The seeds for food addiction are innocently sown in early childhood. By those who love us most. Our very own families. All within the first year of life.
With birthday cake bites, ice cream licks and nibbles of cookies, candies and cereals, the hyper-palatability of processed foods trains our brains to want more.
Sweet foods like ice cream, cake, cookies and candy are ubiquitous at family celebrations and outings. They’re used as rewards for good report cards, chores completed, awards won and achievements accomplished. Even for “cleaning your plate” at mealtime.
Motivated by love and caring, our parents and friends only want to amplify our happiness with delectable sweet treats. But with each bite firing off an out-sized “feel good” dopamine hit, we’re conditioning our brains to want more and more.
The addiction circuits in your brain are stimulated and reinforced day after day, year after year.
Is it any wonder you crave chocolate?
Addiction is integral to the food manufacturing industry’s profitability model.
The combination of our loved ones offerings us sweets and treats from infancy plus the food industry’s development and marketing juggernaut predisposes us to addiction before we can understand what’s happening to us.
Of course the manufacturers don’t come right out and confess to this travesty. They claim they are providing only what consumers demand.
But we all understand how strong the undertow of cravings can become. The siren call of cravings, urges and non-stop desires for certain hyper-palatable foods can overpower even the staunchest resolve to abstain.
And, although broccoli, a chicken leg or an apple taste good when we are hungry, when do we ever feel our brain has been hijacked with knee-buckling cravings for these simple, unadorned whole foods? Like never?
Fair warning: what follows is my excoriation of the highly processed food manufacturers and their insidious and relentless destruction of our health and well-being.
I AM OUTRAGED!!!
The public appetite for food that tastes good and makes us feel good, regardless of how it negatively impacts our health, is the lever the food industry exploits under the guise of giving consumers what they want.
Here’s what’s really happening behind the scenes in the processed food industry.
Food chemists manipulate the ratios of sugar, salt and fat to maximize the addictive qualities of the food they manufacture. Why?
To sell more products and keep us coming back for more. That out-sized dopamine hit tells us that THIS food is THE food to seek out. Our neurochemistry drives our out-sized desire.
To provide shareholders and investors with the highest return on investment.
According to Robert Lustig, MD, the food industry grosses $1.5 trillion annually with net profits of $660 billion. That’s a 45% return on investment.
Now you can see their motivation to keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing despite scientific data which demonstrates the dangers to our physical and mental health from highly processed foods.
We still operate according to the biological imperatives of our ancestors.
In the era of the hunter/gatherer, all berries that tasted sweet in nature were safe to eat. That degree of “sweetness” was very mild compared to the level of sweetness that assaults our taste buds today.
Since your ability to taste sweetness is located right on the tip of your tongue, your brain can quickly recognize “safe” foods beneficial to your survival.
When your brain perceives something as beneficial to survival, due to thousands of years of evolution and ingrained basic instinct, it produces that good old dopamine signal.
Dopamine, as I’ve been mentioning so much in this post, is THE chemical that causes feelings of pleasure and happiness. We rely on this reward system to reinforce desirable behaviors.
As you can imagine, the brain perceives sex as important for procreation. So it produces high levels of dopamine during and after sex to reinforce that it’s a very good behavior. We MUST remember this. It’s this dopamine hit that encourages us to keep remembering and repeating this species procreation behavior.
Dru also cause the brain to flood with dopamine. And, as you might expect, this chemical message tricks us into believing that drugs are necessary and important for our survival. Now we’re in drug abuse territory.
Take away: Over time, with high dopamine stimulation, the brain’s ability to produce its own dopamine diminishes. When that happens, it depends on substances to create it. This is how addiction progresses.
How we’re hooked by the processed food industry.
The food industry relies on a highly manipulated combination of salt, sugar, and fat to “override our dietary self-control” with foods “so perfectly engineered to compel over-consumption.”
These engineered concoctions provide dopamine wallop which tricks our brains into thinking these products are GOOD for our survival.
