach for a cookie, take a bite, and begin to chew. Now we're going to zero in on what's happening in your brain: While you chew that warm, fresh-out-of-the- oven cookie with its melted semi-sweet chocolate chips and its heavenly combination of vanilla and butter, what the white coats call your opioid circuitry--your body's primary pleasure center--becomes stimulated and releases chemicals called opioids. Opioids are the brain chemicals that give us that pleasurable "ooh, ahhh, mmm" feeling. In fact, the feel-good effects of opioids are similar to those of drugs like morphine.
So now you're chewing away on your second bite. By now your taste buds are completely enraptured by the combination of warm, melted chocolate tucked inside the moist and buttery cookie. Your opioid circuitry is all abuzz in your brain. Here's where things start to get a little complicated. As you're chewing, another brain system becomes stimulated: your dopamine circuitry, which functions as your reward center. While your opioid circuits give you the feeling of "I like," your dopamine circuits give you the feeling of "I want." Dopamine has the ability to steer our attention to a certain thing. It's what gives us the motivation to want something enough to get off the couch and pursue it.
Dopamine gives rewarding foods--like that chocolate chip cookie--center stage in our brains. The more rewarding the food, the more attention we pay it, and the more vigorously we pursue it. And get this: Our reward system happens to be one of the best performing, most finely tuned systems in the human body. When it's activated, it takes an awful lot to derail us from our goal of acquiring whatever it is we "want." Say you've made up your mind to take a ride to your favorite ice cream parlor to get a couple scoops of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Therapy ice cream. You won't be deterred by a phone call from your mom, a traffic jam on the road, or the line at the store. On the other hand, say you've set aside time to work on your taxes. I'm betting there are easily at least 357,000 things that could cause you to postpone that plan for another day.
Okay, back to you and your batch of cookies. After you've eaten a couple of cookies, you put them away in a canister and prepare to go about your business. Maybe you have a job presentation to work on or you're just planning to do some gardening. You're trying to focus on the task at hand, but you just can't get those dang cookies out of your mind! It's getting super frustrating. A conversation begins in your head, "No, I've already had two cookies, I don't need any more!" you say to yourself. "I'm not even hungry. But they're awful good!" you reply with a sigh. Then you begin to get flashes of how it tasted and felt in your mouth when you took that one bite of cookie that landed you right smack in the middle of a warm, gooey chocolate chip. What a bite! And the next thing you know, you're in the kitchen opening the canister and reaching in. Insert cookie in mouth, and the cycle starts all over again. Thanks to opioids, eating certain foods becomes a highly pleasurable experience, and thanks to dopamine, we're strongly motivated to eat more of those highly pleasurable foods.
It's one thing to read what happens; it's another to actually see someone in the throes of food addiction. Watching the film Super Size Me brought my understanding of the matter to a whole new level. Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ate three "super-size" meals from McDonald's every day for a month. What struck me the most while watching Spurlock's experiment was not that he gained 30 pounds or that his cholesterol skyrocketed off the charts or even that his liver became compromised. I expected those things to happen. What really stopped me in my tracks was how Spurlock began to behave. The first time he ate a super-size meal, he vomited, just like a teenager experimenting for the first time with alcohol. But, by the end of the film, Spurlock only felt "well" when he ate the fatty, salty, starchy food from McDonald's. The rest of the time he felt depressed, washed out, irritable, and stressed; he even lost his sex drive. These are all symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal.
Homeostasis Gone Wrong
Now that we know about the addictive properties of foods high in refined carbs, fat, and salt, I'd like to discuss the impact of this on our country's weight and health. The bottom line is that Americans are fat because we overeat. We overeat because our diet is laden with foods containing that tantalizing combo of refined carbs, fat, and salt, which causes us to eat beyond fullness. The addictive nature of these foods is a major reason, if not the main reason, Americans are fat and getting fatter every day. In fact, some experts believe up to 70 percent of obesity in the U.S. is attributable to this issue.
We've already discussed how these foods stimulate the pleasure and reward systems in our brains. They also override the system that is supposed to regulate our weight. This system is called homeostasis--our appetites' on- off switch. When we have had enough calories for our bodies to function, the switch is supposed to turn off, leaving us feeling full and satiated. When our bodies require more calories, the switch flips on again, causing us to feel hungry and driven to eat. Foods with that just-right combo of refined carbs, fat, and salt--let's call them "over-stimulating foods"-- actually cause the switch to malfunction. Even after we've eaten an adequate amount of calories, we continue to feel hungry.
Homeostasis has worked just fine for millions of years. So what's causing it to go haywire now? The answer is obvious: America's processed food diet. In the beginning, millions of years ago, humans hunted and foraged for food. Then we invented and streamlined agriculture, and for about 10,000 years, we humans ate a certain way. In general, our food took a pretty direct route from the farm to our mouths. But after World War II, a major shift occurred in how we ate. That's when the food distribution chain became highly industrialized. The U.S. led the charge on this initiative. One reason for the growth and expansion of the food industry in the U.S. was that factories built to crank out weaponry and war supplies were repurposed to manufacture food items once the war ended. So instead of producing tanks and bullets, factories began manufacturing frozen dinners, potato chips, and soda.
