Using Sleep to Change Our Tastes

One of the most difficult parts of going whole food, plant-based is that most of us come to it after a lifetime of eating animal-based foods; lots of fat, sugar and salt; and plenty of processed foods. We have built up a taste for these foods over the course of a lifetime, and it can seem extremely difficult if not downright impossible to give up those tastes. I know when I started, I had regular cravings for premium ice creams; nice thick, juicy steaks; beer-can chicken cooked on my Big Green Egg; 18-hour slow-roasted pork butt; and of course everyone's favorite, bacon.

I didn't think I could give those things up, and the only things that saved me were the book VB6 by Mark Bittman and a couple of decisions I made to challenge myself. The book by Mark Bittman suggested being vegan all day except for one meal, and then at that one meal, I could eat whatever I wanted to eat. That sounded doable to me. I could eat like a vegan during the day because I knew later on for dinner I was going to eat the foods I really enjoyed.

And fortunately back then, we didn't have all the processed vegan foods that we do today. By that I mean the ones today that do such a great job of replicating the taste of meat and cheese and ice cream. If we had, I never would have lost my taste for those animal foods. Sure there were vegan foods back then, but they were bland to awful tasting and it took some real dedication to liking them. As a consequence, I was forced to really eat plant-based when I wasn't having my one animal-based meal during the day. I ate lots of beans and greens, and over time, that caused me to develop a taste for beans and greens.

In fact, it was in developing that taste for beans and greens that I began to not want animal-based foods or processed foods anymore. I actually started to prefer real plant-based foods that came from a plant as opposed to being made in a plant. And so some of those meals where I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted, I found myself wanting the beans and greens more often until finally I stopped eating animal-based foods altogether.

The other thing I did is I challenged myself. The first time I went out to dinner was with family to a steakhouse. And I've told this story before. I wanted to see if I could actually go into a steakhouse and not order a steak without it seeming weird. I did that successfully and that taught me I could really do this. The next challenge was Thanksgiving. We had Thanksgiving for the family at my house and I cooked a turkey on the Egg for my family, but for me, I made a stuffed squash. That worked out too. So, by then I knew I could really do this.

I think we all need to challenge ourselves to overcome a lifetime of bad habits. Continuing the status quo doesn't work. And that's one reason, I've never bought into the idea of transition foods. Transition foods cause us to continue having our taste for animals and for processed foods. And today's products coming on the market, where manufacturers have discovered unhealthy saturated fat in coconut oil and started using that to give fake meats and cheeses the same texture and taste as animal-based products, are very good. But the problem is, they continue to perpetuate our desire for animal products.

For those of us who are whole food, plant-based, we want to get away from unhealthy options and eat healthy foods, which are the beans and greens, veggies, fruits, whole gains and nuts and seeds as they grow in nature. But even as one who loves animals and supports the vegan movement, I can't eat foods that taste like the animals I love and want to protect. To me, that would just be weird.

So, for me, I need to be fully weaned off of the desire to eat animal-based products, and transition foods don't do it. But in a new book, titled Why We Sleep, I discovered that we might be able to program ourselves during sleep to forget the taste of animals. Researchers it turns out have found out that we can train the brain to forget things as well as to learn things. A recent study took a group of participants and gave them a number of words, telling them to remember certain words but also consciously telling their brain to forget the other words. Then half the subjects were given a nap and the other half were required to stay awake. At the end of the project, they tested the subjects and found that those who stayed awake remembered both the words to remember and the ones to forget. But the group that slept after telling their brain to forget certain words, was found to remember the words they were told to remember but they had forgotten the words they told their brain to forget.

The book points out that this has real-time implications for people wanting to get rid of bad addictive behaviors. We can consciously tell our brain to forget the behavior and then sleep on it. Of course, I'm not so naive as to think a lifetime of eating rich foods will be forgotten over one night's worth of sleep. But I am intrigued by the idea that we can possibly over time lose our desires for certain foods by telling our brain to forget what they taste like.