The result? FOOD ADDICTION!
According to Michael Moss in his book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, processed food manufacturers “dominate the American diet” with tens of thousands of edible products stacked on supermarket shelves.
Competition is fierce to outsell competitors, grow market volume, market share, shelf space share, and stomach share. The expanding girth of so many stomachs proves their success!
Salt, sugar, and fat are “the three pillars of processed food.”
With sugar and fat intake, brain pleasure centers light up bright yellow in functional magnetic resonance imaging studies, just as with cocaine.
Increasing the amount of sugar in a product leads to the “bliss point”, actually the range in which consumers express maximum taste satisfaction. Once achieved, the manufacturers know they’ve created a product that will sell.
On average, Americans consume 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, over two-thirds from processed food. Nearly all processed food has added sugar.
As regards fat, instead of a “bliss point,” there is a search for the ideal “mouthfeel” (dryness, gumminess, and moisture release) to enhance a food’s palatability.
Fat can be added to edible food products without limit. We find it in pizza, sauces, condiments, chocolate, cake, cookies, frozen dinners, candy, pretzels, chips to name a few..
Three-fourths of salt intake is from processed foods with only 6% of sodium intake from added table salt . Almost all processed food has added salt. Salt too has “addictive qualities.”
Newborn babies love sugar but dislike salt. However, they adjust to liking it, upon coaxing, on or after the age of 6 months when they are exposed to processed foods. The food industry has knowingly created a craving for salt.
Reducing salt, sugar, or fat in any product inevitably leads to an increase of one or both of the other two components of this jolly threesome to improve the product’s taste.
How’s this for a no nonsense indictment of processed foods? According to Moss, many leading executives in the processed food industry avoid eating the products of their own companies.
The roller-coaster ride of sugar consumption.
Besides tasting delicious, when it causes the opioid receptors in your brain to activate, your neurological reward system lights up. Remember the biological design described above?
Sugar makes you feel good emotionally, despite the negative side effects excess consumption can cause, like headaches, energy crashes, and even hormonal imbalances.
Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach explains:
The high glycemic index [of processed sugars] can spike blood sugars in the body fast and drop them quickly as well,” leading to a kind of roller coaster effect on blood sugars, Derocha explained. “As blood sugar levels rise, you’ll experience a quick increase in energy. Sadly, because those levels become regulated quickly, an energy or “sugar” crash is not far behind the spike, especially when dealing with added sugars.
Highly processed foods defined.
Think of an apple.
- Stage 1: The whole apple you hold in your hand is unprocessed. The fiber and nutrients remain intact.
- Stage 2: When you slice an apple and remove the seeds, you’ve lightly processed it. The fiber and nutrients remain intact.
- Stage 3: When you stew the apples and make unsweetened apple sauce, you’ve minimally processed the apple. Some fiber content and nutrient content are still available.
- State 4: But, when you pulverize the apple to extract the juice, then you’ve created a highly processed product. The fiber and nutrient content have been significantly altered. Often other ingredients have been added to preserve it and improve the flavor.
Highly processed foods are those products that have been altered from their original state with ingredients added to preserve or enhance the flavor or shelf life of the product.
End your addiction to highly processed foods to feel better fast.
The first step in treating food addiction is to ditch the processed foods. That’s anything that comes in a bag, box, wrapper with a nutritional label on the back.
If you think about it, you may notice that whole foods do not have nutrition labels listing ingredients. They ARE the ingredient.
Just because we are consuming calories doesn’t mean we’re consuming food that can nourish our bodies.
Sugar might taste good to you, but processed sugars aren’t good for you. Eating a lot of refined, added sugars can lead to headaches, low energy levels, and inflammation.
Cutting sugar out of your diet will likely decrease inflammation, boost your energy levels, and improve your ability to focus.
So, what happens to your body when you stop eating processed foods?
Studies have shown that when someone stops eating sugar there are similar effects as when people stop using drugs. You may experience intensified cravings, exhaustion, headaches, brain fog and irritability. Some people even have gastrointestinal issues like bloating and cramps.
