As a kid, I could suck on Sour Patch Kids until my tongue was raw. I could wash down greasy pizza and Cheetos with a Cherry Coke and be no worse for the wear. These days, a donut for breakfast would send me crawling back to bed in a sugared stupor.
Even candy corn, my all-time favorite seasonal delicacy, holds little to no allure now. If I ingest more than a few kernels, my head begins to pound.
This is yet another sign that I’m getting older, but I welcome it. Because the old adage is true: With age comes wisdom. The older you get, the more you know who you really are. You know what you need (and don’t). You know what works for you (and what doesn’t). That includes food.
As a dietitian, I know exactly why a handful of almonds is a better snack choice for me than a handful of candy corn. I understand protein and fiber and blood sugar. But let’s face it: I could ignore all of that and plunge my hand into the bag of Brach’s. So instead, I focus on this one simple question:
How will I FEEL after eating this?
The answer to that question is always clear and impossible to ignore. If I eat the candy corn, I’ll get a headache. Eat more than a handful and I’ll break out in a light sweat. I’ll feel tired. And cranky. I’ll wish I’d eaten the almonds instead.
Junk food has massive sensory appeal. It looks good, and it’s engineered to taste really REALLY good. It’s hard to muster up enough energy to constantly resist it, especially because it’s everywhere. When faced with it, thinking about what’s nutritionally superior doesn’t always work. But for me, asking myself that question usually does.
With my kids, I sometimes talk about how food can make us feel (read: “Why I’m Glad I Bought The Gatorade“), but I know it doesn’t motivate them in the same way. Gummy bears don’t make their temples throb. They seem to have even more energy after a sticky-sweet birthday party cupcake. But I hope the basic message gets through: Different kinds of foods can make us feel different ways, good and bad.
So does that mean I never eat sugar? Hardly. I nibbled on the candy corn I bought for that photograph. I love to make homemade desserts like pies, cookies, and cakes and lick the bowl when my kids aren’t looking. But I also know that I feel best if I have non-starchy carbs (like a smoothie) for breakfast, so pastries are easy to pass up. I know that a big dose of sugar will render me useless for at least an hour, so candy and soda have barely any appeal and I eat a small amount of dessert after I have some dinner in my belly.
Sure, sometimes I eat against my best interests and regret it. Nobody’s perfect (read: “The Myth of Perfect Eating“). But knowing myself has helped me stay on track more often than not. And this one little question has become a powerful tool that squashes the same cravings that used to get the best of me.
How about you: Has your tolerance for junk changed over time?