One reason I believe this can work, besides the fact of the published study, is that as a child my dad told me if I want to avoid a nightmare over a scary or disturbing event that I witnessed during the day, all I had to do was to tell my brain not to dream about it. I've been doing that for nearly 70 years now and not once have I had a dream or nightmare about something I told my brain I didn't want to dream about.

So, give it a try if you're struggling with cravings for the SAD diet. It might just work. But what I do know is that the quicker we give up foods that taste like animals and other processed foods, the quicker we will develop a taste for whole plant-based foods.

J Lanning Smith
October 3, 2018

DISCLAIMER

This blog is intended to divulge my experiences and what I have learned in following a mostly plant-based nutrient-rich diet. What has worked for me may not work for others. And what I have learned may or may not be correct. Statements expressed on this blog are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or nutritional advice. While I have read a lot about nutrition, I am not a trained or degreed nutritionist. Readers should seek their own professional counsel for any medical condition or before starting or altering any exercise or dietary plan.


The Three Reasons I Overeat

I've heard it said that you can't overeat on a whole food, plant-based diet.  And yet, I know that I oftentimes will eat when I'm not hungry. And while I've kept my weight within a five pound range for the last three and a half years since losing 150 pounds, I still feel that there's another ten pounds or so that I would like to lose. And it seems like eating when I'm not hungry might be the culprit that is keeping me from losing that last ten pounds.

Now, the good news is that I've had both Dr. Frank Sabatino and Dr. Alan Goldhamer stay at my house in the last year, and both of them have told me that I'm fine and I shouldn't stress about losing that last ten pounds. But I still want to, and so because of that, I think that conquering my overeating habit is important.

I've figured out that there are three reasons I overeat. And some of these may be things you do too. So, I thought it important to publish this. The first step in conquering any problem is to recognize that we have a problem and then identify the reasons (what we would have called the root causes back during my professional years) for the problem.

So, along those lines, here are my three reasons:

I overeat out of habit

This may be the biggest issue that I face. Over time, there are certain habits that I've formed. For example, I've enjoyed a big bowl of air-popped popcorn spiced with nutritional yeast while watching TV on many nights. This is probably a habit that I started even before going whole food, plant-based, except at that time I would eat a bag of microwave popcorn from the store (being oblivious to all the trans and saturated fats and salt I was consuming with that popcorn).

Or sometimes I'll get into the habit of having a bowl of nice cream for dessert after dinner. It's healthy, right? It's nothing but frozen fruit and bananas or frozen peanut butter and bananas. And it tastes like the old ice cream I used to enjoy. But the problem is, I first of all take big scoops of it and secondly, I eat it even though I'm entirely full from dinner.

And that's the real issue. We can't overeat on a whole food, plant-based diet if we stop when we're full (or as some people do, stop when they're 80% full). But I don't do that. Out of habit, I will eat foods even when I'm full.

Out of habit, I eat three bananas a day (full or not full). And that might be in addition to the nice cream.

So, the first order of business I've decided is to not eat when I'm not hungry. That's a conscious decision that I've made, and it's one that we have to make. Eat only when hungry.

The other conscious decision that I've made is to not eat after dinner at night (or after 7 pm if I've eaten an early dinner). That is the hardest resolution (so to speak) to keep, but I think it's an important one. I have all my life habitually eaten at night. In fact, I would bet that there are many times when I've consumed more calories after dinner than I did the whole rest of the day. So, I think that's important.

In making these decisions, it's good to change the events too that trigger them. For example, if watching television triggers a person to eat, then doing something else might make it easier to not eat. I find reading a book can work in that regard because it's more difficult to hold the book and turn the pages while also holding food and eating it (although it's not impossible; I have done it).

I overeat in anticipation of hunger

This problem is usually most prevalent to me at the beginning of the day; whereas, the habitual eating is a problem at the end of the day.

I generally make it a point to not eat until 11 am in the morning. I do that in order to intermittently fast. I want to get in a good 12 hour fast each day before I start to eat. And now that I've decided not to eat after 7 pm on most days, that fast extends to 16 hours.

