Living the WELL Life

The Impulses of Impulse Eating

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

We have all done it. We’re cleaning up after a party, holiday feast, or other celebration and you munch as you go.  There’s one cookie left on the plate, and we eat it. We’re not hungry, but it’s there. Are you hungry? Nope, but we eat anyway.

What’s up? Are we weak-willed losers, or is there something more to impulse eating?  Well, it’s complicated, and I am no expert on what makes us tick. For this month’s special edition of summer dieting, I have asked Dr. Bernardo Merizalde to address some of the psychological aspects of dieting to more fully address this issue.  Suffice it to say that I only know what I know from experience.

And while there’s lots of advice out there, most of it makes me cringe because very little of this sage advice seems to be steeped in our reality. For instance, Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think recommends strategies like snacking on healthy fruits and vegetables when you arrive at a party or holiday gathering to avoid overeating when faced with the vast array of delectable treats and rich foods. So what he is saying is that when faced with Aunt Polly’s cheesecake, show a little restraint and choose carrot sticks and you’ll be fine.  Seriously?

He goes on to suggest we sit next to a slow eater which will, in turn,  slow us down.  Thus, we will eat less. We should also buy smaller plate so we can’t pile as much food as we can on a big plate?  But here’s my favorite: low lighting and upbeat music will make you eat more, so skip the atmosphere and pop in a Yanni CD to keep your eating on track.   I suppose if you fall asleep at the table you'll eat less, but there has to be a better way.

Look, I am no shrink, and there certainly are psychological parameters to impulse eating as Dr. Merizalde points out in his piece here entitled “The Story of a 1001 Diets.”    I am not an expert, but I think that most of the advice about successful weight control simply tells us to be grown-ups and exercise a little discipline.  Nevertheless, a little more understanding about why we eat what we eat can go along way towards controlling our impulses.

I grew up in an Italian family and food was (and is) central to just about everything we do. Bad day? We comfort with food. Great day? We celebrate with food. Birthday? More food. Any occasion…or simply because it’s Tuesday, we grew up celebrating with a meal.  As an adult, I have the great blessing of traveling to Italy for business.  What I see there is a culture that is food-centric, but not food obsessed as it seems ours has become. Americans are glued to television shows where people decorate cakes or bake cupcakes. We watch ‘celebrity chefs’ travel the country and eat. Yes, we watch them eat.  Keep in mind, they aren’t teaching us how to make the food; we just watch them eat it.

Scintillating entertainment, it ain’t. Food obsessed is a more appropriate term.
In other countries, where chefs are not rock stars, but well…chefs, (the people who cook dinner when you don’t), there is a more reasonable view of food. Portions are naturally smaller, people are generally more active, and meals are more leisurely so people eat more slowly (they thereby eat less just like Dr. Wansink advices). They enjoy what they eat and stop eating when they are no longer hungry.

So what went wrong in our modern world? Are we all weak? We certainly can’t blame it all on food television. Advertisers hold a piece of the puzzle, surely. Their goal is to sell you more or everything… cars, clothes, shoes, televisions, phones, and yes, food.  Factor in the flavor houses have worked with manufacturers and marketers to intensify the flavors of food so that we become addicted.

What are we to do? Is there hope?
Sure, but we do have to act like grown-ups…just a little.  As you can guess, it all begins in the kitchen. When you cook for yourself and your loved ones, there is a level of control that doesn’t exist anywhere else. The moment you eat outside your home, the moment a chef, food manufacturer, or even Aunt Polly is doing the cooking, you can rest assured you are getting more fat, sugar, salt and calories than you need… or want. 

When you do the cooking, you decide exactly what is in the food you consume. It’s our best bet for controlling what we eat and our best bet to create health and break the habit of impulse eating. Does this mean we can never eat out? Not at all. But it does mean cooking and eating at home more often. If you lay a foundation of healthy eating for most of your meals, you have the leeway, the wiggle room, if you will, to indulge on occasion. 

The problem is that every meal has become an indulgence so we struggle with what normal eating looks like.  As a result, we see healthy eating as dull, boring and grim. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once you eat healthfully on a regular basis, you discover that the food is delicious, that you love the flavors and you love how you feel. Eating out becomes what it was meant to be…a special occasion. And interestingly, the food will taste so rich and indulgent that you will eat less of it and still feel satisfied.

The catch is that you have to cook. You have to create food and create your health. That’s where I come in. Healthy meals that taste indulgent are my specialty. My mission is to show people how easy it is…and how delicious…to eat healthy food and feel satisfied…and achieve robust vitality as a result.  It can be done. You need not be a slave to the last cookie on the plate and you don’t need silly advice that has no basis in reality to break your bad habits. You do, however, need to cook.

So here are a variety of seasonal recipes the whole family will enjoy. 

Foods Your Family Will Love

We have all had those days…or heard the stories. You are worried about your family’s health. You desperately want them to eat healthy food so you buy books, scour the internet for recipes, attend cooking classes. You create a colorful, creative, flavorful meal for them to enjoy and they turn up their noses. You scrape it into the trash, despondent over the fact that your family wouldn’t even consider eating it….didn’t even try it.

