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Can’t stop eating cupcakes? Here’s why.

Dec 15, 2021

Being a nutritionist, and dedicating my life to studying nutrition, has made me a pretty healthy eater. I have developed a really well-rounded diet. I enjoy healthy, nutrient-dense foods, but I also like a massive piece of chocolate cake every now and again. If I want a cookie, I’ll eat one. If I want to indulge in some deep-fried chips, I’ll have them.

This is something that I teach in Permanent Weight Loss Academy. I teach to strive for balance, because there’s truly no other way to have your cake and eat it too.

So, a few months ago, I was traveling across Central America and the United States. At one point, me and my healthy-eating self ended up at my favorite grocery store in the entire universe—Trader Joe’s. I just so happened to be staying at a resort around the corner from this amazing grocery store. I was really excited to be able to shop there for a week.

As we drove up, it was almost like there was a golden glow coming off the building. I felt like I had arrived. So, I grabbed a perfectly sized Trader Joe’s cart, and I marched through the doors with my head held high.

And there they were. They were legends at this point. I’d heard about them for the past several months. They were in every vegan article. Every influencer had mentioned them.

The Trader Joe’s Vegan Cupcakes.

A big smile came over my face, and I put a package in my cart. It was only a package of four. I figured I would eat one, Paul would eat one, and we would throw away the other two.

Flash forward, 45 minutes later. I open up the cupcakes and take a bite. The next thing I knew, I had eaten two cupcakes, and Paul had done the same. They were so delicious that my mouth still waters just thinking about them.

By the end of the week, I had returned to Trader Joe’s several times, and I had eaten something like TEN cupcakes. It’s important to remember that I am a person who is really focused on nutrition. I’ve kept my weight off for several years, and I normally have my shit together. So, why was there a little monster inside me that bought a new package of cupcakes on a daily basis?

I’d like to teach you about a concept called The Pleasure Trap. The first inclination, when something like the cupcake incident happens, is for a woman to blame herself. But it has nothing to do with her personality at all. It has nothing to do with will power, or dedication, or self-love. It has to do with your 200,000-year-old brain.

Here’s what most people don’t realize. While the world has definitely changed in the last few hundred thousand years, surprisingly, our brains have not. So, even though you have an iPhone, and a laptop, and the ability to read this right now, your brain is still hanging out in a cave. And your brain has one primary goal: survival. Every single time you make a decision about anything, your brain does a cost-benefit analysis (or CBA). So, let’s say you are walking past your kitchen counter, and you are making the decision on whether you’re going to eat potato chips or a banana. Without you even realizing, your brain does a cost-benefit analysis. In other words, which food item is going to offer more for your survival.

This is exactly how people get addicted to cocaine, which offers massive “feel good” hormones. When an addict is staring down at a line of cocaine, his brain is doing a cost-benefit analysis. And his brain is going to say, “Give it to me!”

Because his brain WANTS those feel-good chemicals. The 200,000-year-old brain isn’t thinking things like, “this will be addicting” OR “this will make me gain weight.”

This isn’t true for only humans, either. All animals do a cost-benefit analysis with everything. There was a study done with chickens. Instead of giving them their normal sunflower seeds, the researchers gave them sunflower seeds baked in oil and salt. This turned the sunflower seeds into “super stimuli.” Once the chickens were exposed to this super stimuli, they went crazy every time it was offered, and the regular sunflower seeds no longer appealed to them. This is why an apple no longer tastes appealing after eating an entire bowl of candy.

So, what do you do? How do you hack your brain so that it doesn’t send you on a daily mission to eat more cupcakes?

Scientists call the brain’s cost-benefit analysis “The Pleasure Trap.” The pleasure trap works by memory. For example, after the chickens were exposed to the super salty and oily sunflower seeds, the scientists stopped giving them this super stimuli for a year. One year later, the scientists once again offered the salty, oily seeds to the chickens. The chickens still slightly remembered these seeds, but their brains didn’t fire nearly as much. Which basically means that the less frequently you eat these processed, sugary, fatty foods, the less your brain associates them with super stimuli foods, and the easier it is to avoid them.

It’s just like quitting smoking. If you completely cut these foods out, it’s really tough at first. Over time, it gets much easier. However, I really don’t recommend this. I believe in enjoying life. I couldn’t imagine going the next 70 years without another Trader Joe’s cupcake.

So, here is my advice for you. Focus on eating a diet consistent of whole, real foods the majority of the time. Indulge in these super-stimuli foods every now and then. And enjoy them! When you do indulge in these foods, be AWARE that over the next week or so, you’re going to have that addiction feeling. You’re going to want to eat more. But, as humans, we have the ability to have awareness. As long as you have this self-awareness, when your brain fires off, you can say, “no brain. Actually, you’re wrong.” Then let the cravings pass.

In other words, don’t go down an abyss where you eat a dozen cupcakes. Then you can enjoy your life and have a healthy balance. It’s also important to keep in mind that processed foods are here for our enjoyment, only. They don’t provide nutrients or take care of our body in any way. When we realize this, we can treat them as “treats” and enjoy them when we choose.

Love, Julia

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