February and I have not been getting along.
It seems to be a combination of things:
- Winter with the most snow ever, that seems to be lasting forever
- Uncomfortable feelings (frustration, doubt, worry) in trying to get the tech side of my online business up and running
- Turning to alcohol and food to numb some of those uncomfortable feelings
- Feeling misaligned with my beliefs and my commitment to get healthier and lose 40 lbs by July 1, 2022
- Gaining some of my weight back
After going back and forth between eating healthy food and high fat/processed food and booze over the last three weeks, I realized that I might need some help to get reset.
What do I mean by reset?
Although resetting includes habits and routines, I’m mainly talking about resetting my taste buds.
My taste buds have adapted over time to LOVE high fat and high salt foods. They really like sugar too, but sugar is not my downfall. I would dive into a bowl of potato chips or a plate of fatty, salty cheese over a tray of gooey, fudgy brownies, any day.
When you treat your taste buds to a constant supply of fat, salt, or sugar, you give them, and your brain, a steady supply of bliss: Oh ya. Divine pleasure. Heaven on my tongue. That’s what I like. Keep that feeling coming.
After indulging, your taste buds get so used to the yummy taste that when you try to give them broccoli, kale or rice, they just don’t like it. They want the familiar high they get from the fatty/salty/sugary food. Vegetables don’t cut it.
Society begins this process, by the way, with our children, giving them all kinds of unnatural processed foods. We then wonder why they won’t eat their veggies.
The process of your taste buds and brain getting used to the unhealthy food is called neuroadaptation, which just means that your taste buds and brain have adapted to the unhealthy food in such a way that they are turned off by the healthy food.
But, guess what?
The reverse is true too. Your taste buds can love veggies and greens if you just give them enough time to get to know each other. I’ve experienced this many times. You have too, I’m sure, but you may not be aware of it.
Have you ever tried to give up a certain food for a while, and in the beginning, it was hard to do? Then, after a while, you got used to it?
That’s neuroadaptation at work.
In this post, I’ll talk about how you can actually reset your tastebuds to enjoy healthy food, but before I do, let me briefly explain neuroadaptation.
In The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health and Happiness, written by Dr. Doug Lisle and Dr. Alan Goldhamer, there’s a chapter called “Magic Food”. That’s where I learned about neuroadaptation.
Here’s a recap of parts of the “Magic Food” chapter that relate to neuroadaptation:
- Involves the nerves and adaptation
- Our sensory systems depend on the nerves
- Our nerves “tell our brains what is going on and to what degree”
- The nerves provide us with a relevant (not necessarily accurate) depiction of reality. For example, when you’re in a dark room and turn on the lights, the nerves in your eyes work hard to try to see, but then after a minute or two, the nerves adapt to the change, and you can see fine, without discomfort. The dark room was your normal, and now the bright room is your normal.
- The nerves work the same way in our other senses too. Think about your sense of smell. When you walk into your home and smell dinner cooking, over time, your nerves adapt and you no longer smell the aroma coming from the kitchen. The authors use the example of a smoker who cannot smell the odor on their own clothes because their nerves have adapted. Every nonsmoker around this person can smell the odor quite well, but the smoker has become used to it.
- In developed parts of the world, people have become used to a diet that is high in fat, sugar and salt as well as added chemicals. This diet is not the natural diet we would be exposed to without the influence of industrialization in the modern world. Much of the food we’re eating artificially stimulates our taste nerves. The high fat, sugar, salt and added chemicals in the food taste good to us, and over time, our taste buds neuroadapt to those foods. Those foods become the new normal. We expect them, and we crave them.
- Resetting or resensitizing our taste buds is doable, but it’s not easy to do. The difference with our sense of taste is that the food produces effects on us that can be drug-like. Our taste buds don’t adapt as quickly as our eyesight does when we flip the lights on in a dark room. Instead, the taste buds neuroadapted to the high fat/sugar/salt and chemicals over many years, which means we feel a sense of discomfort (cravings, withdrawal), when we don’t get to eat those foods.
Take a minute and think about the power of neuroadaptation.
If you’re overweight or have chronic health issues, you very likely have adapted to eating and enjoying unhealthy foods. Foods like ice cream, cookies, cakes, chips and alcohol may be obvious as being unhealthy and something we should cut back on or avoid.