Now what?
Well, because the manufacturing and advertising industries have convinced us that junk food is the most desirable food, and because we have been seduced by large volumes of addicting fat, sugar and salt, healthy food seems dull and boring.  But what if I told you that you could create delicious meals that were familiar to your family… and were healthy for them as well?  What if there were dishes you could make that would help you transition to healthy, del;icious, and sartisfying eating delicious even for the most resistant loved one?
Here you go…

There are lots of vegan recipes for mac and cheese, but a lot of them have ingredients that I don’t really like. They’re complicated, and the results make the dish seem unfamiliar. In this version, the techniques are the same but the ingredients are healthier and just as delicious.


3 tablespoons vegan butter substitute like Earth Balance
2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
8 ounces vegan mozzarella cheese substitute
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
Sea salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric
Cracked black pepper
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons vegan butter substitute, like Earth Balance
½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
½ cup almond meal

Preheat oven to 350°F and bring a pot of water to a boil with a generous pinch of salt.

Place vegan spread in an oven-proof Dutch oven (that is oven proof) over medium heat. As the spread melts, stir in flour, vegan cheese, and almond milk. Whisk into a smooth paste. Season to taste with sea salt; whisk in garlic powder, paprika, turmeric and black pepper to taste. Whisk very well.

While the sauce cooks and when the water boils, cook macaroni until about 80% done. Stir pasta into sauce, mixing gently to coat evenly.
In a small saucepan, melt vegan spread and mix in bread crumbs and almond meal. Top the macaroni mixture with the bread crumb mixture and bake for 30–35 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the topping is browned.

Nothing says “Friday-night date” quite like pizza, but nothing diminishes the glow of an evening quite like fatty, oily cheese over the top of glue-like white-flour crusts. On the other hand, a whole-grain crust, smothered in silky, rich mushrooms and olives, with just a touch of spice creates a superb starter course.


Pizza Dough
1 package active dry yeast
2 cups warm spring or filtered water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
2½ cups semolina flour
2½ cups whole wheat flour

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus
additional for drizzling
2 to 3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
½ yellow onion, diced
Sea salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup loosely packed dried porcini mushrooms, soaked until tender
8 to 10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked until tender, thinly sliced
10 to 12 oil-cured black olives, pitted, finely minced

To make the dough: In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the oil and salt. Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir in the semolina flour. Slowly stir in the whole wheat flour to form a soft, moist dough (which makes a crispy crust).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 to 15 minutes to achieve a smooth, elastic dough. Add flour as needed for kneading, but not too much or the dough will become dry. 

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and oil the surface of the dough to prevent a crust from forming. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

While the dough rises, prepare the topping: Place the oil, garlic and onions in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and the red pepper flakes and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and sauté until the mushrooms release their juices into the pan and reabsorb them, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the olives.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Lightly flour a round baking stone or lightly oil a pizza pan. Punch down the dough and, on a lightly floured surface; roll out to the size of the stone. Transfer the dough to the prepared stone and spread the topping over the dough, leaving about 1 inch around the rim. Drizzle with oil and bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Note: This is a more sophisticated pizza, but if you family is more basic in their tastes, just top the pizza with a simple tomato sauce with a vegan cheese substitute and win rave reviews.

Who doesn’t love baked ziti? Cheesy, gooey, and rich, this complete indulgence is loaded with fat, right? Not my version — and not one ounce of flavor was lost in the translation. Plus it’s fast and easy.


1 pound whole- wheat ziti, cooked until 80 percent% done, drained, do not rinse
1 (32-ounce) jar unsweetened tomato sauce
2 cups shredded vegan mozzarella cheese substitute (like Daiya or Follow Your Heart)
Fresh basil
Fresh oregano

Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly oil a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish.

Mix cooked ziti with pasta sauce, 1 cup of the “cheese,” and herbs to taste. Cover tightly and bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover, sprinkle the top of the pasta with the remaining “cheese” and bake for 10–15 minutes more, until the top is browned and bubbling. Serve hot.

Yummy, richly flavored, 


8 tablespoons vegan butter substitute, softened
½ cup brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
Pinch sea salt
Generous pinch ground cinnamon
Scant ½ teaspoon baking soda
Scant ½ teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1 cup non-dairy dark chocolate chips
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350o and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

Place butter substitute, rice syrup, coconut sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl and whip until creamy. Add flours, salt, cinnamon and baking soda/powder. Mix with a spoon to create a soft dough. Fold in chocolate and nuts.

Using a spoon, place cookies on baking sheet leaving space between then for spreading. You will get about 12 to a tray. Press lightly on the cookie with your fingers to flatten them slightly. 

Bake for 14-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 30-36 cookies

NOTE: To create chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, simply replace ¼ cup flour with ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder.

These brownies are so delicious, so moist, so…well, like brownies, no one will know they’re healthy.


1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup semolina flour
1/2 cup maple syrup granules
½ cup cocoa powder
Generous pinch sea salt
Generous pinch ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups finely grated zucchini
½ cup avocado oil
2/3 cup brown rice syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup non-dairy, grain sweetened chocolate chips
½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350o and lightly oil a 10-inch square pan.

Mix dry ingredients together, whisking to combine. In a small bowl, mix together zucchini, oil, syrup and vanilla. Combine the wet and dry ingredients to form a thick batter. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts. 

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes or until the center of the brownies bounce back to the touch. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve frosted or not. Makes 16 brownies.

½ cup non-dairy, grain sweetened chocolate chips
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons vegan butter substitute

Place the chocolate, rice syrup and butter substitute in a heat-resistant bowl over a pan of boiling water. Cook, whisking until the chocolate is smooth and shiny.

Once the brownies have cooled completely, spread frosting on top of each one.


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