Tag Archives: eating

My Fading Love Affair with Processed Food

As an adult picky eater (and I do mean picky), the simple process of eating has been ridiculously hard most of my life. Thus, when I find the rare food item that I really enjoy (i.e., food that tastes great, has a good texture, and doesn’t make my tummy roar at me later), I tend to stick with it.

But over the last few months, I have observed with distress as my taste buds have slowly turned away from once-favorite foods. The common denominator between all these foods? All of them are processed within an inch of their lives.

The First Sign: Fast Food is No Longer My Friend

At first, I thought I was just reacting to a lower quality of food in my local fast food restaurants. First, the beef at Taco Bell started tasting “off,” as if it had been kept too long in the fridge. Then, the meat on McDonald’s burgers started tasting and feeling like crumbling shoe leather in my mouth. Other food quality issues arose afterwards, and soon I was even pickier than usual at all the local fast-food places.

I thought it was strange, but I tried to work around the “new” rules of my picky taste buds. No more McDonald’s meat, no more ground beef tacos, etc…

But Fast Food is Not the Only Issue

…Unfortunately, the pickiness did not stop there. I began eating less of the American sliced cheese I had loved since childhood, simply because it didn’t really taste like cheese anymore. There was an odd, plastic-y overtone to the taste, which I had never detected before–and it was utterly disgusting. Even switching cheese brands didn’t seem to help. I still liked cheese, most definitely, but the sliced cheese product didn’t suit anymore.

Not to mention that many of my favorite boxed meals from the grocery store started tasting funny. For instance, I used to live on Velveeta shells-n-cheese, yet I began getting sick at the taste–both the cheese and the pasta sometimes tasted like plastic to me. It didn’t seem like just being tired of eating a certain dish, since I try to switch up my food choices as much as possible. It just seemed that certain foods, which all happened to be processed, didn’t taste right anymore.

The Result: One Hungry Tummy

It seemed like all my favorite foods, all my go-to foods when going out to eat, were vanishing off my “favorite” list, one by one. And it was not the biggest list in the world to start out with, because of my lifelong issues with food texture (and a strong gag reflex that gets set off at the slightest thing). When 70% of “adult food” is off-limits because of pickiness, and 95% of what you DO like has suddenly become anathema, what DO you eat?

That was the burning question, and it still is. In desperation, I’ve gone back to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, basic breads and pastas, or anything that doesn’t have the awful processed taste in such abundance. Yet I still walk around hungry most of the time, as if what I’m eating isn’t providing me with any nourishment.

Most people who look at me would think I eat all the time, to be the size that I am (flirting with 300 pounds at the moment). But instead, I eat significantly LESS than all my skinny, less picky friends, and I simply stay hungry–so much so that I have had low blood sugar attacks due to the reduced food intake. I WANT to eat, but almost nothing appeals to me anymore. And I have begun to suspect that the “plastic” taste and texture which has become so revolting to me is actually the result of processing food for longer shelf life.

Where to Go from Here?

Since my taste buds have apparently shifted allegiances for good, I honestly don’t know what to do with them anymore. Most of my favorite foods date back to childhood, and it’s frankly disconcerting to suddenly dislike foods that I remember loving and indulging in. Not to mention that these foods have sustained me while I avoided all sorts of other “normal” adult food.

Quite simply, I find myself at a loss every time I get hungry, because I have no idea what my taste buds will accept and what they won’t accept. And since I hate wasting money on food that I won’t end up eating, it makes it difficult to try new foods. It feels suspiciously like being caught between a rock and a hard place.

An Odd Side Note: Lettuce is a New Food Friend?

Yet, in the midst of all this loss, I have noticed something strange–I find myself thinking longingly of dishes like dark green Romaine lettuce with ranch dressing. For anyone who knows me, this is WAYYYYYY out of character; I historically have avoided most lettuce because it just tastes like crunchy paper soaked in water. Yet recently, the darker green lettuce types have become more appealing to me, as have spinach (when blended with cheese) and scallions. I also have no idea why this is happening, either, only that it began around the same time processed food began tasting strange to me.

Is This My Body’s Way of Saying “Eat Healthy?”

I honestly don’t know what to make of all this change in my appetite. Has anyone else experienced a sudden negative reaction to processed foods after eating them most of their lives? Or has anyone experienced a sudden positive reaction to lettuce and other “healthy” foods? I’d be glad to hear about it in the comments!

Eating Healthy IS Expensive

Many people will disagree with the title of this post. In fact, there are several knowledgeable sources which say that healthy food isn’t more expensive than unhealthy food at all (see articles from LATimes, HuffingtonPost, and MSNBC).

But, for every article that asserts that eating healthy is a cheaper or equal-cost alternative to unhealthy food, it seems there is an article that asserts exactly the opposite (see articles from StraightHealth and MedicineNet). It seems that no one can really agree on this issue, not even the experts–which makes for a tough decision for those of us who aren’t health gurus, but don’t like the idea of being 800 pounds due to fast-food living.

So, while trying to find out, once and for all, if going completely healthy is even worth it for me, I came to a disappointing conclusion: there is no straight answer from official sources. There is, however, my own personal experience, which is in itself possibly a clearer answer to the problem. I find that healthy food IS expensive when considered against unhealthy food, unfortunately, and in ways that are likely not accounted for by many of the recent studies done on this topic.