Other, less obvious foods, however, can be unhealthy for you, depending on how they’re created: pizza, rich sauces, fried food, highly processed foods, and toppings like butter and sour cream. Most animal products (meat, dairy and eggs) have more fat and salt and less nutrition than you think.
If you’re like me, there are foods that literally call out your name. You return to those foods over and over, like a dedicated puppy, because you love them. For me, cheese is the biggest culprit, which happens to go so well with another vice of mine, red wine.
Does this mean, I’m trapped and will never be able to escape the pleasure trap of unhealthy foods loaded with fat, sugar, salt, chemicals, etc.?
Does this mean you’re trapped?
You can be. It depends on what you’re willing to do. It depends on how badly you want to be healthy and lose weight. It depends on whether you are open to change and whether you’re willing to fight for the health you want.
If you’re willing to experiment and see what happens, you can reset your taste buds, so they actually crave vegetables and other healthy foods.
I’ve done this, so I know it works.
How do you reset your taste buds or neuroadapt them to enjoy healthy food?
You can do this by choosing a time period to avoid all unhealthy foods, and focus on eating only healthy foods. During this time, you should not tease your taste buds withprocessed, fatty, sugary, or salty foods.
Approaches to resetting your taste buds:
- Specific diet of certain foods
- Raw food diet
- Mono diet (eat one food like potatoes)
- Smoothie fast
- Juice fast
- Water fast
I’ve listed the approaches in order of what I see as least difficult to most difficult.
In this post, I won’t get into each approach, but I can tell you one important thing:
Taking an approach to reset your taste buds will not guarantee that you’ll successfully transition to eating a healthy diet in the long-term. However, if you stick with it, your taste buds will have time to adapt, which means you’ll have a greater chance of maintaining a healthy diet in the long run.
On the flip side, if you tease your taste buds and go back to eating crappy, unhealthy foods, your taste buds might demand more of it. Even if you just indulge once in a while.
This is the case with me. I realize not everyone is like me, but I’ve been in enough facebook groups and read enough books and articles to know that so many people battle with food like I do.
If you are like me, and you continually return to the food that does not love you, and you keep gaining weight or regaining lost weight, you are at a crossroads.
You will remain on your unhealthy path until your dying day, unless you do something different. Resetting your taste buds is one action that might help you take the exit onto the healthy highway, once and for all.
That’s what I’m trying to do now.
At this point in my weight-loss journey, I can see that I’ve been struggling for a few weeks, and I need to do something to reset my taste buds.
I’ve done water fasts before, and although they’re great (any water fast past a few days should be supervised), they take a toll on your body as it heals and detoxes. Low energy is common. I’m not willing to commit to a water fast right now.
The answer is to reset my taste buds in an easier way.
I’ve chosen the first approach, which is eating only specific foods for a short time frame. The one I chose is called “Mary’s Mini”, which was created by Dr. John McDougall and his wife, Mary McDougall.
Dr. McDougall is the author of The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good! I won’t get into the details in this post, but his approach to health is eating a whole foods, plant-based diet that is centered around starch.
That’s right, starch!
Do not believe the low-carb craze; it might help you lose weight in the short term, but in the long-term it is carbohydrates that your body needs. Dr. McDougall refers to complex carbs, natural carbs like vegetables, starches, grains and fruit. You need those! You don’t need highly refined carbs that are often found in breads, doughs, baked goods, pizza, etc.
What is a Mary’s Mini?
The McDougalls designed it as a short-term diet to kickstart a healthy lifestyle. It also helps people reset their taste buds and drop a little bit of weight quickly.
I’m doing a Mary’s Mini starting today to help me reset my taste buds, so I can get back into my routine of eating healthy foods, which I enjoy.
I love healthy food, once I’ve been eating it for a while. The problem is that I keep indulging in unhealthy foods, so I don’t give myself long enough to let my taste buds adapt.
Mary’s Mini Steps
Note: Mary’s Mini guidelines were updated in the summer of 2021.
- Choose one starch to eat at every meal. This can be: rice, corn, potatoes or sweet potatoes. Pick one you love. It can only be one. If you choose rice, you can’t switch to potatoes or beans at different meals. If you choose white potatoes, you can’t have sweet potatoes too. The idea is that the food should be a bit boring and be used only to fuel you. You will eat only if you’re really hungry.
