Dialing Down your Sweet Tooth
Which do you crave the most?
Have you ever complained that when you're dieting, the foods you have to eat have no flavor? It may actually be that you can't taste the flavor they have!
The sweeter the foods that you are accustomed to, the sweeter and sweeter foods you crave and the stronger and more frequent the cravings. By starting to transition away from very sweet foods, you "dial down your taste buds"- the foods that you eat actually taste sweeter, and you can taste the subtleties of flavors more completely.
Strong flavors actually desensitize your taste buds. Certain flavors trigger hormonal responses that tell your brain that you are "satisfied". This response adapts to the flavors you typically consume, so if you are always eating strong flavors- you won't get that hormonal "satisfaction" signal either. You, therefore, crave stronger flavors and more of them. Your body can't count calories, that's up to you, so this is just one way that we biologically gauge if we are eating properly.
What started these cravings?
I believe the following concept originated in ancient Chinese medicine, but if anyone can confirm or correct that in the comments below- I'd appreciate it (and I'll edit this text and cite you, of course)
Certain flavors have been linked to specific emotional responses as well. We crave sweets when we crave our mothers and salty foods when we crave our fathers. If you have a very strong sweet tooth, it is possible that the emotional craving comes from an emotional distance from your mother, and the same goes for salty snacks and your relationship with your father. You may also crave them at specific times when you are craving the comfort or support of either parent.
Bitter and sour flavors aren't normally flavors we crave however, because the evolutionary source of those taste buds was probably the need to taste if foods had gone bad or were poisonous.
A strange "uber-flavor" called Umami is actually the most satisfying flavor that you can eat. Umami is a flavor that hits all of your tastebuds at once- sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. This is why MSG is so fantastic tasting (though bad for your health). I also believe that this is the basis of the Sensa diet. One common umami food is the Reuben sandwich. The bread is usually a slightly bitter bread, with the sourness of the sauerkraut, the sweetness of the 1000 Island dressing, and the saltiness of the corned beef and swiss cheese.
How did it get out of control?
Because we crave more and more, the more that we have- food manufacturers have caught on and use this to get our money. They get us hooked with those sugar, salty foods and then we keep coming back and asking for sweeter and saltier foods. Its a fantastic business model, if a little evil.
As you start to dial down your taste buds, you'll think that things don't taste as good or have as much flavor. This is normal, and it's just because you've lost the ability to taste them. Over time, your taste buds will restrengthen and you will taste things completely. If you taste your old foods again after a couple months, you'll think they're overwhelmingly sweet or salty.
Why artificial sweetners are bad
Besides being a crutch and not allowing your taste buds to become accustomed to subtler flavors, artificial sweeteners actually make you GAIN weight. That's right- people who consume zero calorie foods that contain artificial sweeteners actually gain an average of 30 lbs more in a year, compared to people who consume their full sugar counterpart. This is because they are actually sweeter than sugar and make you crave more sugar. You're also playing a trick on your body that results in unstable blood sugar levels, which contributes to weight gain. Not to mention the carcinogenic qualities of several artificial sweeteners. Your best bet is to just avoid the stuff all together.
How to dial down
The first step in dialing down your taste buds is the biggest- eliminate foods that are straight sugar. This means- candy, soda, cakes and cookies, Kool-Aid, sweet tea, etc. If sugar, or corn syrup, are at the top of the ingredient list- it's probably going to be too sweet. Don't replace it with artificial sweeteners! This only tricks your body and doesn't actually reduce your craving for sweets (again- evil genius of the food manufacturers). If you're a chocoholic- replace the sweet chocolates with less sweet dark chocolates. Gummy bear freak? Try raisins, or Craisins, or dried blueberries, even dried apricots. Big on the baked goods? Why not have a piece of bread with some good no-sugar-added strawberry preserves? And all of you sugary beverage drinkers- give water a chance. You'll love it eventually- just keep drinking it.
Once you've stepped down from the straight sugars- start dialing down another notch. Juices can be diluted with water (about 2 parts juice to 1 part water), if you drink coffee or tea with sugar- start drinking it black, and reach for foods that are more and more subtly sweet whenever you crave sweets.
Once you've dialed down your taste buds, your food cravings will lessen and your weight loss goals will be easier to accomplish. When you take a swig of Coke, it will taste syrupy and unappealing. When you eat cake, you will start to want the piece with the least frosting, and you'll probably leave some on your plate. Everything will taste so much better, as if you were tasting it for the first time- because your taste buds will be more receptive to the subtleties of the flavors. If you don't love "diet foods" now, you will once you've dialed down your taste buds!
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