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Are You a Junk Food Junkie?

March 29, 2010

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Did you know that eating junk food can change the chemistry in your brain? A recent article on CNN.com reports on scientific findings that junk food is addictive. Addiction comes in many forms, and food addiction is nothing new. The article states "high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. When rats consume these foods in great enough quantities, it leads to compulsive eating habits that resemble drug addiction." Food is made more addictive when it is stripped of its nutrients, and we end up eating bad food not because we’re hungry but because we think we need it.

Morgan Spurlock demonstrated fast food addiction in his documentary film, Super Size Me. During his 30 day fast food binge, Morgan began to experience the addicting effects of subsisting on an all fast food diet; in particular, he craved his daily fix of fast food at every meal and felt ill when he did not get it. 

Just like drug addiction, this study explains that when eating too much junk food, we overload the "pleasure sensors" in the brain. The junk food makes us feel good for a short time, but once the pleasure sensors crash, we need more and more of the food to feel that sugar "high" again. Imagine your body needing a certain amount of junk food just to function normally?

It’s not surprising that processed, chemicalized foods alter brain chemistry. What’s surprising is that fast food is still the number one choice for many people. How do we help people overcome fast food addiction? Awareness is the first step. People need to be informed of the harmful effects of fast food.  Transitioning to a diet of whole foods is the key to helping a junk food junkie overcome the addiction. 

Can we program ourselves to become ‘addicted’ to healthy, nutritious foods instead of high-calorie, processed, junk foods?