By Rosemary Marchese
Physiotherapist and mum of 3 fit kids
Junk food addiction is real, and makes you want more
Ever wondered why kids are so addicted to junk food? It’s because they want to defy us and increase our blood pressure, isn’t it? Um, nope. What about you? Are you struggling to give up that morning muffin? Well, this daily habit may be happening on automatic pilot. It literally can be seen as an addiction. While I’m not really surprised it’s always nice to have some science to back up what is pretty obvious. And parents, sorry to say, we may be fuelling your own, and your kids’ addiction.
It turns out that junk food IS addictive, and by indulging on guilty pleasures you are triggering the urge to binge eat, according to experts. High-calorie fast foods cause a flood-like release of the feel-good hormone dopamine from the brain. The result? You want more and more of the junk. So, if you eat junk you will have increases in the levels of dopamine in your brain and this will cause you to eat more!
I’d love to tell you that this evidence has started a ‘Quit junk food’ campaign around the world, but sadly I can see the pharmaceutical companies jumping on this bandwagon pretty fast. You see, dopamine acts on regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, motivation and feelings of pleasure. When we do normal, healthy things, such as exercise, this system is activated at normal levels and rewards our natural behaviours. But the junk food can be overstimulating this system and literally leading to a produced euphoric effect. The result? There is an urge to repeat it.
High-calorie treats increase feel-good chemicals
The researchers then noted that insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels and helps you feel full after eating, can reduce your food consumption, which we knew. Dr. Stephanie Borgland, of Calgary University in Canada, was quoted in the Daily Mail saying ‘Targeting this circuit with brain delivered insulin may provide a strategy to suppress food cravings.’ Spot on, Doctor. But how about strategies for removing the junk food and cravings altogether before we go injecting more stuff into our bodies that are already over supplied with ‘stuff’?
What’s my point? Previous research has literally shown us that fatty or sugary foods can be as addictive as cocaine. Compulsive over eaters and obese people who have ben shown images of junk food are actually irresistibly drawn to images of junk food, much the same as a cocaine addict gets when they look at images of white powder. Compulsive junk food eaters will continue to eat junk, even if there is an abundance of healthy food options available.
And that brings me to the kids. And maybe you.
It doesn’t matter how much healthy food you have in the house. If a kid is addicted to junk and you have it in the house to be seen they will want it. It’s a proven fact, not a conspiracy against you.
Tips to quit the junk food addiction:
- Remove junk food from the house (hear me out).
- If you want the ‘treat’ then pick a ‘treat night’ for the house and buy the treats for one night only.
- Choose one outing a week where treats can be purchased and consumed immediately. That way it’s not in the house.
- Tell your kids what you’re doing. Don’t ask for their permission. Their taste buds will acquire the taste.
- Talk positively about what you are doing. Rather than ‘We are not eating so many treats anymore’ focus on ‘Let’s make our bodies healthy and strong’.
- Get the kids involved in meal planning, meal preparation and even heading to a Farmer’s market to help pick fruit and vegetables.
- Grow something edible in your garden, even if it’s just herbs, to teach the kids about where food comes from!