Why is junk food so addictive?

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Why is junk food so addictive?

Everyone enjoys a chocolate bar every now and again! But why is junk food and those sugary snacks so hard to resist?

Why is junk food so hard to resist?

In a way, it's simple - junk food is tasty because of three nutrients: sugar, salt and fat.

These are the three main things that influence our 'hedonic hunger.' Hedonic hunger is the desire to eat when we're not really hungry, basically the idea that 'dessert goes into a separate stomach'.

We can trace our desire to eat sweet foods back to the first humans! They learned that naturally sweet foods are rarely poisonous and safe to eat. However, finding these energy-dense and sweet foods was pretty rare, so our hedonic system encouraged us to keep eating, keeping us from starving!

These energy-dense foods aren't rare anymore, and instead of keeping us from starving, hedonic hunger is being studied as one of the biggest drivers of obesity. Modern society is full of easy-to-grab, highly processed foods that our pleasure-seeking brains compel us to eat.

How do food manufacturers make food addictive?

Unhealthy food manufacturers make their money by ensuring that you buy as much of their product as possible.

They do this by spending a lot of money to make food as addictive as possible and reach something called the 'bliss point'.

The 'bliss point' is the amount of sugar, salt or fat which people find the tastiest. Most of the food we eat become less tasty or enjoyable as time continues. We get bored of the flavour and our brain stops getting as much pleasure from it. Foods that have been carefully made to reach the 'bliss point' have the ability to override the brain's natural signals which tell us to stop, and keep us coming back for more.

The 'bliss point' works by releasing dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is a 'happy chemical' which our brain can releases with sex, social media, shopping and nice food! When you eat highly processed junk food, it releases dopamine in your brain, making it more and more irresistible.

How can I resist junk food cravings?

We shouldn't demonise or see any foods as completely off-limits. It's not healthy, and it's definitely less fun. But there are somethings you can try to help you reduce to amount of junk food you eat.

1. Try to understand your cravings

Rather than trying to ignore your cravings, get curious and recognising how you feel when you crave or eat a particular food.

Knowledge is power, and understanding what happens when you eat junk food helps you to step back and become less interested in this habit. Next time you have a craving for some junk food, try to figure out what's happening like how you're feeling, the time of day and other things that could be happening.

For example, if  you crave junk food when you are stressed or sad, there could be other emotional releases that help you. Walking, music, or writing in a diary are all be great stress busters.

2. Try and eat more balanced meals

Eating balanced meals that help us feel satisfied and full for a long time, helps reduce junk food cravings between meals.

In your meals, try and aim for

  • Fresh vegetables
  • Unprocessed meat or fish
  • Wholegrain carbs like brown rice

3. Be kind to yourself

Beating yourself up and sabotaging yourself isn't good for your self-esteem, which is really important when you're trying to break a habit.

It's difficult to be kind to yourself, but it's much easier to succeed when you do. This doesn't just mean avoiding negative self-talk, but making time to do those things that make you feel great like a workout or meeting friends.

Remember, that one treat isn't the end of the world and shouldn't mean you give up! Consistency is what creates change, not perfection.

4. Eat foods with high volumes of water first

High water content foods are great if you love to feel full, but are also trying to eat nutritious food. Some foods high in water include raspberries, celery, cucumber, melon, broccoli and strawberry.

Along with having a high water content, they're packed with vitamins and minerals and often full of fibre too. So keep your digestive system in good nick too!

5. Sleep

Making sure you get enough sleep is important for most aspects of our lives, but sleep is often overlooked when we think about food cravings!

Research has demonstrated we feel more hungry when we've not had enough sleep. On top of this, when we're tired we are more likely to crave and eat energy dense, sugar, and fat filled junk foods.

Getting the right amount of sleep can really help reduce the risk of junk food cravings.

6. Out of sight, out of mind

It's much easier to eat healthily when you don't keep junk food in the house. For many people, the additional barrier of having to leave the house when you might want a packet of crisps a good way of reducing the amount of junk food you eat!