Cooked Food Addiction, And How It’s Destroying Our Health

NadiaBlog, Raw Food Lifestyle, Raw Foods Diet, Raw Vegan Lifestyle

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We’re a nation of addicts

And we consume this highly addictive substance 3, 4 or 5 times per day, without realizing it’s a problem. And I’m not talking about alcohol or drugs. I’m referring to cooked food: the seemingly ‘innocent’ substance we consume every day, and the substance that’s seriously damaging to our health.

If you’re currently consuming cooked foods at every meal – like the majority of the Western world – the idea of going straight from something close to the Standard American Diet to a completely raw one is enough to give you palpitations (and have you running away from any raw vegan advocate as fast as your legs can carry you). And this is completely understandable, because our society has been led to believe that cooked food = normal and healthy, and raw vegan = rabbit food, too difficult, and downright loony. But cooked foods often do serious damage to our physical and mental health, especially when we use them to ‘comfort’ ourselves, as we so often do. So, if switching to whole, fully raw foods can help to end this addiction, and fill your body with the energy and health that it so desperately craves, why wouldn’t we?

Here’s why we’re addicted, the damage it does to our bodies and how we can combat it. Say goodbye to your dependence on toxic foods forever and be that weird person who decides to do the most amazing thing you could possibly do for your body, the animals the environment. I know, right – crazy.

Is cooked food addictive?

It’s probably not surprising if I say that a lot of addictive foods are considered ‘junk’. Is it any wonder we struggle to cut off from the fat-laden burgers, sugar-filled shakes, and chemical-abundant desserts when they’ve all been manufactured to be ‘hyperpalatable’? In other words, we think they taste good. They contain loads of calories, and cause serious sugar imbalances, leading us to, when the initial ‘high’ has worn off, crave more.

It’s also a generally accepted practice in our society to ‘reward’ ourselves and our kids with junk food. But when we associate gratification with the consumption of food, dopamine is released, giving us that high and playing a crucial role in our addiction. Given that dopamine is what makes an animal in a lab (abhorrent in itself) press levers for food over and over and is released when using drugs like nicotine, cocaine and heroin, it’s pretty obvious that linking food to reward has some serious consequences on our physiological and psychological dependency.

And it’s not just ‘junk food’ we use to comfort and reward ourselves. Dishes often considered ‘healthy’, like pastas and sandwiches, can have the same effect.

So why don’t we just eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full? When we activate these brain reward pathways over and over again, it overrides the safety and hunger signals that would normally prompt us to eat. We’re no longer eating to live; we’re living to eat.

So what if we’re addicted?

Just like we joke about our caffeine addictions (which is also seriously harming our health), is it really so bad if we’re addicted to cooked? What’s the harm? You may have already read my 7 Reasons to Go Fully Raw article, and so know that there are very serious health reasons why cooked food is damaging our bodies, and raw food can heal it.

Not only is cooked food harder to digest and has its nutritional value stripped by the heating process, but it’s also making us sick. Unsurprisingly, cooked meats can increase the likelihood of colon cancer and damage our hearts. And it’s not just meat. Cooking cheeses can produce a chemical called ammonia, and starches can produce acrylamides, both toxic by-products that, if they were products on a supermarket shelf, we wouldn’t go anywhere near. Slap a fancy packet on it, and say it’s ‘healthy’, though, and we’re all over it. 

Cooking any food essentially changes its chemical make-up. And, despite the stereotypes about vegan and raw vegan diets being expensive, this is simply not true! The last time I checked (I’ve literally just checked), meat is an extortionate price. Which is fair really, given the unnecessary sacrifice that animal has had to make for the sake of a burger. And so is dairy and processed food, when you actually look at what you’re getting for your money: feeling rubbish, pus, and sickness. Tasty.

And even if you’re vegan and buy the mock cheeses and meats, biscuits and ice creams, it could end up costing you quite a lot of your hard-earned wage. But with raw vegan, you’re looking at fruits, veggies, and a small amount of nuts and seeds only. And you do not have to buy pounds of medjool dates, cashew butters, goji berries and fancy raw truffles every day. Stick with low cost fruits and veggies like bananas, oranges, grapes, kale, lettuce and celery, but just make sure you eat loads of them! What other way of eating tells you to do that?

