If you are anything like me, you have tried at one point in your life to lose weight or make a promise to yourself to eat healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is never as easy as it seems. No matter how many juice cleanses or fad diets I try, I always have the urge to call the nearest dominos and order a large pepperoni pizza, grab those potato chips from the pantry, or devour a giant tub of ice cream. Most of the times, I end up caving in and my pursuit to eat healthy has evaporated in a matter of weeks. Why is this so? Is there such thing as an addiction to junk food?
What is an addiction & why are we addicted to things?
When most of us hear the word addiction, our minds immediately gravitate to something like cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. However, people all around the world are addicted to a bunch of other things that do not include drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol. Junk food is one of those addictions. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, an addiction is no longer thought of as a criminal, social, or moral dilemma. Extensive research has shown that the impulsive behavior associated with addiction has more to do with your brain and neurotransmitters than substance abuse. Think about how awesome it feels when you see your waiter bringing your food to you at your favorite restaurant or how satisfying it can be to eat Wings Over after cramming all night for exams. Not only are you excited to see your food coming towards you, but your brain is as well. In the Wings Over example, you are rewarding yourself with junk food after a night of studying. When you eat, you are rewarding your body for working hard. When this happens, a neurotransmitter called dopamine gets released by nerve cells that tell your brain that this is a reward. Typically, the more rewarding a feeling is, the more dopamine appears in the brain.
Is junk food as addicting as drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol?
According to over 2,700 studies and citations, an addiction to junk food can be as powerful or even more powerful than the addiction to substances like morphine, cannabis, and cocaine. At first thought, you might think that a statement like that is completely outlandish. But when we dig a little deeper and study the effects on the brain, drug addictions and food addictions are eerily similar. When someone takes a drug like cocaine, neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are released and this gives our bodies a “feel good” signal. Sound familiar? That’s because it is. When we reward our body and eat our favorite junk foods, those same neurotransmitters are released.
Why is this a problem?
While having junk food every once in a while will not have a significant impact on your life, constantly eating junk food and overeating will. Overeating can lead to obesity and obesity can lead to a string of health problems like diabetes and heart disease. My first instinct to combat this problem is to simply eat less or eat junk food less frequently. However, that is not that easy. Those neurotransmitters that are activated when we eat are favorite foods can sometimes interfere with our bodies trying to tell us that we have had enough food. What can we do to fix this? Authority Nutrition suggests that we write down and keep a list of foods that we crave and also jot down a list of fast food places in your area and try your best to avoid them and stick to a healthy diet.