I ate the reheated boxed Mac and Cheese. If we were talking about first-time-around boxed mac and cheese, this might be a different story. But I ate the microwave reheated kind—you know, without any flavor, the cheese just a whisper of it’s former self.

But I don’t take full blame. Sure, I got myself to the grocery store and ultimately purchased the damn stuff, but let’s look at what we are up against all day, every day.

1. I saw numerous Mac and Cheese advertisements on the Subway this past month. Ever get a random craving for something you’re otherwise unattached to? If your subconscious mind is told a message enough times, it’s hard to decipher whether you’ve created the thought yourself or if it’s been planted.  

2. I get to the grocery story and they’re strategically pumping out smells to tantalize customers into thinking theyre hungry. You’ve done it before, you know how drastically different a grocery shopping experience is when you’re hungry. For me, by the time I reach the register, I’ve already eaten numerous snacks from my cart and racked up a bill far larger than the two cans of chickpeas I intended to buy.

Using smells to sell  isn’t a novel idea, either. In a 1947 pamplet, Monstanto (which used to be Monsanto Chemicals and Plastics, yum!), states, “The principle of chemical attraction also defines the path to hidden sales…Used for years to contribute sales appeal to foods, candies, perfumes and cosmetics… Yes – Smells Sell!  If you wish to know more about this proved sales strategy in your business, a contact with Monsanto may reward you with the right chemical answers”.  

3. The store is set up in a way that in order to reach the ‘healthy’ items, I have to first walk through the junk. In this particular store, I was in search of organic chickpeas and had to go through the noodles on the way. When I saw the boxes of mac and cheese, strategically at my eye level, I suddenly recalled I had quite a hankering for the stuff. PS. My organic chickpeas were impossible to find and ultimately behind some processed, canned soup. I got a good look at the whole store in the searching process.

4.    Chemists create the perfect ratio of Fat:Salt:Sugar to produce the most ‘rewarding’ foods. Food manufacturers’ main concern is that you eat their food. How they ensure you invest your money into their brand, and return often to do it again, is by making sure their food also gives off the ‘THIS FOOD IS AWESOME’ brain signals to those eating it. This is what is called a ‘rewarding’ food, it creates a feeling of emotional and mental happiness. They know our taste buds are inclined to want sweet, salty and fatty foods. When we had to hunt and fight for our food, these qualities were indicators that certain foods were energy and nutrient dense. Not only did our ancestors like the taste, the but the brain sent ‘THIS FOOD IS AWESOME’ signals to encourage the behavior. Since our ancestors didn’t know when the next time they’d get to eat would be, it made sense for their bodies to encourage them to like the food and eat plenty of it.  Now, this just contributes to the growing obesity epidemic. 

5.    High reward foods cause emotional associationFor many, the first thing they do when they are bored, sad, upset or just generally discontent is reach for food. This is because highly rewarding foods (typically those with white sugar and processed grains) create a chemical response in the form of serotonin levels, essentially giving the eater a ‘happy high.’ The more you activate this serotonin response, the more you’re going to rely on it for a mood boost. 

Compounding these influences, mixed with a moment of discontent, and you’re suddenly devouring junk.  While we are up against billions of dollars spent on marketing, the first step is being aware enough to notice when you’re being manipulated.

Lesson learned, don’t save the leftovers from the Mac and Cheese. (Kidding, so many bigger, better lessons learned). 

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