Food as a reward

So where does the link between food and reward come from? Simply think back to your childhood. How often were you given candy to cheer you up when you were sad? How often were you taken for a junk food meal if you did something good? How often were you offered sugary treats if you behaved? If your younger years were anything like mine, pretty often! Most of us have experienced this linking of good behavior with food, and the reward doesn’t often come in the form of healthy food, for obvious reasons. When’s the last time you saw a parent say to their child, ‘If you calm down, we can go and get a green smoothie, okay?’ I can’t imagine it would have the desired effect. I mean it would on me, but…

And most of us are guilty as parents of doing exactly the same to our children, myself included, until I realized how damaging it could be.

Comfort Eating

Go back far enough, before Western society was filled with an endless smorgasbord of toxic treats stockpiled on the shelves and invading our homes, people ate when they needed to. Food was once a source of fuel for our bodies, and not a treat, a reward, a way to comfort ourselves. But now, we’ve done a complete 180. If I ask which phrase fits your attitude to food more accurately – ‘eat to live’ or ‘live to eat’, I imagine you’d probably choose the latter. The majority us certainly would.

From social events with friends to family gatherings, to celebrations and break-ups, our lives center around the consumption of food. What’s the first thing we reach for when a relationship ends? Ice cream.

As clinical psychologist Susan Albers explains, each decision to eat is rooted in a feeling. Emotional or comfort eating occurs when we feel we can’t cope with a particular feeling, and so turn to food to calm us down or cheer us up.

It’s such an ingrained part of our psyche, that we never stop to think about it. Of course, that tub will make us feel better in the short term, with the release of dopamine, and the copious amounts of sugar running through our veins giving us a temporary high, but what about after? Sugar crashes, headaches and cravings for that high once more.

Lissa, a fellow raw vegan, has a great video about comfort foods, and how she tackled her comfort eating habits. She explains how she turned to chips to deal with low self-esteem, but found healthy alternatives when raw vegan. Eventually, after turning to these healthy foods when she felt she needed comfort, she started to feel happier and better about herself (probably because of all the vitamins, I imagine!), and so felt the need to comfort eat less and less.

So if you’re trying to cut down the comfort and emotional eating, raw vegan alternatives are a great way to start your journey to breaking free. Most of us have particular meals or snacks we turn to for comfort in stressful times, and for reward when there’s a celebration to be had. But these are the 5 comfort foods I always used. And I still have them occasionally. Just the raw vegan versions, of course, whilst using other ways to deal with my thoughts and feelings.

Ice cream

Yes indeedy. Raw vegan is not all about salad. I mean it’s largely about salad, but it’s important to know that, whilst you’re trying to combat cooked food addictions and comfort eating habits, that there’s a sweet but health-filled alternative.

From good old vanilla to beautifully decadent rocky road (you have to make it to believe it), all you’ll need to whip up this delicious sweet treat is a blender, like a Vitamix.

I even eat this stuff for breakfast.

And if you find yourself in the position of a break-up, reaching for the rocky road by Fully Raw Kristina, you’ll feel so full of energy and life afterwards, that you’ll realize a lot quicker that there’s plenty more seaweed in the sea. Well, you can’t say fish anymore, considering the state of the oceans, but that’s another article entirely…

Mac n Cheese

Raw vegan “mac & cheese”

Om. Nom. This super creamy raw vegan mac and cheese will provide you with the tastes of this American favorite, but without the toxic fats, sugary carbs and digestion-wrecking rubbish. Munch away.


Lasagna

Raw. Vegan. Lasagna.

Continuing with the pasta theme, lasagna was always a dish I used to turn to for a comforting evening meal. This raw vegan lasagna is simply delish, and again, packs in the flavor, with none of the toxins. Or, if or have someone to impress with your raw vegan skills, whip up some of these super sophisticated looking lasagna rolls. Who said being raw vegan isn’t fancy?!

Chips

A few years ago, put a bag of chips in front of me, and I’d eat it. No matter the flavor, no matter the size, I was devouring those bad boys; sharing was strictly off the table. This was especially the case if I felt overwhelmed or stressed. Eating chip after chip gave me a distraction from dealing with my emotions.