The capability to efficiently crank out a plethora of new factory food products changed not only what we ate but how we ate. Instead of eating a balanced diet of foods close to their natural state, three times a day, we began eating "fast" and "convenient" highly processed foods that bore little resemblance to the real, natural foods that humans had eaten for millennia. Today, a day in the eating life of Mr. Typical American looks something like this: Typical wakes up in the morning and for breakfast eats a couple of toaster pastries washed down with a few gulps of sugary "fruit juice." Then, at the office, he snacks on a bag of cheese puffs and a candy bar from the vending machine. For lunch, he zips through the drive-thru for a double cheeseburger, fries, and a soft drink--super-size, of course. Then it's back to the office, where he munches on whatever sweet treat his co- worker has brought in for the office--today, it's double fudge brownies. To fight the mid-afternoon doldrums, he takes a walk to the nearest coffee shop and orders his usual grande mochaccino. Then it's home to a "lean" frozen dinner of "Mediterranean chicken." Before bed, he's hit with a craving for something sweet, so he enjoys one of his favorite midnight snacks, a big bowl of Count Chocula cereal with milk. Thanks to the gobs of refined carbs, fat, and salt in Typical's diet, all day long he's been cheered on by "feel good" opioids and "eat more" dopamine.
Human beings are not biologically designed to eat this way. Is it any wonder our biological systems are going haywire?! We humans are smart, the most intelligent beings on the planet, but in so many ways we've gotten too smart for our britches. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that we don't make the rules! Mama Nature is in charge, and Mama Nature designed us to eat mostly plants, some meat when we could get it, and not all that much of either--just enough to give us the fuel we need to function. Our brains are not meant to be inundated on a daily basis with chemicals that drive us to eat more calories than we need to live.
The human body can adapt to changes in its food supply. In fact, we co- evolve with our living food supply. For instance, when cow's milk was first introduced to us about 8,000 years ago, it didn't agree with us. But in time, most of us evolved to be able to digest it. So perhaps in time, if we continue to eat great quantities of these over-stimulating foods, our brain chemistry will calm down, and not cause us to eat more calories than we need, and we won't get fat. And perhaps eating these foods will no longer give us diabetes, heart disease, and certain kinds of cancers, among countless other maladies. Who knows, maybe in time sugar will even be good for us! This, at least, is a comforting thought, right? The kicker is that this sort of adaptation doesn't happen overnight. It takes many millions of years. Since you're not going to make that train, how about continuing along with me to relearn how to eat what Mama Nature intended you to eat?
The Many Flavors of Food Addiction
Researchers have found that people react in various ways to addictive, over- stimulating foods. For some, although they will have the opioid/dopamine release when they eat over-stimulating foods, they are not prone to becoming "addicted." These are the lucky folks who can eat just one chocolate chip cookie or potato chip! These folks simply aren't programmed to overeat. For others, the cycles of opioid and dopamine release in their brains do become a problem; however, it remains purely the chemical issue that we discussed above. But for others, the problem goes a step further. It becomes emotional. You're sad, anxious, depressed. You eat a chocolate chip cookie. While you're eating the cookie, bursts of opioids are released in your brain. Opioids produced by eating over-stimulating foods can relieve pain or stress or even calm us down when we're anxious or worked up. It becomes a slippery slope, because once your emotions become part of the equation, eating takes on a new purpose: self-medication.
For still others it goes beyond the chemical reaction and the emotional self-medicating and becomes a habit. Habits develop when familiar stimuli activate pathways in your brain to produce repetitive behavior. In the case of food, over time the repetition of eating over-stimulating food creates an automatic response. For instance, at first the eating is reward driven. You know if you eat a cookie, you will feel pleasure. But if you repeat this same act often enough, it could become habit-driven behavior, less deliberate and more repetitive. When this happens, different circuitry in your brain becomes involved.
So there are various levels of food addiction:
Chemical food addiction
Addiction resulting from emotional self-medicating
But also keep in mind that your reason for overeating over-stimulating foods can change depending on what's going on in your life or your environment or simply because of how your day is going. These foods are all around us, all the time. They are in our homes, at the gas station, in the vending machine or snack counter at the office, in our colleague's outstretched arms, at the street corner cart . . . you get my point. So we don't have to expend a lot of effort to acquire them and pop them into our mouths--no foraging or hunting required!
Table of Contents
Part I Addicted to Factory Food
Chapter 1 Factory Food Is One Hell of a Drug 3
Chapter 2 Pulling the Lid Off Factory Foods 13
Chapter 3 Sugar's Bitter Side 25
Chapter 4 The Skinny on Fat 37
Part II Real-Food Recovery
Chapter 5 What Is "Real Food"? 53
Chapter 6 Real Food Equals Real Weight Loss 57
Chapter 7 Real-Food Rehab 79
Chapter 8 Reality Bites, Or What Are You Really Eating? 91
Part III Real Food in the Real World
Chapter 9 Supermarket Survival Guide 107
Chapter 10 Get Out of the Supermarket 147
Chapter 11 Real-Food Weight Loss in Action 157
Chapter 12 Christine's Real-Food Cuisine 193
Appendix A A Feast of Real-Food Resources 275
Appendix B Real Food on a Budget 277
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was very informative on the reasons why someone should eat organic food and how it can help you lose weight. It also has great tips on how to find good organic food. The recipes are good, though, some of the ingredients are either expensive or hard to come by.
I love thee skinny chick book it is not just forr girls this diet works on anyone!!:)