Healthy Food: More Expensive in Many Ways

When I say “healthy food is expensive”, I’m not just talking about what it costs at the grocery store. It’s also more expensive in terms of gas, prep time, and convenience. Let me give you a few examples:

Healthy Food Goes Bad Faster = More Money Spent Every Time You Shop

Healthy food, in general, goes bad faster than unhealthy food. Example: fresh veggies, which you apparently have to eat within 2 days of buying or you have moldy veggies. Even the frozen kind seem to go bad faster, or get freezer-burned way too easily. When I tried to go healthy in 2007, I quickly found that I was throwing out more “healthy” food than I was eating–for instance, the carrots in water that I bought on Tuesday morning were expired by Friday, and I hadn’t even opened them yet. It was frustrating!

In this way, healthier food is quite unlike the preservative-laden boxed meals and food packets. Those things seem to last forever, and are often cheaper because they don’t have the “organic” or “natural” food label, which always seems to add about 2 bucks to the purchase price of most fresh food. When it comes to the likelihood of wasting food, it’s no wonder some people choose to load their bodies with preservatives rather than buy “fresh” food that ends up not being eaten at all.

Healthy Food Doesn’t Keep You Full = More Trips to the Store Per Week

As stated, to keep the “freshest” and “best” healthy food on hand, you have to drive to the grocery store several times a week because everything goes bad faster. But you’re also going to use up what you buy much faster because healthy foods, especially fruits and veggies, do not keep you full very long. (Sure, fiber keeps you full, but when it tastes like you’re eating a wad of Silly String, it’s not that appetizing to eat platefuls of it.) I’ve noticed that when trying to eat low-calorie options, I always end up hungry an hour after eating, even if I try to include protein and fiber, and I invariably snack on junk food to cover the difference.

What this means for the average eater: you use more gas and more money to fix more food that doesn’t feed you for very long. Not exactly cost-efficient in this economy, is it?

Healthy Food Needs More Prep Time = More Inconvenient

Usually, healthy food takes longer to cook (like green beans that take 20 minutes simmering on the stove just to be edible). Frozen healthy food must be thawed, which also takes more time than unhealthy food. By contrast, in 20 minutes, I could have a pizza delivered and be eating it already. Which am I logically going to choose, from a convenience and time standpoint?

I admit, we as a society are so conditioned to being able to walk into the kitchen and immediately eat whatever is easiest to fix, and unfortunately for us, the foods that are easiest to fix are the unhealthiest for us. But while some of this is a personal choice not to spend time preparing food, some of us simply do not have the time or the culinary skill necessary to fix more than microwave meals. I’d rather not set the kitchen on fire trying to cook “healthy,” you know?

Healthy Food Has Weaker Flavors = More Unhealthy Flavoring Agents Used

To make healthy food taste good to modern desensitized palates like mine, you have to have more ingredients on hand, such as spices, oils, other food items, etc., than you generally do for unhealthy food. I personally find that fruits and vegetables just do not have the strong sweet or salty flavors that I like, or they have unwanted bitter/grassy flavors, so I end up loading them up with unhealthy additives (ranch dressing, table sugar, and the like) and canceling out their health benefits.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person to drown their salads and vegetables in flavoring agents, and it makes the whole exercise of “eating healthy” feel futile. Why bother trying (and failing) to eat a plate of grass (pardon me, salad) with ranch dressing on it, when I could have chosen something that tasted good on its own, even if it was less healthy? In the end, you spend money on “healthy” food and don’t even eat half of it, only to experience an unhealthy food craving later. And, inevitably, you lapse right back into old ways, spending even more money to get the food you REALLY wanted in the first place.

My Conclusion: It IS Expensive

In terms of time spent cooking, convenience/availability, gas for shopping trips, sheer tastiness, and buying “organic/natural” foods, healthier food is much more expensive than unhealthy food. It seems not to fit our modern lifestyles, and in this age of fitting two lifetimes’ worth of activity into half a lifetime, we are more likely to skimp on food to stretch a dollar or two, or save a few minutes. Plus, as many health experts say, we as a culture are now addicted to those strong food flavors that come from processed foods, and we are also addicted to how quickly those very tasty foods can be fixed.

And yet, to hear the same health experts talk, we should all be eating as if we are rich enough to afford the pricier healthy food, as well as having leisure time enough to prepare it (and taste buds that apparently can’t taste anything bitter). Meanwhile, all the food that is cheap, easy to fix, and a delight to the tongue wreaks havoc on all of us that simply can’t afford to eat any other way.

Footnote: How This Food Problem Might Be Sabotaging Health

While the total blame for the “obesity epidemic” has usually been laid across the shoulders of every individual who is obese, I believe some of the blame lies in our culture and the commercialization of food products, especially healthy food products. Being obese is no longer just about individuals making “unhealthy food choices,” not when the “healthy” foods are time-sucking, gas-wasting, tasteless options. Who wants to eat ONE bowl of grassy-tasting greens that cost 12 bucks and is already starting to go brown, when for that same 12 bucks you could feed a family of 4 at McDonalds?

I’m personally obese myself, and have been since I was 11 years old. I would love to change that, but from a diet standpoint, many issues stand in the way of that: I hate the way most healthy food tastes, I hate its impact on my purse and gas tank, and I hate that it takes 2 or 3 times longer to prepare it. Why in the WORLD would I inflict such suffering and privation on myself, when better-tasting, cheaper, and quicker options exist? This is likely the same battle, the same thought process, that goes through the minds of many people today, and it has a definite impact on diet.

Now, when healthy food tastes as good as the unhealthy stuff, is cheaper than unhealthy food, and is quicker to fix…THEN we might see the “obesity epidemic” start to go away. Until then, most of us who are big or who are addicted to unhealthy foods are going to struggle with their diets just as I have, with half the battle decided before food even hits their plates.