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Junk food addiction is a real thing! Here’s everything you need to know about it
#1
Is 80% of your meals salty, sugary or deep-fried foods? You may be addicted to junk food! Read this to find out how you can control this addiction.
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Food has developed from a basic necessity to an object of desire. And in the recent times, it has become a substance of abuse. Junk foods are considered something useless, extra or something that is not needed. Not only are those foods extremely unhealthy, but they also impact various aspects of your life.
Junk food addiction – What is it?
Do you crave for junk food and eat it on a regular basis? Do you want to quit it, but you can’t? It’s time to retrospect. You are addicted to junk food, and you may not be aware of it. Junk food addiction is compulsive eating of junk food which is out of control and causing problems for you and your near ones
The tell-tale signs
Is your relationship with food healthy? You may be hooked on to high-fat, high-sugar foods even without you realizing it! So when one refers to you as an ‘addict’, it sure is difficult to accept.
There are no tests to diagnose food addiction. Wondering whether you are addicted to junk food? Look for the tell-tale signs. If you can relate to most of the below-mentioned symptoms, then you are most likely a junk food addict.
1. Marked increase in food consumption
When you retrospect, you may find yourself consuming food way more than you used to. Your portion size and eating frequency may be increased over time.
2. Preoccupation with food
Your life revolves around food. You spend a lot of time/activity to purchase or obtain that junk food.
3. Intentional overeating even when full
Did you just have a filling meal, but still crave for some sweet? Wanting food when hungry is normal. Yearning for some treat after a healthy meal once-a-while is ok too. But if this becomes a habit, it is a sign to watch out for. What more, you may have your own excuses for doing so.
4. Not sticking to moderation
So, you did give in to the craving. But you reason that it will be just a bite or two. Moderation is good. A small bite won’t do you harm. But did you end up binge eating? And does this happen often? You sure can’t stick to ‘moderation’.
5. The guilt trip and back
You start feeling remorseful that your intended one bite turned into a whole meal. You feel sorry that you lost the willpower to refrain from eating junk. If only that translated into action the next time! You go back to square one next time you eat junk food, and the vicious cycle continues.
6. Eating when upset or depressed
When faced with an emotional turmoil in life you may reach out for junk food to make yourself feel better. You eat to fill your emotional needs, instead of eating to fill your stomach.
7. Having withdrawal symptoms
When food is not available, you may show physiological or psychological withdrawal symptoms similar to those seen in drug withdrawal.
8. Persistent unsuccessful attempts at cutting down and quitting
You do want with all your heart to quit junk eating. You even set rules. But more often than not, you end up failing every time. You fail to curb your cravings even after trying everything. You are unsuccessful at controlling your urge even when you know that junk foods cause health issues like obesity, heart disease, type II diabetes, etc. in the long run. Now, that’s some serious concern.
9. Hiding the addiction from others
You set rules but are not able to stick to them. That would show you in a bad light with your family and friends. So what do you do? No points for guessing. Yes, you invariably hide your addiction from them. You will even go the extra mile to erase all proofs of your indulgence. Not guilty until proven, isn’t it!
What’s causing your addiction?
Is your junk food addiction just a lack of willpower? Not really. Your longing for a specific food could correspond to a specific need in the body or a particular mood! Craving for junk food could be due to stress!
Research has found parallels between too much junk food intake and drug addiction1. Eating junk food changes your responses to signals associated with food rewards. Just like addiction drugs, junk foods over stimulate the reward center of the brain to release dopamine, a chemical which gives you a sense of pleasure. They boost the release of dopamine in much more quantities than would be stimulated by eating healthy food. They hijack your brain pathways and show effects of tolerance, withdrawal, loss of control, etc. The feel-good signals may override the signals of satiety, and you end up eating food even when you are full or not hungry, resulting in over-eating. You lose control over your junk food consumption, repeatedly fail in attempts to reduce its intake, and are unable to abstain from them or reduce consumption even in the face of harmful consequences2. The dominance of junk food advertisements, the lure of convenience, easy availability and good taste only add to the existing addiction3.
Did you know that your junk food cravings are inherited from your mother? According to a study, the intensity of cravings for junk food depends much on mother’s diet during late pregnancy. Also, eating a healthy diet during adolescence could reverse the cravings in males but not females.
Getting rid of the addiction
Any addiction doesn’t resolve on its own. Not even your junk food addiction. On the contrary, it will only get worse with time.
So, how do you de-addict yourself? Just avoid it. Simple, but certainly not easy! You need to completely avoid it at all times. No cheating allowed. But before you start, make up your mind to stick to it. Think of all the negative things your addiction will do to you. Stay motivated by trying to focus on the benefits you will be gaining. Make up your mind to not give in to your cravings. Identify the patterns to your cravings and avoid the triggers.
Eliminate junk foods slowly from your diet over a period. Start by curbing your cravings once in a while. Make some easy food switches that help cut down your intake of junk food and make your diet healthier. Then, you can proceed to avoid them altogether. There are healthy ways to cut down on eating processed foods. Attend to your nutrient deficiencies as they can make your cravings worse. Avoid unnecessary social get-togethers where junk foods are being served. Often junk foods are comfort food and a way of dealing with your emotional issue. So, try working through that emotion. Dieting while seeking to de-addict will only make it harder for you. Focus on one issue at a time. Your weight loss program can wait. Once you curb your junk food addiction, losing weight will be easier!
If you are unsuccessful in curbing the addiction on your own, seek help from a trained nutritionist and therapist/counselor. A nutritionist can help you understand the basics of a good and balanced diet and enable you to eliminate all the junk foods from your diet. A therapist/counselor can help you find ways to cope with the cravings when feeling bored, lonely or upset and help recover with meditation, yoga or other forms of exercise.
Quitting junk food – what it does to your body
Like any addiction, an abrupt end to junk food can initially cause withdrawal symptoms. You may feel lethargic and have headaches. You may be highly irritable.
But over the long term, you gain by quitting junk food. Your health improves drastically. The risks of heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease are reduced. Junk food slows down the brain. Quitting the addiction can help halt the effect and improve your brain function. High-fat, high-sugar junk food are responsible for acne breakouts. You will have fewer acne problems by kicking the habit. You may be spared trips to the dentist too! Processed soft foods high in sugar create havoc with oral health. Shifting to unprocessed coarse foods low in sugar reduces the problems with your teeth. There is so much to gain by abstinence from junk food. But you do have one thing to lose – your weight. And, you surely wouldn’t mind that.
References
1. Gold MS. From bedside to bench and back again: a 30-year saga. Physiol Behav. 2011 Jul 25;104(1):157-61. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.04.027. Epub 2011 Apr 28. Review. PubMed PMID: 21530563.
2. Gearhardt AN, Corbin WR, Brownell KD. Food addiction: an examination of the diagnostic criteria for dependence. J Addict Med. 2009 Mar;3(1):1-7. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0b013e318193c993. PubMed PMID: 21768996.
3. Kaur M, M Hegde A. Are we Aware of what we are, we are what we Eat- An Epidemiological Survey. Int J Clin Pediatr Dent. 2008 Sep;1(1):13-6. doi:10.5005/jp-journals-10005-1003. Epub 2008 Dec 26. Review. PubMed PMID: 25206083; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4086540.


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