I was recently asked to do a quick interview regarding my views on junk food and how they can affect a person and their diet. I thought this would be an interesting, quick read to share.
How does food addiction work? How does it affect the brain? What sort of junk foods have you seen cause an addiction?
Food addiction is a behavioural addiction characterised by compulsive consumption of high fat and high sugar foods. These types of food activate a system in the brain called the reward system in the same way as addictive drugs do. Once the system is activated, “feel-good” chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin are released. These chemicals control the pleasure and the reward centre of the brain, inducing us to continue eating. Examples of high palatable foods are French fries, cheesy puffs, hamburgers and cakes.
Why do you think junk food addiction is a thing?
Food addiction is a serious condition. Similar to drug addicts or smokers, food addicts become depend upon “the good” feelings that are obtained from consuming high palatable foods. As a result, they eat when they are not hungry consuming beyond their calorie requirements. This leads to a serious of detrimental health conditions which include obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, anti-social behaviour, depression and anxiety.
Should we take junk food addiction as seriously as other addictions?
My answer is yes. Even though foods do not exert the same pharmacological effects as drugs, food addiction is a plausible cause of obesity and certain eating disorders such as binge eating disorder. It isolates people from their loved ones, causing physical and mental harm, the same way as drugs and alcohol do.
What is the impact of food addiction on us physically, mentally?
Food addiction leads to several physicals, emotional and social consequences. The most common ones are:
-Physical: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stroke, liver disease and reduced sleep.
-Physiological: low self-esteem, depression, self-isolation, emotional detachment and increased feelings of anxiety.
Anything else you would like to add:
You can recognise when someone has a food addiction, as the person tends to easily lose the control over eating behaviours and eat to the point of feeling sick. Moreover, it is common that the person experiences withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, headache, irritability and restlessness. If a person shows at least three of the following behaviours, then they can be qualified as food addicts:
- The food is taken in larger amounts than intended
- Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down the substance use
- Most time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance
- Important activities are neglected
- Substance use is continued despite knowledge of the harmful effects that it has on the body, physically and mentally.
I finally want to add that food addiction is preventable and treatable. The goal of food addiction treatment is to identify the causes (which can be a sexual abuse, a traumatic event, a lack of social support and many others) and address them with therapeutic counselling. In the UK there are some specific clinics such as the Rehab4addiction where you can seek help and develop the skills and mental fortitude to sustain your recovery for the long term and better regulate your emotional state.
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