Updated: Dec 28, 2020
With the installation of refined sugars into modern diets, an alarming portion of the world's population seems to be taken up by food addiction. Some would argue that processed foods aren't that bad, but we struggle with the highest number of obesity and disease today versus 100 years ago. What changed? What was introduced to humans in the last 100 years? Can processed foods cause the brain and hormones to want to eat more?
Food addiction is a new and controversial term, but many people who have experienced and overcome food addiction will tell you that this addiction is real. I struggled with food addiction from my childhood to my early 20's. I thought eating snacks as a kid was normal until I got older and realized one cookie was never enough, I needed the WHOLE pack.
I couldn't understand why some of my friends didn't have a sweet tooth like me. I found myself to be that one friend who always had candy and soda when my other friends preferred real food. I liked real food too, but I couldn't imagine having a meal without a massive amount of dessert after.
This increased the number on the scale, but I became very disappointed after my binge eating episodes. I would always say, "this is my last time," but that was never true?.
I then came across food addiction in my studies in college. I had to study why people struggled with obesity, and some didn't. I had to learn what caused one's brain to never feel satisfied after eating. The research showed that those who were obese had a higher need for dopamine release than those who weren't. They also had imbalances in insulin, leptin, and ghrelin... all hormones that control your hunger.
If you arent satisfied and still were hungry after eating, wouldn't you want to continue eating? Not only does processed foods increase the reward center in the brain but it manipulates the hormones to want more food!
What is Food Addiction?
Simply, food addiction is being addicted to junk foods in a related way that people are addicted to alcohol and drugs.Think about it: Why can some people buy a pint of ice cream and have it last the month, while others set out to have one bowl, but end up eating the whole container? This mirrors the classic struggle of an alcoholic: having "just one" is practically impossible.
Imagine a massive bowl of broccoli or apple slices. Can you think of anyone who binges on broccoli? That is to say, they start eating it and can't stop until it is all gone? Now picture that same massive bowl full of potato chips, or an enormous plate of cookies, or liter of coke. It is easy to imagine those foods disappearing in one sitting while the consumer feels helplessly satisfied and ill at the same time.This is true because broccoli and apples are not addictive, but processed foods such as ice cream, cookies, and soda can become addictive substances.
How Does it Work?
Food addiction hijacks your brain's reward system in the same way as other addictions. Studies reveal that high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods affect the brain in the same way as drugs like heroin and cocaine. These foods affect neurotransmitters, such as dopamine in the brain-eating these foods makes us feel good temporarily and crave more.
Foods that are high in refined sugar, wheat, or salt – or a factory developed a combination of all three ingredients to create a "highly palatable" food – are the most problematic when it comes to addiction. Most of today's junk foods are designed to be as addictive as possible, which keeps people returning for more (and creating significant profits for the manufacturers).
Overcoming Food Addiction
Overcoming addiction is challenging. How can we overcome an addiction to food when tempting foods are more accessible than alcohol or other drugs? After I realized I had a food addiction, I started to take the proper steps to overcome it!These tips can help you take control of overeating and food cravings:
Completely cut out sugar and artificial sweeteners from your diet. Once you stop eating the addictive foods you now crave, the cravings will slowly go away.
Make a plan for what you will eat. List healthy foods you already enjoy and incorporate them into your daily diet. Make thorough weekly meal menus and a plan for how you will stick to them.
Identify feelings, places, and foods that will trigger a relapse. Make a plan for what you will do each time a craving comes up. You may have to change your routine; maybe you take a different route to avoid driving by the bakery you stop at every day.
Don't have any junk at home. If you allow junk food to be in the cabinet, you will have to use a lot of WillPower to not eat it! You can avoid this by not having it in your home.
These are some steps to stop the chemical reaction of food addiction. What tends to happen after someone overcomes an addiction they will have a lot of energy and more focus. This can be a good and bad thing.
How can this be bad? When someone has been struggling with addiction for a lengthy period of time, they will naturally avoid people and things they love. This can build an unbalanced life. When that person overcomes the addiction, they finally realize what they have done and how much time they wasted. This can stress that person out and spin them back into that addiction.
How can this be good? Others would use that energy and focus and apply it to the things they genuinely LOVE.
How I beat my addiction. Eliminating processed foods did help with the chemical element of my food addiction, but it only leads me to binge eating once a week. Why? Because the root cause of my food addiction was EMOTIONAL.
So yes, processed foods did cause me to want to overeat, but it wasn't my ROOT cause to why I wanted the food to begin with.
In my next blog, I will walk you through 4 steps to beating Emotional food addiction long term.
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