- Prepare a batch of your starch, so you have enough in your fridge to last 3-5 days.
I’m doing potatoes. I LOVE potatoes
At each meal, fill half your plate with the starch you chose. Fill the other half of your plate with any combination of non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, green beans, bell peppers, carrots, asparagus, bok choy, cabbage, celery, greens, etc. The non-starchy veggies can be frozen or fresh.
Note: you can mix your starch and veggies together, eat them separately on the same plate, or you can eat your veggies or starch first, and then eat the other. Your non-starchy veggies can be made into a salad or soup too. As long as, visually, you have a meal with roughly half starch and half non-starchy vegetables, you’ll be doing it right.
You can have one piece of fruit per day. You can eat it with a meal or at any time during the day as a snack. This is optional.
Easy preparation: Grab your precooked starch, throw in some veggies and heat up.
- Add your favorite seasonings and condiments, as long as they are oil-free and free of any meat, dairy or eggs. Ideas are: salsa, barbeque sauce, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, herbs, spices. You can add salt, but you should be careful how much salt you add because it helps you retain water. Soy sauce, and some condiments, can be very high in sodium.
- Your food should be enjoyable and not something you are choking down. Experiment with flavorings to make your food taste delicious. Remember as well, that your first couple of meals might not taste as good to you as they will later. You’ll likely have strong cravings at the beginning. Give Mary’s Mini some time. If you eat when you are actually hungry, you will enjoy the food more. Don’t eat when it’s time to eat. Eat when you’re hungry.
If you’re doing the Mary’s Mini, you also need to:
- avoid alcohol
- avoid sugary beverages like juice or pop
You can drink coffee or tea, but do not add any dairy or sugar. I make a decaf coffee or a coffee replacement like Dandy Blend in the morning. I add homemade cashew milk. Now, nuts are not allowed during the Mary’s Mini, but if I have a small portion in my coffee in the morning, I’m ok with the small amount of cashews I’m having in my cashew milk.
Warning: Avoid making too many modifications to the Mary’s Mini diet, or you won’t have the benefits (resetting taste buds and/or losing weight). If you start adding a bit of oil here, and a little bit of cheese there, it won’t work. You can easily saute veggies without oil. I do it all the time with just a bit of water or veggie broth. If you half-ass the Mary’s Mini, it’s unlikely you’ll be successful in resetting your taste buds.
How much food should you eat on Mary’s Mini?
Eat to satiation. You need to be satisfied and no longer hungry. Avoid overeating to the point where you feel uncomfortable, though.
Prepare a portion you think will fill you up (half starch and half non-starchy veg) and eat your meal. If you still feel hungry, eat more.
You’ll find that your portions might be larger than what you normally eat, but don’t worry. You aren’t eating refined sugar or high fat foods, so it’s ok. If you stick with this short-term diet to reset your taste buds, you will lose weight (if you have weight to lose), not gain it. Your stomach will fill up on the healthy, high-fiber foods.
If you feel hungry between meals, have more of the starch food you prepared. I find potatoes are great to take when you’re on the run. If I have baked potatoes already cooked in my fridge, I can grab one, cut it in half and heat it in the microwave, add some salt and pepper, close the halves together and then wrap up the potato in foil or a container to take with me. It won’t be hot by the time I eat it, but even at room temperature, it is delicious and fills the void when I get hungry.
How Long Should I do the Mary’s Mini?
The McDougall’s recommend doing the Mary’s Mini for 10 days. You can do it for longer if you like. You can do it for a shorter time too.
If you don’t do it for long enough, however, you might not give your taste buds enough time to neuroadapt to healthier food.
I’m planning to do my Mary’s Mini for 6 days (Feb. 23 – 28). If I finish the 6 days and want to go longer, I’ll decide then.
I’m nervous about starting because I’ve been so off track with my eating this month. Will I get cravings? Will I be able to do it?
I feel confident that I can do 6 days, even with the weekend coming up. I cannot continue to indulge every weekend. If I do, I will never reach my goal of becoming healthier and losing 40 lbs by July 1, 2022.
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