I am just back from going to pick up a haul of meal replacements (regrettably all shakes). I now have some 185 meal replacements more than I did an hour ago, which will be split between me and my diet buddy. They are irrelevant to the point of this piece.
Driving to where I was meeting the person, I passed a fast-food chicken restaurant that I have often craved. I looked at it for a very quick second and then said, ‘not today.’ I considered it a minor victory.
Here’s the problem: A few weeks ago, I picked up a meal from this very same restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, it still tastes good… but it was greasy, both the French fries and the salads were terrible, and within an hour of a reasonably sized meal I was… well, if not actually sick, then maybe sick adjacent. I was nauseous for sure. Although I had enough chicken and salads left over for another meal, I wrapped it all up and walked it to the garbage room. Within fifteen seconds of seeing the sign, I remembered this very recent event, and was glad the craving passed.
Driving home, I passed by another outlet (same chain, different store). For a brief moment, I had those same cravings. Their special recipe of herbs and spices (still not naming the restaurant) is not only tasty, but it has also been carved into my aware for so many years.
Shortly after I moved to Israel, I was living in Rishon LeZion and working in Holon. At the end of the day, I would take an Eged bus home, and it would drive right by the mall (which I believe was called Canyon Zahav, or Golden Shopping Centre). One day while driving by I noticed a sign that read (in Hebrew): NOW OPEN! <The southern fried chicken restaurant>. On many occasions I would get off the bus, pick up a bucket, and dinner was served. I would then get back on the bus for the remainder of the ride home. This was certainly inconvenient… but I loved the food so much!
I was reminded again just a few weeks ago that I do not love the food anymore… and even if I did, it certainly does not love me. So why is it that as I pass it by, I cannot help but think – even fleetingly, before my rational mind kicks in – how nice it would be to stop in for lunch.
The same goes for fast food hamburgers. I love a good burger, but between stopping at either McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Harvey’s or A&W (trying to name as many as I can so that I do not appear to be focusing on any one chain), or stopping at the grocery store and picking up some ground beef and vegetables and buns to make my own burger… the burger that I make will be far superior to all of these (not to mention healthier). Then why is it that when I see the arches or the redhead my mouth starts to water?
I suspect the answer to this question is twofold:
1. Between the billions of dollars that these chains have spent on marketing over the years, and the fact that I really like the food (or at least I once did), it is not unreasonable that when I see them my initial thought is longing, rather than disgust.
2. None of these restaurant chains came up with their menu, image, and branding in a vacuum. They hired experts – including scientists who have done studies on what colours make people hungry, and what sounds and smells make them lower their food-related inhibitions.
3. Many of the ingredients in the foods they serve actually are addictive. I’m not saying that any of them put cocaine or nicotine into their foods… but salt and sugar are addictive.
When I have reached the end of my weight loss journey, I will have to remember that it is only the beginning. I remember when I earned my first Black Belt, my Master congratulated me and told me, ‘Now you can start learning martial arts.’ The belt was not the goal; it was a small stop on what would be a lifelong journey. When I reach a weight where I am happy with myself, I will no longer be replacing food with meal replacements… but I will still be on a lifelong journey, and every day for the rest of my life I will have to weigh the consequences of everything that I put into my mouth.
They say that learning a new language is much easier if you do it as a child. I suspect that learning good nutrition is easier as a child too, and I wish I had learned it. By now it would be second nature, and not something I have to consciously think of every day.