Why is junk food so addictive? When does it stop being an occasional treat and start becoming something you can't stop thinking about?
Why are certain foods addictive?
Unnatural foods change the way the brain reacts when you are eating and this is why you end up with cravings. Our brain works on a reward system and when we eat something we like, our brain signals that we should eat more of it, whether that's because it was nutrient-dense or just because it tasted good.
There are different tricks that food manufacturers use to make you want to eat more of their food. For example, foods that melt in your mouth signal to your brain that you're eating less and stop you feeling full so that you eat more.
The harmful effects of junk food
A 2001 study in medical journal The Lancet found that the more junk food you eat, the more you need to get the same buzz as before, and so it spirals out of control. Eventually, you seek out the foods because of the way they make you feel, not even because they taste good or even because you're hungry. Have you ever gone to get fast food even when you're not hungry, and then realise it doesn't even taste that good? And yet you crave more? That's because of the way the chemicals affect your brain.
What are the symptoms of food addiction?
- Getting cravings even if you're already full.
- Not being able to stop eating even when you become full.
- Feeling guilty after eating (but then eating again anyway)
- Hiding food from others
- Making excuses to eat more
- Getting anxious, stressed, and even angry when food is restricted
How to get back on the right track
Being addicted to junk food is the same as any addiction, and it can be best to just cut it out altogether. It will be hard at first, but your brain will need time to rewire and relearn how to react when you eat.
Every taste is an acquired taste at first, but some are just easier to acquire than others. If you hate broccoli when you first eat it, keep trying until you do like it. Eventually, your body will realise all the nutrient-dense benefits it's giving you and you'll start to actually like it.
It will take more than just willpower to get over your addiction as it is affecting the actual chemicals in your brain. Set small, manageable goals like cooking from scratch and only eating out once a week.