Real food, non-food and make believe real food – ‘Healthy Indulgence’

But its gluten-free!

So what is the deal with ‘healthy indulgence’? I don’t understand the concept really. Either, the concept is retarded or I just don’t get it. And since there are bunch of stuff I simply don’t get (like linking food habits and morality, the elliptical, coding etc.) and since there are also a bunch of other widely accepted concepts that are, in reality, retarded, please hang with me while I try and figure out what this ‘healthy indulgence’ is all about.

Before I get into why the concept of ‘healthy indulgence’ is asinine, I’d like to mention why it is fundamentally retarded.

Part 1 – The fundamental retardation


v. in·dulgedin·dulg·ingin·dulg·es

1. To yield to the desires and whims of, especially to an excessive degree.

Now, I’m sure we all know, that as a general rule, too much of anything isn’t good and this holds true for anything from alcohol to exercise to food. If you remember, I argued in my article about grains, that for the majority of the people, it isn’t the consumption of grains that is the problem, but the overconsumption. Using the same reasoning, I think we can all safely claim that irrespective of how healthy (or unhealthy) a food is, overconsumption is indeed detrimental.

If you are aware of the concept of ‘food reward’, you will understand that the more a food rewards you the more you are prone to consume it in excess and consistent consumption (and hence overconsumption) of such a food will result in making you overweight/obese and/or diseased. But since we are discussing why the concept is fundamentally retarded, let me elaborate.

We all know I’m crazy about cheesecake. Every time I eat an awesome cheesecake I get transported to a different world! Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with that ‘cos the cheesecake was created to please and it does its job pretty darn well. The sole purpose of its existence is to please the human senses – look, smell and taste – and hence I salute any awesome cheesecake. The cheesecake, in all its greatness, is made up of sugar and fat, which as Dr. Kessler explains in The End Of Overeating, is a combination that is irresistible to the human brain. So when you do eat a piece, the reward centers in your brain are activated and since that activation is desirable to your body, it drives you to eat more and more and more.

So now let’s say I’m addicted to cheesecake. I eat 3 slices everyday and I end up getting fat. So, in an effort to get ‘healthy’, I decide I’m not going to eat junk anymore and I start eating a real food based diet. I eat meat, seafood, veggies, fruit, dairy and some white rice. In about a week, I’m sick of this shit, ‘cos I’m used to eating delectable food and now that my reward centers are not activated as frequently anymore, I don’t really feel good. So I get on the internet and start looking for tips and tricks to make my boring real food diet tasty and boom! I come across a grain free cheesecake recipe! My eyes light up and I’m not quite sure if the food driven depression is making me hallucinate or if this is real food for real! I re-read it and it is indeed a real food cheesecake! I thank my stars and I get to making it. Two hours later, I’ve made a 14″ inch cheesecake… super decadent and yet supremely healthy!

I take a bite and I freakin love it! My reward centers are activated and I eat the whole damn thing. And since all the ingredients are real food healthy ingredients, I make this and other such ‘real food healthy’ stuff like paleo pizza, primal brownies, cholesterol free cocaine etc etc and eat them all week.

Is this helping me get healthy? Chances are, I’d be gaining more weight from all the hefty real food ingredients and my reward centers are, by now, super seasoned to ‘healthy indulgences’ like these that good old meat, veggies and fruit taste like shoe!

Summary – If indulgence, in any form, becomes a frequent occurrence, wellness is out of the window. And again, this applies to everything from alcohol to exercise to work to real food! To get specific about nutrition, irrespective of what the food is, indulgence should be a rare phenomenon if good health is a goal.

Now, moving on to why the concept of ‘healthy indulgences’ is absolutely asinine.

Part 2 – Absolute asininity

You know, potatoes are a real food and they are plenty healthy. So is the case with chicken, eggs and milk. But the healthy potato becomes the unhealthy french fry and the healthy chicken becomes the unhealthy fried chicken, when…

1. you add high reward foods/ingredients like fat and sugar to it

2. and as a result, you over-consume it (i.e. you indulge)

So my dear greedy health enthusiast, what you are doing with the grain free pancakes and gluten free cheesecakes is, in reality, the same! You take a real food and add high reward foods (which could be other real food) to it and process it till it becomes a food that activates your reward centers immensely. So in addition to fooling yourself that you are actually eating real food, you are training your taste buds to like nothing but foods that are excessively stimulating.

Summary – Real food means food in a form as close as possible to its original form. Some amount of cooking/processing is acceptable and, in fact, beneficial. The problem arises when the cooking/processing is aimed at making all food excessively delectable.

Part 3 – Reality check

So my recommendations –

1. Stop whining. Be a (hu)man and eat real food for the most part.

2. As long as you are generally healthy, eat junk every once in a while and when you do so, eat the real thing for crying out loud!

3. If you have an autoimmune condition that will end up killing you if you eat a certain food, then use a little common sense and stay away from it.

