Do you overeat? Do you have an unstoppable craving for certain foods? Did you know that certain foods you eat can have an effect on your brain and lead to an addiction?

What is food addiction?

Food addiction is basically a dependency on junk food, a state where you do not have control over addictive junk food despite its negative consequences. A study published in the Nutrients Journal 2014 stated that up to 20% of the general public may suffer from food addiction.

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How does food addiction work?

Not having control over addictive junk food is not about a lack of willpower, it is caused by the powerful effect it can have on the reward centres of your brain.

Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter in the reward centre of your brain, it regulates emotional behaviour and makes you feel good. It is released when you eat addictive junk food.

The more addictive the junk food you eat, the more dopamine is released, making you feel good.

As you continue eating the addictive junk food, the dopamine receptors become less sensitive so you find yourself eating more and more to be able to feel good.

A study published in the Neuroscience Journal 2005 found that daily bingeing on addictive junk food repeatedly stimulated the release of dopamine, the brain neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure. Junk food will make you feel good and you eat more and more of it.

Here are 2 of the most addictive junk foods

1)  Sugar

Sugar is one of the most addictive junk foods. It is very high in fructose so it will make you fat.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013 suggests that foods high in sugar can be addictive.

When you eat foods full of sugar, a huge amount of dopamine is released in the reward centre of your brain to convey the feelings of pleasure  The more you eat these foods, the more dopamine is released and the more pleasure you have.

addictive junk food_2When the dopamine is released over and over again, the receptors for the dopamine signal down-regulates, there are now few of them so there is an inability to experience the reward from the sugary food, so you eat more to get the same effect leading to an addiction.

Sugar was shown in the Neuroscience Biobehav Rev Journal 2009 to be addictive like drugs such as cocaine and nicotine.

2) Processed foods

Processed foods are one of the most addictive junk foods.  They are generally high in unhealthy fats, refined salt and sugar.

Examples of common processed foods include:

– bread
– pizza
– burgers
– crisps
– fries
– rice
– cakes
– biscuits
– breakfast cereals
… and many more.

When you eat processed foods, it will induce a blood sugar spike and increase in insulin, stimulate activity in regions of your brain associated with reward and pleasure and you become addicted to eating the food.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013 found that processed foods will bring on a spike in your blood sugar, increase your hunger and stimulate the brain regions associated with reward and craving.

The bottom line

Eating addictive junk food will take control of your brain chemistry to make you crave more and eat more. It is not about a lack of willpower.

If you are struggling with food addiction, health professionals and various support groups can help you overcome it.

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References

1. Pursey K M, Stanwell P, Gearhardt A N, Collins C E, Burrows T L (2014) The prevalence of food addiction as assessed by the Yale Food Addiction Scale: a systematic review. Nutrients, 6: 4552-4590

2. Rada P, Avena N M, Hoebel B G (2005) Daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell. Neuroscience, 3: 737-744.

3. Lennerz  B S, Alsop D C, Holsen L M, Stern E, Rojas R, Ebbeling  J M, Ludwig D S (2013) Effects  of dietary glycemic index on brain regions related to reward and craving in men.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,  doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.064113.

4. Avena N M, Rada P, Hoebel B G (2009) Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience Biobehav Rev Journal, 32: 20-39.

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