Bliss point foods vs. willpower
Those delicious snacks that you just can’t put down… the sauce you have to put on everything… the ready meal orconvenience food you can’t get enough of… Why don’t you have enough willpower to switch to healthier alternatives? What’s keeping you hooked into them? These are what the food industry call bliss point foods. And they are engineered specifically to keep you wanting more.
The bliss point formula
The term “bliss point” was coined by Howard Moskowitz, a market research and psychophysicist for the food industry. He’s worked on tinned spaghetti, fizzy drinks, soups, salad dressings, pizzas and more for several high profile companies.
His aim: to achieve the perfect balance of sweet and salty, fatty and salty, fatty and sweet or all 3 to get your brain’s reward systems buzzing. You get a dopamine hit that triggers endorphins and other chemicals that give you a moment of bliss, i.e they hit your bliss point. And then when that moment comes to an end, your brain wants more. Now please.
So successful was the formula, that now most processed foods are engineered with your bliss point in mind. Hooking you in, leaving you wanting more and more.
Emotional responses to food
This is possible because we are already hard-wired to have emotional responses to food. Once upon a time, as hunter gatherers, we would perhaps have seen a cluster of berries on a bush and feel a rush of positive emotion. The sight of the berries would make us feel good, and eating them would give us an energy boost – plus a pleasure hit to reinforce our desire for them if we see them again.
As we have evolved within a growing society, the simple pleasure-reward trigger now become, for most of us, a complex mesh of comfort eating, self sabotaging, confusing cravings and mixed messages about what we should eat. The food industry has found a clever way to manipulate this, and bliss point foods have now entangled themselves into that mesh.
Willpower won’t get us out of this fix. Neither will giving ourselves a hard time.
Breaking the bliss point habit
- Savour every mouthful – with joy
The more you allow yourself to fully enjoy each mouthful, the less urgent those cravings for more usually become. It also slows down your eating and gives your body a chance to tell you when you’ve had enough. Most importantly, it’s the opposite of giving yourself a hard time and feeling guilty or shameful, and so takes the negative energy out of comfort eating and binge eating.
- Read labels
Get to know how much sugar, salt and fat is in your food. Choose options that have low to moderate amounts of these. Learn to recognise ingredients that are types of sugar, such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, dextrose and corn syrup – these will all have a similar impact. As will fruit concentrate and dried fruit, which contain high levels of sugar.
- Make your own snacks
It can be so quick and easy to make tasty snacks that are bursting with nutrients and lower in bliss point elements (sugar, salt and fat).
Usually a crisp or salted peanut person? These are not only bliss point foods, but often contain high levels of damaged fats. Instead, gently toast (dry fry) pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a pan until they start to pop, quickly stir in a small drizzle of tamari/soya sauce and leave to cool. For a spicy version, stir in dried chilli flakes at the same time.
The energy balls you buy in shops are usually expensive and packed full of sugar, with sugar-rich fruit and/or syrups making up the bulk of ingredients. Make batches of your own with a lower ratio of sugar to protein, and flavours that you love. Here’s how: Healthy snacks: nut truffle and energy ball recipes
- Cook flavoursome meals from scratch
This way you have control over how much sugar, salt and fat goes in. Salt, sugar and fat all make things seem tastier than they actually are – especially salt, which can lift flavours substantially. By using fresh herbs, good quality spices and organic ingredients, your meals will be bursting with flavour, and much more satisfying than anything you’ll buy.
Cooking from scratch doesn’t need to take huge skill or a long time. Most of the recipes I share here and on instagram and facebook are delicious meals and snacks I whip up in about 20-30 minutes. Occasionally I enjoy taking longer preparing a meal, but you don’t have to.
Featured photo by Raizza Videña from Pexels
Crisps photo by icon0.com from Pexels