There’s a great book by Alan Goldhamer, director of the TrueNorth fasting center, and Doug Lisle, a psychologist who’s done a lot of work in collaboration with Dr. John McDougall and other vegan authors. It’s called The Pleasure Trap.
The book shows how we become addicted to tasty foods (loaded with salt, sugar and fat) and how our brains keep us hooked on these foods.
While I completely agree with the premise of the book, there’s another side of the story, what I would call the “No-Pleasure Trap.”
This is when some people take the idea of natural eating a little too seriously and go “all natural.”
They eliminate all salt, all seasonings, all oils, and start eating raw foods and sometimes simply cooked foods in their natural state.
I remember visiting raw-foodists in Germany back in the 2000’s and many people were eating this way. Their lunch would be a table filled with raw vegetables, avocados and sometimes fruit, and they would just munch on them. They might grab a lettuce leave and scoop some avocado inside and eat that as a “sandwich.” That was about as fancy as things got.
For a certain category of people, this ultra-simple way of eating is rewarding and fun and they quickly get used to it and prefer it.
But for the vast majority of people, restricting too much seasonings and recipes can lead to the “no-pleasure trap.”
This means that you can only maintain the diet for so long, until you can’t do it any longer. You fall off the wagon in a big way.
You become like the person who escapes a city under siege, and finds their way to the next town’s buffet, only to eat themselves to death. You’ve been fasting for too long, and now you’re gorging way too fast.
I’m exaggerating, but I think you get the point.
If your diet is too restrictive, it won’t be sustainable.
Sometimes, a diet that’s too perfect can work against you, because you can’t maintain it.
The solution is to find compromises that give you some pleasure but are not too damaging. For example:
1) A little tabasco sauce. The sodium content is negligible, but it adds a lot of taste to a boring salad.
2) Sprinkling some salt on the surface of food. I think going salt-free is best. But it’s not always realistic. Most of the sodium we consume is in the form of restaurant or packaged foods. If you cook without salt and at a bit of salt on the surface of the food, where the taste buds can fully taste it, you’re going to minimize salt intake while maximizing flavor.
3) A few processed foods. Going 100% whole foods is great, but if that’s too difficult, try adding a few processed foods that are enjoyable while being relatively healthy. It could be trips of marinated and prepared tempeh, smoked tofu, canned salsa, or whatever you fancy. I’m not talking about adding cheddar cheese or strips of bacon. Find a few foods that most people would consider super healthy but purists like Alan Goldhamer would disparage, and add them to an otherwise perfect diet.
Perfect is the enemy of the good.
If you’re happy eating a pure, 100% whole foods diet, then by all means, do it!
But if you feel like your diet is eventually going to fall apart because you don’t enjoy it, then find that 10% compromise that you’re willing to live with!