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Addictive foods tend to have pumped-up flavors, tastes, and textures; think of all that’s going on in your mouth when you eat a pepperoni and sausage pizza, or a hot fudge sundae topped with nuts and whipped cream, or even an Oreo, which is not only sweet and chocolatey but also crispy and creamy. It’s hard for your average blueberry or orange—or even a really spectacular blueberry or orange—to compete. Their flavors, and those of other fruits, vegetables, and other unprocessed foods, are too subtle for a tongue used to extremes of salt, sugar, and spices. Ditto for fried foods. Even a nicely marinated, tender piece of grilled chicken will lose out to the fried version if fried is what you have a hankering for. “People like what they’re familiar with,” observes Marcia Pelchat, PhD, a food psychologist with Monell Chemical Senses Center, a scientific institute in Philadelphia dedicated to researching taste and smell. “If you eat cheeseburgers and fries, that’s what you’ll crave. But if you start eating salad and grilled fish, after a while you’ll want that type of food.” And that should come as a big relief; when you let go of your addictive foods, you won’t be left high and dry. You’ll actually prefer the healthier fare in time. But first you have to make that transition to healthier fare. Here’s how: Scale back gradually. “You could go cold turkey—switch to low-sodium, low-sugar, or low-fat foods tomorrow—and in about a month you’ll actually prefer these foods. But I recommend doing it gradually,” advises Dr. Pelchat. “It’ll take a little longer, but you’ll enjoy your food more and be less likely to rebel or give up.” So don’t go from a tomato soup with 800 milligrams of sodium per cup to one with 60 milligrams; you’ll hate it. Instead start buying soup in the 500-milligram-per-cup range and see if you can work down from there. In recipes, cut sodium by about 25 percent, and when you get used to that, keep working your way down until your recipes have no more than 1⁄8 of a teaspoon of salt per serving. As the rest of your diet becomes lower in sodium, you shouldn’t miss the salt in that stew and in other dishes. And if you do, then a very small amount of salt added at the table will do the trick. (See “The Case for the Salt Shaker,” on page 125.) This gradual approach works well for fatty foods, too. For milk, go from whole to 2 percent and stay there for a week or two. Then mix 2 percent with 1 percent for another week or two. Then take another week or two to get used to just 1 percent. You can stick with 1 percent or train down to fat-free (skim) by mixing the two for a week or two before adjusting to fat-free milk alone. Switching from fatty to lean meats is a little trickier because lean meat can be tough and dry if not cooked properly. If you’re a burger fan, I recommend not even trying to make an extralean burger—too dry. But extralean ground beef works well in chili, sloppy Joes (there’s a great sloppy Joe recipe in The Best Life Diet Cookbook ), and other mixed dishes. And lean cuts such as tenderloin and flank steak can be delicious if marinated properly and cooked quickly. TAMING A SWEET TOOTH Jennifer Levanduski, a thirty-seven-year-old stay-at-home mom, struggled to keep the pounds at bay for most of her childhood and adult life. But during her second pregnancy in 2007, her weight climbed past a dangerous 265 pounds. “After my son was born, my weight came down into the 240s,” explains five-foot-nine Jennifer, “but my gelatinous body repelled me. I kept saying, ‘I have to go on a diet,’ but I didn’t really feel the motivation to make a change, and I wasn’t ready to give up my sweets.” She jumped from one fad diet to the next looking for a quick fix, but, not surprisingly, nothing worked. Then, in October 2008, Jennifer got an email about a casting call for the Discovery Health Channel to be a part of a series that Bob Greene was hosting called What’s Making You Fat? A Best Life Special. She answered the email and got selected! “The casting call was an answer to a dream. It put me on a completely new track, which I continued with after the show by joining the online program ( ). I now eat real meals, don’t let myself go hungry, and allow myself moderately portioned treats. This approach ended the diet-deprivation-binge-diet cycle I was on for so long,” she explains. “I don’t want to get to the point where I tell myself I can’t have something. Instead I have a portion-controlled amount of the splurge food and log it in my food diary to make myself accountable. It’s amazing that after one bite, I often find it disgusting and throw the rest away! This happened recently when I tried an Oreo Cakester. I’d eyed those at the market for months, imagining the chocolatey, fluffy goodness melting in my mouth. What I tasted instead was lard; it coated my tongue and turned my stomach. Into the trash it went!” A year and a half after taping the show, she had lost seventy-five pounds. And Jennifer is still losing, thanks to exercise coupled with her new way of eating. “Now, to satisfy my sweet tooth, I chew sugar-free gum,” she says. “It provides a sweetness and keeps my mouth busy so I can’t eat other foods—bonus! I’ve also rediscovered meringue cookies. I make small ones at home that are only about ten calories each. There are so many ways to vary the flavors of them, too. My favorites right now are vanilla, peppermint, and mini–chocolate chip. “The Best Life program has allowed me to find balance,” says Jennifer. “My new life is so much more rewarding than my old sweet fixes.” Finally, do the same for sugar: Gradually cut back in recipes like banana bread, cakes, pies, and cookies. (If making desserts at home gets you into trouble, then don’t. Instead get a single-serving treat when you go out. Just make sure to check labels and choose sweets with the lower sugar levels.)

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