What that means is I generally eat only two meals a day instead of three. But if I have an event in the morning that isn't going to allow me to eat at 11 am, then I will eat before the event. That's because I'm anticipating being hungry but not being able to eat at 11 am. That ends up doing two things usually. First, it causes me to break my fast earlier than I wanted to and usually when I'm not hungry. Plus it throws my schedule off and I will eat a second meal after the event and still then eat dinner that night. So, a scheduled event can easily add another meal into my day.

I think perhaps the answer to that might be to take something light, like a small bag of nuts or raisins to the event and feed my hunger when it arrives. But again, be conscious of when I'm hungry and don't feed myself when I'm not hungry.

I overeat in order to avoid wasting food

One of the problems with being whole food, plant-based is food really does expire. You can buy processed foods, that may have expiration dates stamped on them, but the truth is, the food (or should I say the chemicals they call food) will be around forever.  But one trait of a whole, plant-based food is that it does go bad. And oftentimes, that happens before we can eat it.

I never like to waste or throw out food, although I have heard it said that it gets wasted either way. It either is waste or it goes to your waist where it's also not needed.

And the answer is another conscious decision. I used to do all my shopping for a week at a time. And I tended to buy more than I needed because I could play all these "what if" scenarios in my head. What if the store is out of this item next time I go to buy it? What if I can't get to the store for whatever reason? What if there's an emergency?

So, I buy the food and then I feel compelled to eat it. And sometimes that means eating more food than I should. But that's the wrong answer.

I've now put all that to rest. I now only buy certain foods that spoil easily for a few days at a time. And if I'm faced with food expiring before I eat it, I give the excess away. I no longer feel compelled to eat it just to make good use of it.

So, those are my three reasons for why I overeat. I'm sure we each have our own reasons for it. Or maybe I'm unique and nobody else overeats. But in the interest of helping those who do, I think those might be three reasons that some others can identify with too.

And the one takeaway for me is to make sure I only eat when I really am hungry and not to eat when I'm not hungry, regardless of the reason I might have for doing so.



Community

I have a confession to make. I actually read Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman over ten years ago. And I actually tried to follow it for a couple of hours. But I quickly determined that it was impossible to follow. For the couple of hours that I tried it, I didn't feel satisfied, and I questioned whether or not I was really getting all the nutrition that I needed.

It wasn't until I moved to where I live now and discovered the Eat Smart Live Longer Club that I began to take eating whole plant-based foods seriously. I was writing for SunSations, a local community magazine, at the time and I learned about the club from a fellow writer on the magazine, Ellie Dixon who had begun following the whole food, plant-based way of eating.

I attended my first meeting of the club and there were several hundred people at the meeting. It seemed like even more than that because that meeting was held in a smaller space than where the meetings are currently held. I had to search to find a seat in the room. But it seemed like I was on to something. Or I should say, the club was on to something.

I was reminded of that this afternoon while listening to Freakanomics on NPR. They talked about an experiment that was done in one town trying to figure out what message would get people to reduce their energy consumption the most. The scientists conducting the experiment had the local utility put out four different notices to homes in the area. One notice appealed to people's altruistic nature and just asked them to "please" reduce their energy consumption in order to save the environment. The second notice asked people to reduce their energy consumption in order to reduce their monthly billing. The third noticed asked people to reduce their energy consumption in order to conserve energy so that it would be available in the future for their children and grandchildren. And the fourth notice announced that their neighbors were all trying to conserve energy by reducing their energy consumption.

Then they watched what happened with energy consumption from each household. What happened was that only one of those four groupings actually reduced energy consumption after receiving the notice. And the group that did that was the fourth group that was told their neighbors were all reducing their energy consumption.

In other words, as much as we like to believe we are independent and act on our own logic, the fact is, we tend to follow the herd. We do what those around us do. And that has major implications for both whether or not we will follow a whole food, plant-based way of eating and also whether or not we can convince others to follow this way of eating. For example, what if instead of focusing energy on "converting" a friend or family member, we focused on a group of people such as a church congregation or a softball team?