Sure it is commendable that you want food manufacturers to stop making junk food look and smell like real food. But first, smack yourself in the ass and stop trying to make real food taste like junk food!


16 responses to “Real food, non-food and make believe real food – ‘Healthy Indulgence’

  1. Jill Donnelly October 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I get your point, but it would be better made without use of the word “retarded” used in this context. If it meant something was made to slow down, then perhaps, but using it to mean, dim witted, not so cool. I have two family members with down syndrome and not even they are retarded.

  2. Divya R October 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    cholesterol free cocaine!!!!! llololol!
    Raj, I can’t believe the timing of this post! I wasted over an hour yesterday at the health food section of the super market, hunting for a replacement for Marie Biscuits which my 70 year old mom-in-law has 2 of -twice a day – every single day! She has arthritis and most digestive problems, (as well as all the usual misconceptions on what is healthy food!) Gluten free cookies, had gluten free flour — read fine print –corn flour / maize flour / potato flour / emulsifiers / xanthan gum / and an assortment of numbers and alphabets as ingredients, not to mention veg oil and a cartload of sugar and flavours! I also spent considerable time on the net hunting recipes in an attempt to make real-food-cookies at home! Hubby isn’t convinced with my “drop the snack” or “eat hard boiled egg” or even “puffed rice” tho not so desirable! I am thinking I should just let her stay with Marie!!!!!

  3. Arunima October 4, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Am still laughing at cholesterol free cocaine…now how does one do that ?
    Your explanations are right on…

  4. Vizeet October 4, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Excellent post Raj!! And I fully agree with you. In addition to this if someone has autoimmune problem and can’t resist a problematic food item then it makes sense to replace it with something close, or start hating it. Hating brings down reward of food item, this is my experience.

  5. Anitha October 5, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Excellent post! Very sensible. Are you by anyway implying that “moderation” is the key? Too much of anything (even healthy food) causes imbalance and health issues. I remember you mocking at “moderates” in some of your previous posts.

    • RG October 10, 2011 at 4:17 am

      Thank you Anitha.

      And absolutely not. Moderation is never the key. Moderation comes into play if and when you include something in your diet. I don’t think theres any reason to include grains, especially wheat, in your diet ‘cos it gives you nothing and take away plenty. So moderation is not the point here. The point is… if you crave something and youre not allergic to it, eat it!

      • Anitha October 13, 2011 at 7:35 am

        That is not what I meant Raj. If some food doesn’t sit well with you(not just allergic reaction, may be poor digestion or heartburn) don’t eat it, or if you like it so much, limit it. There is no point eating stuff that is bad for you “moderately”, that is stupidity. What I am talking about is healthy good stuff. Even that needs moderation. Anything in excess quantities than your body needs is toxic to your body, including vitamins and minerals. And I get your point totally about going overboard with “fake junk stuff with healthy ingredients”. I see a few people around me eating 3-4 pounds of fish for lunch saying it is healthy. When I want to eat a cake, I eat the real one. I eat chapathis(dough made with whey from the yogurt and soaked for 12 hours) once a week because we like it and it sits well with our bodies.

  6. Sonia October 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I follow Elana’s food blog and for the one off occasion when I have to make a cake her recipes are good. That said, I have always found it funny when people post/publish gazillions of cake recipes making each one sound better than the other. Put sugar-butter-any-flour together and you can never go wrong. Your taste buds will go mmmmmmmmm no matter what proportion they are in or how they are cooked. Think people think !!!!

  7. davidknife October 8, 2011 at 11:33 am

    try gluten free baked goods – not yeasty ones like bread, but things that need to be light – like pancakes. they are actually better ‘cos there’s no gluten to make it tough.

    people call me “abnormal” ‘cos i don’t crave bread (which i was addicted to) or cheesecake (which i really liked). i don’t try to make the quasi ones either. does that make me retarded? or just nutritionally satiated?

    • RG October 10, 2011 at 4:21 am

      David – That just makes you normal. The point is… eat what you crave as long as it wont hurt you badly. Dont reinvent junk food using so called healthy ingredients and make that a reason to eat them every now and them.

      I do agree that gluten free baking is light. If you make stuff gluten free cos you like the lightness… you’re spot on my friend. Just dont get gluten free bread and eat a loaf every other day claiming its good for ya. And ‘you’ is used generally here.

  8. varsha tiwary October 19, 2011 at 4:09 am

    I agree that healthy mithai is an Oxymoron Raj.For us jaded adults taht is.
    But as a mother of two growing up kids there is indeed a genuine requirement for reinventing junk foods using healthier ingredients,lesser sugar and whole grains and so on.
    It is impossible/counterproductive to preach that wheat and sugar is bad to kids. So sanitized indulgences accompanied by lot of real foods is a strategy that works.
    To an extent that when the kids insist on going to McDonalds and Dominoes they are all enthu but they can not real;ly take the sensory overload and give up on the burger /pizza halfway.
    Whereas they can really enjoyably and safely eat home made goodies.

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