Sugar, salt, flour and fat are addictive substances. If you’ve ever been in the grip of an intense food craving, you’ve experienced it… food addiction.
You might think that’s an exaggeration, but food researchers have found actual evidence that highly processed foods are indeed addictive, acting on our brains much like drugs or alcohol do.
If you were in the clutches of drugs or alcohol, you’d want out. It’s time to think about foods that are bringing your health down the same way. Foods that are engineered to addict you. Here’s insight into how it happens and how to help yourself break the away…
Processed foods are designed to ‘hook’ us
Dr. Ashley Gearhardt is a clinical psychologist and associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Michigan. She helped develop the Yale Food Addiction Scale.
The Food Scale is used to determine whether a person shows signs of addictive behavior toward food.
“People don’t experience an addictive behavioral response to naturally occurring foods that are good for our health, like strawberries,” says Dr. Gearhardt.
She says that highly processed foods are engineered to create addictive behavior, much like we experience with alcohol or cigarettes.
In the case of addictive foods, this means that we keep eating them, even as we watch our weight rise, and even after we develop health problems associated with it, including diabetes, sleep apnea, and fatty liver disease.
Research shows these foods are addictive
In a study involving more than 500 people, Dr. Gearhardt and her colleagues found that certain foods were especially likely to cause addictive behaviors including intense cravings and a loss of control.
They also observed an inability to cut back, even after experiencing harmful consequences.
In the case of foods, this addictive behavior means that we keep eating them, even as we watch our weight rise, and even after we develop health problems associated with it, including diabetes, sleep apnea, and fatty liver disease.
At the top of the list were pizza, chocolate, potato chips, ice cream, french fries and cheeseburgers.
All are low in fiber and water, which would slow their absorption into the bloodstream, and high in processed ingredients that absorb quickly and light up the reward centers of the brain.
You can break the junk food ‘habit’
The good news is that you are not helpless against addiction to processed foods.
There are steps you can take to keep from getting hooked on those drug-like foods.
- Know your triggers. When are you most likely to dive into junk food? After a long, hard day of work? After a fight with your spouse? Or just when you’re overtired?
- Know your foods of choice. When you do eat compulsively, what do you eat? It’s different for everyone. The most addictive food groups are sugar, fat, flour, wheat, salt, and artificial sweeteners, so your triggers probably fall in one or more of these categories.
- Replace junk foods with foods you enjoy. We’re not talking about broccoli here unless it’s a food you really love, and don’t struggle with. Instead of filling a bowl with potato chips, for example, fill it with nuts or raisins.
- Plan ahead. Don’t let yourself get hungry to the point where you’ll reach for anything, because it’s likely you’ll grab the addictive food over the healthy one. Prepare healthy snacks ahead of time, and keep them handy.
- Learn to tolerate cravings. Cravings are usually intense for only the first ten minutes or so. If you can wait it out that long, chances are you’ll forget about it.
Feel free to see how you score on the Yale Food Addiction Scale. At the link, you’ll find instructions on taking the questionnaire and how to use the information.
The concept of “food addiction” helps inform the understanding of overeating and obesity: YES — American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
How to Break the Junk Food Habit — Medical Express