Think Rip Esselstyn and what he did with the Engine 2 firehouse for example. One firefighter might not have done it on her own. But a whole firehouse of firefighters might once the idea has been presented to them. And in fact, a whole firehouse did.

When I think about it, I realize that I needed the Eat Smart Live Longer Club in order to do this. I would not have done it on my own. I'm thankful every day for the fact that we made the decision to move here back in 2011. Had we not moved here, then I would not have found this club (or they would not have found me), and I would still be overweight with lots of problems (assuming I'd still be alive).

Now, I'm sure there are some who will read this and declare, "I'm doing it by myself." But are you really? Would you or could you do it without Facebook and the communities that it builds for example? Could you or would you do it without blogs like this and webinars and conferences and so on?

We are both social animals and animals who follow the herd. It's in our biological nature. And that's why eating whole plant-based foods can become a movement. As more and more people do it, more and more people will join in. For those who do not live in a community where there are others eating this way, it can be of value to search out those who are and to form a club or a group to do this. It will be rewarding not just to you but to those who join and those who are exposed to those who join.

J Lanning Smith
August 25, 2018

Government and the Promotion of Industry Over Health

Scott Gottlieb, who chairs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the intent of the agency to allow only the use of the word "milk" for those products meeting its definition. And what is the FDA's definition of the term milk? According to Title 21 Part 131 of the Code of Federal Regulations, milk is defined as "the lacteal secretion from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows."

So, out with nursing mothers. You'll have to find another name for your breast milk. Out with milk of magnesia. Out with goat's milk. Out with soy milk and out with oat milk and out with rice milk. And of course, out with nut-based milks. No matter that we can trace the making of almond milk back to 1597 when the Herball or Generale Historie of Plantes referenced almond milk as being the liquid pressed from almonds. That precedes the dairy industry as we know it today.

I suppose the one species among us that will be happy is the cat. As cat lovers know, cats love milk from cows, but not so much nut-based milks. They'll tolerate nut-based milks, but as a species, they seem to really go for the lactating secretions of the bovine. LOL!

At any rate, this is exactly why I recently opposed a bill in Congress that would have required food stamps, or should I say SNAP benefits, to be used for only healthy foods. Because as soon as you require that, then you have to define what is and what isn't a healthy food. And who would do that? The answer is, it would be defined by government bureaucrats working for political appointees who bend to the wishes of politicians who do what lobbyists with the biggest checkbooks want done.

And the biggest checkbooks when it comes to food are held by the dairy industry, the meat industry and the processed food industry. These groups hold sway over the government when it comes to defining what is healthy. And, like the tobacco industry, they can create enough confusion through their funded scientific projects, to make the average government employee not really know for sure what is healthy and what is not healthy.

That's how we ended up with a food pyramid for so many years that had people eating 11 servings of white bread, white pasta and rolls and croissants and other so-called grains. And because of the government's war on fat, we all thought as long as we bought fat-free doughnuts and sweets, we were eating healthily. And Americans continued to get fatter and fatter. And sicker and sicker.

So, no I don't want the government telling us how to eat. And that's why I will fight against attempts by the government to do so. Telling SNAP recipients that they can only buy certain foods with their food stamps is a move in the wrong direction by allowing government more say over what we eat. You know that if this FDA regulation goes through, that cow's milk would be on the healthy okay to buy side and nut milks would be off the list. The government would give in to the dairy industry and SNAP recipients would not be allowed to buy nut milks with their benefits.

The fight needs to be through informing people at a more individual level. Change needs to happen person by person. It needs to happen because the person wants to change, not because government is forcing change. If the dairy industry becomes successful in forcing through this change, then the meat industry will be next in demanding that only animal muscle be identified meat. Which I would be less adverse to because I don't believe there is anything particularly healthy about the fake meats that are out there. And I think true vegans should not be trying to imitate the taste of animals in their food choices.

