Eat a Little Bit Healthier by Thinking About What Your Food Tastes Like

Note: I am attempting to blog once a day (weekdays only, let’s not go crazy) for the next month about issues I think are incredibly important. This is my sixth post.

Recently, I was asked if I was a big junk food eater. “No, not really,” I responded.

This was a lie, though not an intentional one.

When I heard “junk food,” I thought of pizza, cheeseburgers and nachos. Generally just bad-for-you food, which I do enjoy, but I’m not having one of these every day, my rationale went. I might have one of these every other week or so — which probably raises the question as to why I’m writing something about healthy eating — but I also eat a lot of vegetables. No big deal.

So, when I was asked this question, well, it’s not like every meal I cook I’m covering in nacho cheese, I thought.

Then the questioner went on to explain how her husband just cannot be around a bag of chips without eating the entire thing. At which point I realized, oh, yes, I definitely do have a junk food problem then. And this problem, in fact, is so bad that I didn’t even realize what junk food technically is.

Here’s the easiest way for me to put it: if I need to stop at a grocery store for some basic cooking ingredients while on my way home after work, I’m leaving that store with a bag of chips. In some cases, it might be one of the little $0.25 bags; other times it might be a family sized pack of kettle chips. I will also open the bag and devour it all regardless of how close I am to my home, as I am a monster whose appetite is unending for some reason between the hours of 5–6 PM.

It’s weird.

Recently, however, I have taken steps to change this which are mostly working. I now share with you the essential part of this method — really thinking about how this shit tastes.

WTF are Doritos?

I first stumbled across this theory a few years ago. I was sitting outside, getting ready to eat my lunch. In front of me was a turkey sandwich I brought from home and a recently purchased bag of vending machine Doritos. Now, being a garbage person, I was more excited about the Doritos than the sandwich. So, I ripped the bag open — I seem to remember I was especially hungry on this day — and grabbed my first chip, thinking I would really savor it.

It’s possible earlier that day I could have been arguing about my favorite flavor with a friend (nacho over cool ranch all day), creating this heightened desire for these slightly crispy tortilla chips dusted with artificial cheese.

So, when I did reach into that bag, pleased to see that this was not a dry one (everyone knows not all Doritos are created equal — some bags are really lacking in adequate cheese dispersion) and take my first bite, I was very aware of the tastes I was experiencing.

And they were… very, very bad. Nothing cheese-like at all. Nothing really nacho flavored either; it just was kind of burnt tasting and full of sodium. I instantly became thirsty. “Why are these so salty?” I thought.

I tried one more chip, before pushing the bag to the side. And I put off Doritos for quite some time after that. Because, for the first time in my life, I considered the taste of them. Now, you’d think at some point I had a Dorito or really any other chip and thought, “Yes! I need more of this right now!”

I don’t really remember this, however. More than anything, I think these foods were just kind of what was available. I’m not trying to say that if an 8-year-old me had the choice he’d go munch on some broccoli or anything — my palate was TERRIBLE until a few years ago — but I also don’t remember that really being an option. School lunches were uniformly terrible. When I went over to friends’ houses, we ate pizza, drink Mountain Dew or SURGE and snacked on chips. This is kind of a chicken or the egg scenario; what came first, the desire for crappy junk food or crappy junk food being available? I tend to agree with the latter. I mean, they engineer this crap to make you hungrier!

Of course, I’m not a perfect man and, especially when it comes to food, not a particularly strong willed one either. I’m not ashamed to admit I backslid. In the years since this revelation, I have had Doritos. Right now, sitting in a cabinet in my kitchen, is a half-eaten bag I bought in a moment of weakness. I need to throw it out. I will. I will. I will.

Every time I fall off the wagon, though, I remind myself of this simple lesson I learned all those years ago… think about what this tastes like. It works! I pull this trick off which a bunch of heavily processed foods, which immediately kills my desire for it. Though I likely can’t taste all the chemicals in whatever the product is, my mind believes it can.

All in all, I think I’ve begun a slow, yet steady recovery from over-indulging in the junk foods throughout my younger years. I’m sure there will be slip-ups from here, but I’m committed to my cause.

Side note; if focusing on the taste of crap food doesn’t work for you, maybe just look at it? Bright orange is for traffic signals, not food, for example. I tell myself.

Update: It’s been pointed out to me that a book called The Dorito Effect examines the link between food and flavor in greater detail. I haven’t read it yet, but if you’re interested in this topic, it sounds really interesting!

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