Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Reader Advice Day: Addicted to the Restaurant High

Do you get a thrill from eating out?

I do.

Ever wonder why?

I'm pretty sure I know.

It's that irresistible combination of fat, salt and sugar. And boy, do restaurants know how to tickle our taste buds with more of those three ingredients than most of us would ever dare to put into our food at home.

Think about it, restaurants want to stay in business. To do that they need to make you keep coming back for more, which means they are absolutely going to load up on the high calorie stuff that tastes so good (have you read The Pleasure Trap by Doug Lisle? He explains it all so simply.). It all adds up to tons of calories. Of course, not all restaurants do it, but the majority do.

People can literally become addicted to restaurant food. I'd venture to say that millions upon millions of Americans are. That's what restaurants bank on!

A few days ago, I received this e-mail from a reader:

Hi Wendy,

I've been following your blog for the past year and I've loved learning more about you and your style of eating. (And thank you for introducing me to Chef AJ!)

Over this past week, my husband has sort of "come out" to me as a full-on food addict. This is something I've been vaguely aware of over the past few years together, but I hadn't realized the full extent of it. I guess I'm just looking to you for some support as I try to support him.

My husband says that eating out is constantly at the forefront of his mind 24/7. It's all about when he can get that next "hit" of delicious restaurant food. We don't tend to eat out very often here at home, but at his work, his coworkers go out for lunch every single day. I make a lunch for him to take daily, but he'll join his friends at lunch just to get out of the office. Of course, I'm sure that you can see that putting himself in such a high temptation situation is bound to fail quite often. This is both a health and a financial concern for me, as we have a monthly budget set aside for his lunches out. Last month, he spent twice his budget on eating out, and this is far from the first time he's failed to fall within the allotted budget. The money isn't really a huge deal--we're doing fine--it's just more of the red flag of lack of control.

I really want to help him to get past this addiction, but I don't know what to do. My first thought is to institute a month long cleanse of all eating out, shutting it all down and trying to readjust his tastes. He has said that the addiction isn't all taste but the overall special or party experience, but maybe going a few weeks without the experience could help too? However, with his current work situation, I just don't see how such a thing would be possible. He's exposed daily to that external pressure and temptation to eat out. I also don't know whether he's ready to work on giving up the highs of food. He struggles to care about the health concerns, even though I worry about that for him. I try to cook healthy at home, even trying out some fully SOS-free meals, but he just won't eat some of these things. He tends to balk at my pushes for healthier food as they just aren't satisfying for him.

We're obviously just starting out what's going to be a long road, and I'm sorry this has been so long. I'm just really looking for some guidance on how to best help him.

Thanks for taking the time, Wendy.

Well, from your letter, it sounds as if we are talking about run of the mill food addiction. It's all that salt, sugar and fat that's in the restaurant food, lighting up your husband's brain as if he snorted a line of cocaine at the table. It's no wonder he thinks about it all day long. I would too.

He says it's not the food, that it's the "party" experience, but I'm calling b.s. on that. It's most likely the food.

If it wasn't, he'd be at those restaurants ordering a Hugh Jass salad and asking for vinegar on the side.

And you wouldn't be so worried about him.

There's nothing defective about your husband. And nothing to be ashamed of. He's just highly susceptible to the effects of salt, sugar and fat, and the only way to break free is complete abstinence.

If it was booze that your husband was addicted to, would you send him in to a bar each day at lunch time?

I don't think so.

But no amount of you wanting to help him is going to make a difference unless he himself is ready to change and wanting to change more than just about anything else. It's that proverbial "has he hit rock bottom" thing. Unless he has, it's going to be very tough.

If he does want to make the change, I highly recommend that he eats only home cooked, SOS free food for at least thirty days. He needs a massive taste bud readjustment. 

Believe it or not, taste buds do readjust. 

Brains do heal. 

Miracles do occur! 

I've experienced it myself.

If you'd like help with this, I'd be happy to help the two of you wade your way through the mess. Just e-mail me over at healthygirlskitchen@gmail.com. We can arrange for a telephone call.

In the meantime, pick up a copy of the book The End of Overeating by David Kessler and The Pleasure Trap by Doug Lisle.

Leave them laying around and pray that your husband picks one up and shows some interest.

You need his buy in.

He just might get so angry about how his brain has been hijacked that he will want to do something about it.

What do you think? What would you do if you were in this reader's situation?

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