Is junk food addictive?

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YES - junk food is addictive

In fact, it's called the bliss point.

Processed food products are engineered to be irresistible and addictive. Large food processing companies often hold their own profits before the quality and nutritional value of their products. And it's no surprise, that big food companies aim to give consumers what they want to optimize their profits, but the process of product development is actually quite sophisticated, relies on psychology and neuroscience, and is tested rigorously before it's aggressively and expertly marketed to us.

It's how food companies ensure you keep coming back - this isn't due to a lack of willpower - it's a much more complex and intentional. The best solution is to avoid all processed foods. Moderation is not possible when you are addicted.

A 2015 study published in PLOS One, researchers found that certain foods - including pizza, fried food, chocolate, potato chips, cake, and ice cream - were more likely to elicit addictive-like eating behaviours, such as strong cravings and an inability to reduce consumption despite harmful consequences.

People tend to get cravings when the brain starts calling for certain foods - often processed foods that aren't considered healthy or nutritious.

Even though the conscious mind knows they're unhealthy, some other part of the brain seems to disagree. Junk food stimulates the reward system in the brain in the same way as addictive drugs, such as cocaine.

For susceptible people, eating junk food can lead to full-blown addiction, which shares the same biological basis as drug addiction.

There is a system in the brain called the reward system, which also holds a thin line between pleasure and pain when it comes to junk food, eating our emotions and the behaviours we have learnt as a child when food was used as a reward or a treat to comfort or soothe.

Frequent consumption of junk food can also lead to dopamine tolerance. This means that a person will have to eat even more junk food to avoid going into withdrawal.

Regularly giving in to cravings for junk food may be a sign that someone is experiencing food addiction or emotional eating.

When a person repeatedly does something that releases dopamine in the reward system, such as smoking a cigarette or eating a chocolate bar, dopamine receptors can start to downregulate.

If the brain observes that the amount of dopamine is too high, it begins removing dopamine receptors to keep things balanced.

When there are fewer receptors, more dopamine is needed to reach the same effect, which causes people to start eating more junk food to reach the same level of reward as before. This is called tolerance.

If there are fewer dopamine receptors, the person will have very little dopamine activity and start to feel unhappy when they don't get a junk food "fix." This is called withdrawal.

Written by Natalie E West DCht, IICT
Published August 20th, 2022

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Processed Food Addiction