The Science Behind Food Addictions
In North America and throughout the world, food addictions are a serious problem. Fast food, junk foods, and eating out are a way of life for some individuals and a way of finding comfort for others when things don’t go quite their way. Whether you consider overeating to be an addiction or ‘just’ a guilty pleasure, there is no denying that overeating is a serious health problem. Currently, more than one tenth of the world’s population suffers from obesity. That’s nearly half a billion people! It’s no secret that government agencies, and even some food industries, are encouraging us to eat healthier. With healthy meals being offered in restaurants and improvements to school lunch programs, the problem has been acknowledged. However, fighting these so-called food addictions may be ‘easier said than done’ and science proves it.
Researchers have been able to successfully prove that foods packed with sugar, salt and fat are much more addictive than healthy, natural and more wholesome foods. After all, how many individuals do you hear of who have an addiction to apples, carrots or other fruits and vegetables? It’s not very common! Chips, cakes, cookies, candies and other fatty, high-calorie foods are much more addictive.
According to studies, the brains of obese individuals act much like the brains of drug addicts. Scans on obese individuals show that – much like drug addicts – there are lower amounts of dopamine receptors in their brains. As a result, obese individuals are more likely to crave foods that help to boost dopamine receptors. Unfortunately, foods that help to boost dopamine receptors are often the very foods that are unhealthy for the body.
Another study conducted by Harvard University followed overweight adolescents. This study concluded that when overweight adolescents were permitted to consume junk foods and sweets, they consumed on average an additional 500 calories per day compared with days when they were not permitted to consume junk foods. With these patterns, overweight individuals are likely to consume an additional 182,500 calories a year. That adds up to about 52 pounds of additional weight gain per year. That’s right…a weight gain of 1 pound per week!