Raw vegan chips & crackers

Now, I deal with these emotions in healthier ways (see below for a guide!), although I still enjoy chips in moderation. It’s super easy to make raw vegan chips, whether they’re squash chips or super fancy cheesy kale flavor. Just grab yourself a life-changing dehydrator. Seriously, forget winning the lottery. All you need to live the high life is one of these fancy-pants pieces of raw vegan kit. Okay, so it’d probably be quite nice to win the lottery, but you get what I’m saying. Imagine the medjool dates I could buy…

Cheesecake

Salted caramel cheesecake

If you’ve read any of my blogs before, you might have seen me mention my love for raw vegan cheesecake. Maybe. I mean, I’ve mention it a bit (I talk about it all the time). From oreo cheesecake to pumpkin pie cheesecake to salted caramel cheesecake – you’re not dreaming – if you do fancy a sweet treat whilst you’re trying to cut the cord between your emotions and food, eating a slice of raw vegan cheesecake will provide you essential fats, proteins, carbs, vitamins and minerals, no refined sugar in sight.


4 alternative ways to combat stress

So when you’re used to grabbing raw vegan dishes as comfort food alternatives, how do you continue breaking the connection between eating and emotions? Instead of reach for food to deal with our feelings, even when we’re not hungry, what should we try instead?

1. Practice mindfulness

Whether you’re a mindfulness master or spiritual skeptic, it’s difficult to deny that we don’t have an awful lot of time for peace, quiet and thinking. And before you think I’m some kind of meditation guru, I’m so not. I’m exactly the same as most Americans, in that I understand how important it is to take time out from our busy schedules, and really think about what it is we want from the world, but where’s the time?

With our jobs, bills to pay, houses to run, and children to look after, our connection with the universe is pretty low down on the list of priorities. We think that fancy cars, nice clothes and new gadgets will make us happy, but when they inevitably don’t, not truly, cooked food is the easiest thing to reach for to offer us some comfort.

Fashionable as ever, discussions on mindfulness are everywhere. But what is it? Put simply, mindfulness is being aware of the present and experiencing it as it is, without judging our thoughts and feelings and it’s shown to have a positive impact on those who suffer from a range of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. From mindfulness guides to journaling to coloring, there’s a wealth of knowledge available to help you stop overthinking, and be present in the moment. This will ultimately help you to stop and think before you reach for the candy. Whatever you’re feeling, acknowledge it, and think about what will truly feed your soul.

2. Talk to someone

The internet has a wealth of information regarding mindfulness, dealing with stress and raw vegan recipes galore (sure to keep you distracted for a good few years). But there’s nothing like talking to a human to release emotional weights from your shoulders. Whether it’s talking through your feelings with someone you love, or just having a chat with a friend about anything and everything, when you feel yourself wanting to comfort eat, ring someone or go out on the town! And if you’re anything like me, ‘going out on the town’ isn’t so much partying until 3 am as going for a fresh smoothie and a trip to the cinema. I should probably calm down…

3. Exercise

Along with mindfulness, exercise is proven to support those with anxiety and depression, which often involve feelings that make us reach for the comfort foods. Not only does it provide a much needed distraction, but it releases hormones that make us feel happy, avoiding the need to fill that void with food. But don’t feel like you need to go all Serena Williams on the world (what a badass lady she is – and she loves eating raw vegan, just FYI!). A simple 20 minute walk will do!  

4. Do something you love

From watching sport, to dancing to music, to trying out new (raw) recipes for the family, to blogging, to vlogging, instead of eating for comfort, do something that feeds your happiness to the core. When I need to de-stress, I like play with my son and daughter, or read a good book, and this stops me from reaching for unnecessary food. It took me a long time to stop eating for comfort, though, so be kind to yourself. Most of us have been comfort eating with cooked foods our whole lives, so give yourself time to adjust. Raw vegan is about living a berry abundant life, abundant with happiness, love, and amazing healthy food. That was way too cheesy for a raw vegan blogger. Sorry.

If you’re new to the raw vegan life, this information might seem a bit overwhelming at first. But never fear, my blog has everything you could possibly need to start a raw vegan diet, and thrive, from the first steps, to the incredible benefits that come with it benefits, to shopping lists, to essential kitchen tech! Use this info to start your journey to breaking free from our addiction to cooked food, and start living your best fully raw life.

The world is slowly realising the power of natural food in its natural state, and it’s exciting to be part of this change for the better.  And when you’re rid of your addictions, the need to comfort eat and feeling simply amazing from all the vitamins, minerals and energy you’re getting, you’ll see that fully raw isn’t so crazy after all.

Right. I’m off for a smoothie, like the out of control party animal I am.