Feb 22, 2021, 10:10 AM
Nicai de Guzman
Things like crisps and candy were designed to get us hooked. We love the texture, the taste, the good, fuzzy feelings after a bag or a slice. But when the scale slides to the right, it’s the first to go off our diets. For some people, however, cutting back on the junk is not that easy. Junk food addiction is very real and very serious.
We talk about addiction to cigarettes and alcohol often enough, but food addiction needs just as much attention. Food is delicious—we need it to live and it has as much emotional value as it does nutritional—but too much of anything isn’t good. And because we can’t stay completely sober from food, an obsession with eating is hard to treat.
Food addiction, according to Healthline, is an addiction to junk food that is comparable to drug addiction. It’s a controversial issue in psychology, but many experts agree that the condition exists. In fact, these days, unhealthy diets kill more people than tobacco consumption.
According to Global Burden of Disease, a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, “eating bad quality food is increasing the mortality rate at a higher speed than smoking”. In 2019, 11 million preventable deaths were caused by bad diets and bad food. On the other hand, tobacco caused eight million deaths.
Why are some people addicted to junk food?
It’s incorrect to believe that junk food addiction is caused by a lack of will power. After all, these types of food are scientifically created to be addictive. As nutritionist Stephanie Kay put it: “The time and energy that companies put into creating junk food are about more than just creating something that tastes good, it is a precise science that considers addictive behaviours, large studies, marketing practices and finding the exact combination of taste, texture, colour and design to get you to eat more”.
The pleasure that junk food delivers is a mirage. Addiction targets the same areas in the nervous system and processed junk food, just like drugs, affects the reward centers of the brain. The more junk food we eat, the more the brain releases dopamine, thus giving us fleeting bliss. However, the more junk food we eat, the more our brain needs it to bust out dopamine and recreate that happy effect. It’s as if the brain develops tolerance for junk food that you need to up your dose. Healthy food will pump out dopamine, sure, but junk food will kick up our neurons to overdrive.
What’s more, junk food also jacks other parts of the body, such as leptin (which signals the body when it’s full), ghrelin (which signals the body when it’s hungry), and insulin (which is vital in controlling blood sugar levels).
Though the reason behind junk food addiction is scientific, there is no actual test to confirm a medical diagnosis for a compulsive love for eating. Symptoms are generally behavioural, which makes it difficult to evaluate.
How can I know if I’m addicted to junk food?
Here are some of the known symptoms of junk food addiction but it’s still best to go to your doctor or nutritionist for a professional evaluation:
· Unexplained, insatiable cravings, despite having a full, balanced meal
· Often eating more than intended. In other words, you can’t help yourself
· Rationalising your bad eating habits
· Feeling guilty after eating junk food, yet going for that second bag of crisps anyway
· Gorging to the point of feeling ill
· Decreased energy or feeling lethargic despite eating
· Eating unhealthy food in secret because others ‘don’t understand’
· Going out of the way to obtain junk food
· Restlessness, insomnia, inability to focus
· Unable to use ‘will power’ despite the obvious negative effects of junk food bingeing
How can I beat junk food addiction?
Here are some suggestions on how you can stop craving junk food and be more disciplined about your eating habits.
Admit that you have a junk food addiction
When you’re in denial, you’ll keep making excuses for your behaviour. You need to recognise that something is a problem before you can solve it. Understanding your addiction—your trigger food, your health issues, among others—will help you come up with a better plan of action. For example, if your health is already in jeopardy, you might need to address that issue first.
Figure out what causes your binge
Do you eat when you’re stressed? Do you eat when you’re lonely? Figure out what makes you reach for that tub of ice cream. Moreover, figure out what you’re going to do instead of eating that ice cream. Start a hobby. Begin a journal. Learn to cook! Not only does the latter take time and effort—enough to distract you—it can also shove you towards cleaner eating.
Phone a friend
Getting over an addiction is hard. You’re going to need support, maybe even professionally. A friend looking out for you will help you become more responsbile. You’re also going to need that listening ear to keep you encouraged.
The way junk food releases dopamine, physical activity pumps out endorphins, which also results to a feeling of high. The difference is that exercise is very good for you. Not only does exercise have many benefits (improving your mood, helping your fitness, and alleviating stress) it will also help counter the effects of your bingeing, especially when you feel you can’t cut back on your diet yet.
Craft a sustainable plan
Quitting cold turkey is very difficult because you can’t not eat. You’re always going to face a trifle for the holidays or chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Are you cutting back? Are you looking for alternatives to your cravings? Is this a Band-Aid solution or do you want to get your entire future back on track?
Get in on a program!
Sometimes, letting someone help you is the fool-proof solution. BodySlims, for example, has programs based on their groundbreaking and unique approach to weight loss. Devised by leading performance coach Gerard Moran and fitness expert Sharon Tinkler, BodySlims aims to let you take back control of your life through motivation seminars, a calorie-controlled diet plan, support emails, coaching, and more! It really takes the guesswork out of the equation!
