I have a confession to make. I’ve been addicted to stuff before (cigarettes, coffee, The Price is Right), but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized I had a problem with a certain type of snack. Yep, I was routinely ingesting food that derailed my efforts to be fit and healthy. But it didn’t seem wrong at the time, this relic from the sunny days of my childhood, and it was so crunchy, tasty, and well, comforting, that I never hesitated to buy myself a box when I felt I deserved a treat.
Cheez-Its. Those little bastards. Nothing made me happier than curling up with a new magazine and a huge bowl of crackers, mindlessly shoveling away. Ironically, though my stomach never felt great afterwards, I did end up satisfied, on a mental level at least. But why wasn’t my brain getting the message my body was desperately trying to tell me?
Well, for three reasons.
1. Mindless eating while reading or watching tv.
This probably isn’t news to anyone, but eating while distracted causes us to ignore when our body says we’re full. So we keep right on eating, and if we just so happen to be snacking right out of the box or bag, we might polish off way more than we intended to. And I cheerfully did just that, by giving myself an extra, extra large portion to go with the me time.
2. Using junk food as a replacement for more constructive comfort.
Yep, when I used Cheez-Its as a reward, I just reinforced the idea that I deserved them, even if I knew they were bad for me, because “hey that was really stressful/awesome, and what will make me feel less stressed/more awesome is a giant box of cheezy crackers!” So ultimately any surge in mood became associated with a self-validated excuse to eat more crap.
3. Eating a snack that has been engineered to keep me constantly craving more.
Okay, so I don’t know this for a fact about the Cheez-It brand, but there is some pretty chilling evidence out there that food engineers and scientists purposefully create snacks that are just plain addictive, all for the sake of the bottom line. An excellent article from The New York Times outlines just how far some people will go to keep you hooked on salt, fat, and sugar. And boy, was I hooked.
On some level, I always knew that my love affair with a snack cracker was unhealthy. I just didn’t want to make the inevitable change just yet. I still needed them, dammit! Just one more box . . .
So Over It
Well, it had to end. And like all my other addictions, cold turkey was the only way to go. I won’t lie, when I was feeling stressed out about juggling work, school and family, I wanted to cave so bad. But I stayed strong. The results? My waistline slimmed. The cravings just . . . went away. Enough so that when I have an emotional high or low, I hardly ever think about using junk food to treat myself anymore.
Turns out, I didn’t actually need a Cheez-It crutch to lean on after all. Does this mean I’m totally junk food free? No, it happens now and again (especially at airports, for some reason), but the important thing is that the cycle is broken. I don’t feel emotionally or physically compelled to eat crap on a regular basis anymore, which means I’m fueling up on fruit and veg, and other healthy snacks that are actually, well, food.
It’s a tough reality at first. But when something makes you feel like junk, it’s got to go. Sorry, Cheez-Its. It was nice to know ya.