But regardless of what I think on that, I don't think government should be dictating our food choices. We need to leave it up to each individual to learn to eat right. It's easy to pass laws and to sign executive orders. The hard work comes at the grassroots level of getting in there and teaching people why they should eat whole food, plant-based, helping them to learn how to do it and working to eliminate the food deserts that so many of them live in. That's the work that counts. That's what will bring meaningful change.

Whole Food, Plant-Based Social Connections

One of the things I hear from many people trying to follow a whole food, plant-based way of eating is they find their social calendar begins to have less and less in it due to their friends, and in some cases family, not wanting to invite them to functions involving food. And what function doesn't involve food? This is a problem for many reasons. For one, we are social beings. It's not healthy for us to live without social contacts or with a limited number of social contacts. Having a friend you can confide in is considered important for longevity and good health.  But secondly, many people end up falling back to their old ways rather than give up on their social life. And that's sad because they know eating WFPB is healthier for them. But it's also sad because giving up on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles is not an answer to the social problem.

There are a couple of answers to the social problem. Some, most of us know about. For example, always offering to bring a dish that will not only allow you something to eat but will also feed others at the social event. And when doing so, it pays to really show off your best dish so that people will want you to bring food to their events. Sometimes, if there are multiple courses, you might even have to bring a couple dishes. For example, you might bring a main dish for yourself, which doubles as a side dish for others, along with a dessert that you can share with others. If you find out a chocolate cake is in the plans for dessert, then you could bring a nice cream that would pair with the cake for others at the event. And then you just eat the nice cream.

Those are little tricks that we know about. But I want to talk about another idea that comes out of the Blue Zones, and in particular out of Okinawa. In Okinawa, where the longest-living women are, they form moais for life. What is a moai you might ask? It is a small group of friends that begin getting together in childhood and those groups, with the same friends, continue to get together for life on a regular basis. So, when you see a moai of one hundred year old women, you can know that that moai has been in existence for almost one hundred years.

Dan Beuttner has brought the concept back and has incorporated it in many Blue Zones project communities. In this case, people form in to their own small groups and usually with a purpose. The purpose might be to form a walking moai or to form a pot luck moai. But I'd like to suggest something even broader than that. And I say broader than that because it's too easy to go into a pot luck group or into a walking group and get together once a week or once a month but not really get to know each other all that well. You end up going to fulfill the purpose of the group as opposed to establishing lasting and important friendships.

I think the Okinawan moais had a much broader purpose. I think the women who formed them and stayed within them for ninety to a hundred or more years did more than just walk together once a week or do a pot luck together on some designated schedule. And that's what I suggest we do as well. Find a group of like minded people, maybe around ten people total, and commit to work toward establishing true friendships. Invite each other into your homes. Go out together to restaurants and to shows and to baseball games and to wherever you might want to go out. Walk together too. Help each other out when help is needed. Build lasting relationships. And with these new lasting relationships, just as we crowd out animal-based and processed foods by focusing on whole plant-based foods, these new relationships will eventually crowd out the older relationships that are no longer working.

The benefit of course is you can build solid personal relationships and social interactions with people who are like minded about what they eat and how they take care of themselves. And that gives us a very supportive environment, which is important to our success.

And this should be done even if you are in a large community of whole food, plant-based eaters. Of course, the nice thing about being in a large community such as my own Eat Smart Live Longer Club is that it makes it easier to find like minded people to form a moai with. And even if someone else in the moai from such a community isn't totally whole food, plant-based, you at least know they are sympathetic to your needs and they won't be trying to sabotage you or shunning you.

While club and organization leaders can promote this kind of activity by holding social events that allow members to meet each other and to form their own individual moais, people don't have to wait for leadership or depend on leadership to do this. Members can seek out other members to do this on their own.

For those who don't belong to clubs or organizations focused on whole plant-based foods, the task may be a little more difficult but not impossible. Today, with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it becomes possible to more easily seek out people with similar interests in your area.

The advantage is, your social life will continue and build on itself. Eating whole food, plant-based won't be a negative for your social life. It will be a positive. And you may develop some serious friendships as a result. That is the goal.