Do you ever crave foods so much that it hurts? When you are trying to resist a food, is it almost painful? Do you ever feel like trying to give certain food is even harder than trying to quit smoking for those who do smoke? Do you sometimes feel like enjoying your favorite food is even better than sex?
Well, some scientists who were wondering the same things recently did a study called “Addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats”- Johnson & Kensey 2010. The scientists actually looked at rats and their consumption of junk foods and the effect on their brains. Specifically, they examined the D2 dopamine receptor system that is a known mechanism in drug addiction and obesity.
They actually found that the consumption “highly palatable” junk foods had a similar effect on the brain in chemistry as consuming drugs like cocaine or even heroin. Here is a quote from the study: “When the animal overstimulates its brain pleasure centers with highly palatable food, the system adapt by decreasing their activity. Now he animal requires constant stimulation from palatable food to avoid entering a persistent state of negative reward.” So essentially these rats developed physical addiction to these junk foods that they were being fed. That would explain why we sometimes feel we are addicted to foods and why cravings can be so intense.
Scientists also found that compulsive overeating was a side effects of this decreased dopamine activity. This would make sense because over time, your body is actually needing more and more of the pleasurable substance to satisfy your craving.
We know that our brains release dopamine whenever we enjoy something pleasurable like food or sex, but the alarming thing about this study is that it shows that junk foods actually stimulates the brain more than regular, natural foods do and that these foods actually cause physical change in the brain which in turn causes you to be addictive to the foods.
What’s more if we overstimulated our reward centers, then we will have a harder time finding pleasure in other things. This is why a drug addict can become so consumed with their drug that they will even neglect their physical health, their job, their family, etc. This would also explain why non-junk foods don’t seem as pleasurable or enjoyable as their junk food counterparts. This makes it very disturbing to think that junk foods cause the same addiction-like process in the brain that illegal drugs do.
It’s one thing for a restaurant to want you to enjoy their foods and become a more repeat customer, but if the foods are actually causing physical changes in the brain comparable to taking some kind of controlled substance, shouldn’t their at least be a surgeon general’s warning on the food? Warning: the food-like substance you are about to ingest contains chemicals which may be toxic, addictive, and which may cause compulsive overeating. These foods may cause you to become depressed and overweight. Please consume at your own risk.
Let’s look at cigarettes as an example: It wasn’t until 1964 that the surgeon general released their reports exposing the hazards of smoking. They also began requiring warning labels on cigarette packages and even restricting the advertising that tobacco companies could do. In the 1950s 44% of Americans were smokers and by 2005, that number plummeted to 24% due largely in part to the fact that people were more informed about the dangers of smoking. But there were also a lot of folks who were already addicted to cigarettes by the time that the surgeon general stepped in and so even though they had information and perhaps even the intentions to quit smoking, they now had a physical addiction to nicotine that they had to overcome as well.
To relate it all back to junk foods, America has become so full of junk food addicts that now it’s going to take so much more than just simple habit changes or learning how to cook new things. But luckily we do have the power and the free will to change our live, to control our health, and get rid of our junk food addictions.
In 2009, ABC news ran a segment that examines a similar study where scientists actually found that rats developed such strong addictions to junk foods that even electric shock would not deter them from consuming the foods. In the interview, Dr. Braverman actually said that if you are feeling like there are certain foods that you cannot resist or you are feeling like you are addicted to certain foods; it’s probably because you are. He explains that junk food addiction can be a slow process that often precedes obesity and diabetes. He goes on to say: “Obesity drives disease and kills you worse than any other condition.”
The best way to tackle the addictive nature of these foods is to avoid becoming addicted in the first place. We can actually prevent our children from developing these junk food additions by only exposing them to natural foods and natural flavors.
While Dr. Braverman does mention that genetics can play a role in how easily you might become addicted to junk foods, it’s not genetic that you are going to become addicted. We do have the power and the free will to take control of our brains and of our health. He goes on to say: “ the reality is that we live in a culture where it’s a little dangerous for the brain because we are constantly bombarded by junk foods, sugar, salt, and fried foods everywhere.”
For sugar cravings, he recommends using natural sweetened flavors such as honey and even cinnamon. Replacing your iodized salt with a natural sea salt and even spices like rosemary, basil, or turmeric can go a long way to curb salt cravings. He also says, “When you eat fresh spices, you supercharge your brain with high nutrient density and you can cut your addition and lose weight. It’s a permanent change in your brain so you will no longer crave the junk foods.”
He also mentions that we can significantly improve the rates of childhood obesity by preventing our children from developing those junk food addictions in the first place. If parents really knew that the food industry was turning their kids into junk food addicts, would they be as likely to make that run through the drive thru?
Childhood obesity and diabetes is a growing problem. In just over 10 years, the rate of childhood obesity increased exponentially from 4% up to 16% and it’s especially stunning because the original name of type 2 diabetes was adult onset diabetes. The name had to be changed when they realized that even children were developing the disease.
So, are junk food companies purposely making the foods additive knowing that it will cause us to overeat, to crave the foods, and to return next week? Or is it just a coincident that the foods happen to be addictive?
According to the former commissioner of the FDA, David A. Kessler, junk food addiction is no coincidence. He actually wrote a book called “The End of Overeating” and in it he explains that, “For over fifty years, food companies strove to create foods that were energy-dense, highly stimulating, and that went down easy. They put it on every street corner and made it mobile. They made it socially acceptable to eat anytime and anyplace. They created a food carnival and that’s where we live.”
If it wasn’t bad enough that these foods are void of nutrition and full of empty calories, they can actually cause physical changes in the brain that causes us to be addicted to the food and that causes us to compulsively overeat.
Now every person has the freedom to choose what they want to eat. But it’s also important that we have all of the information before we make those decisions on what to eat. In medicine this is called informed consent. When it comes to foods, the food companies would need to fully disclose all of the ingredients and the potential effects of those foods and while most food companies do disclose their full list of ingredients, they are in no way required to tell you what those chemicals are or what the potential effects of those chemicals might be. Please be sure to do research of what you are actually consuming for the benefit of your health and your family’s.