What healthy snacks can be an alternative to junk food?
Snacking isn’t bad. You just have to be mindful of your choices. Replace some of the sinful snacks with healthier options, like fruit. Check the labels and check the nutritional facts (or lack of). Claims on the front of the package are usually overpromising, but understanding the fine print will help you stay within your dietary goals.
Better yet, avoid the store-bought stuff and make your own dishes. This way, you can better manage what you put in your food and therefore your body. Realising the amount of sugar or salt in a cake or a bag of crisps could even discourage you from consuming them.
Here are some healthy alternatives to your junk food cravings…
Vegetable crisps as a replacement for packed crisps
One of the most addictive snacks ever is easily replaced with the right ingredients. Opt for a better base ingredient; root vegetables, like carrots, yuca, sweet potato, taro, beets; even leafy vegetables are great replacements. Go for a healthier oil and a healthier process as well.
Air-fried root vegetable crisps
Time: 30 minutes
Two of your favorite root crops, large
Olive oil spray
Pinch of sea salt
Minced fresh parsley (optional)
· Preheat the air fryer to 360°F. While heating, use a mandoline to cut the vegetable into even, chip-thin pieces. Transfer slices to a bowl and soak in cold water for 15 minutes. Drain then soak in fresh ice water for another 15 minutes.
· Place the vegetables on a towel and pat dry.
· Spray the vegetables with oil. Spray the interior of the air fryer as well. Sprinkle vegetables with salt.
· Place the slices inside the air fryer basket, one layer at a time. Cook until crispy and golden. Turn or shake the basket every five minutes. The entire process might take 15 minutes.
· Serve, with fresh parsley on top.
Dehydrated kale chips
Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Servings: 2 to 3
2 bunches of kale, de-stemmed
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt or other seasonings
· Make sure that the kale has been cleaned, dried, and de-stemmed. Cut them up to three inch pieces as the leaves tend to shrink in the cooking process.
· Drizzle the oil lightly over the kale, then add seasonings of your choice—just a sprinkle is enough.
· Lay the leaves carefully over the dehydrator rack, without overlaps.
· Dry the leaves in the dehydrator on 125°F or until they are completely crisp and dry. The process will take about two hours.
· No dehydrator? You can cook these in the oven as well. Lay them over parchment paper and bake for 30 minutes on 225°F.
Nice cream as a replacement for ice cream
Ice cream is a favorite for sad movies and sad moments, but it’s high on calories and high on sugar. Fortunately, ice cream is easy enough to convert as a healthy snack food. There are many alternatives to ice cream, from zero sugar to frozen yogurt, to Tofutti.
Banana and Strawberry Nice Cream
Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes; 6 hours
2 ripes bananas
2 cups strawberries
· Slice the bananas and strawberries into smaller pieces then freeze for two hours.
· Once frozen, air them out for a few minutes without completely thawing them.
· Toss all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse. It will first appear crumbly, but continue pulsing until you reach a soft-serve consistency.
· You can eat it as is, but if you want it thicker, you can put it in a sealed container and put it in the freezer for four or five hours.
How can I stay on the right track?
If you’ve managed to fend off obsessive cravings and weird dreams about cookies and cupcakes, then congratulations! But now what? How can you assure yourself that you’re staying on the right path? How can you ensure that you’re not about to sneak off somewhere and binge with a grocery cart of sweet treats?
Continue setting goals for yourself
Make sure to always have concrete plans. It’s not enough to say you want to lose weight or you want to quit junk food. The how is more important. More so, it’s also crucial to stay on the path of self-improvement. You’ve gotten over your addiction, now what? As you check off one milestone, add another to keep yourself motivated.
Don’t make feeling healthy seem like a chore. Depriving yourself won’t do you any favors, especially if you accidentally fall of the wagon. Trust us, the consequences will be much worse. Instead, learn to be mindful. Yes, you can have that chocolate bar, but be conscious about how much you eat. Yes, you can have a few bites of chips. This way, you’re the one in control and not the other way around. If you’re feeling nervous that you might trigger your addiction, remember that the reward doesn’t even have to be food. Take a break, shop for that bikini, book a vacation.
Adopt an overall healthier lifestyle
Junk food addiction isn’t merely physical. There’s a lot of emotional and psychological reasons behind why we binge. Find ways to handle stress better that don’t involve compulsive over-eating, like working out, yoga, or even therapy.
Enroll in a programme that will keep you in check
Companies like BodySlims will help you become more accountable for your health. BodySlims, for instance, understands in the shift towards better health, it’s not simply about the body, it’s about the mind too.
The program is comprehensive, from going over the intricacies of food and dealing with self-control to providing a step-by-step solution and sustainable meal plan. Are you ready to turn your dream body into reality?
Book BodySlims now. Make sure to check the page for the latest intake but if you're waiting for the next one, you can also download our free e-book of healthy, Mediterranean recipes here.