Since sugar releases the feel-good hormones — dopamine and serotonin — in the brain, your body’s reward system is activated, explains Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital.
In other words, the more sugar you consume, the better you feel — at least, temporarily. When you stop eating sugar altogether, however, your body goes through withdrawal, and it’s not pleasant for your body or your brain.
“As you begin to cut back on sugar intake, the body begins to sense this, and you may feel cranky or irritable, especially in the first few days,” Glatter said.
Some people experience fatigue, headaches, or even a feeling of sadness or depression, he added, aka tell-tale signs that your body is adjusting to the now low levels of glucose, dopamine, and serotonin.
After a week or so, your energy will begin to improve, and you will feel less irritable.
You can minimize symptoms of sugar withdrawal.
Consider following these tips:
- Eat protein and fiber to help control appetite and reduce cravings
- Drink enough water to prevent dehydration, which may cause new headaches or worse existing headaches
- Exercise regularly to release endorphins and regulate blood sugar levels
- Choose fruits and vegetables, which provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and naturally occurring sugar for energy. Including fibrous, complex carbohydrates can help deter cravings and minimize discomfort during a sugar withdrawal.
- Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep may cause cravings for unhealthful foods, according to one 2018 study.
- Relax and avoid stress. The findings from this 2015 study suggest that chronic stress may contribute to food cravings.
Avoid the following foods and drinks:
- Sugar-sweetened beverages. Sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks are the leading sources of added sugars, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Drink water and black coffee or plain tea instead.
- Candies and sweets. Try replacing them with fresh fruit.
- Baked goods. Cakes, cookies, and even certain types of bread contain added sugars.
- Low fat foods. Food advertised as low fat or fat free often contain added sugar to offset the missing fat.
If withdrawal symptoms interfere with regular activities, talk to your doctor.
Seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of severe low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.
- dizziness or light-headedness
- confusion or trouble concentrating
- loss of balance
- irregular heartbeat
- inability to eat or drink
- loss of consciousness
Benefits of ditching highly processed foods when you reduce sugar consumption.
Glatter describes the following:
- Reducing your sugar intake can help improve your complexion by strengthening elastin and collagen to make your skin look more smooth and glowing. Reducing the level of inflammation in your skin helps avoid premature wrinkling, sagging, acne and rosacea.
- Eating less sugar will reduce the number of times you wake up during the night, and improve your sleep quality overall. Breaking up with sugar won’t solve your sleep problems overnight, but in a few weeks you should notice yourself falling into a deeper sleep. This is because foods containing high amounts of refined sugars reduce the degree of slow wave sleep (SWS), the restorative sleep that consolidates memories and information learned throughout the day, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the dream phase.
- You might lose weight from cutting sugar out of your diet, but there are other variables that go into this, too. When you reduce or eliminate sugar, fat stores will decline slowly, and you will lose some weight. While this takes time, with the effect typically begins at one to two weeks.
Cook “from scratch” and eat whole foods to find your way out of processed food addiction!
Prior to WWII, American women generally were homemakers. They prepared meals from scratch using fresh whole foods.
Today, about 80% of women aged 25 to 54 are in the workforce, and many never learned how to “cook from scratch”.
Now, they largely depend upon processed foods sold in grocery and “convenience” stores and in supermarkets.. Here’s where we find the most added salt, sugar, and fat— often used as a preservative or to mask the taste of poor ingredient quality and touted as time-savers for busy women..
Addiction to highly processed foods is all too often the unwanted consequence.
A land of fresh food has become a land of factory food and fast food—and a land of fatness, of overweight and obese people, including children. The corporate food factories are consistently in control of culinary cooking culture (and of consumer cravings). Combined with limitations on salt, sugar, and fat, cooking from scratch switches control to the consumer. Long live this empowerment!
Suffice it to say that the obesity epidemic, type 2 diabetes, and the increase in cardio-vascular diseases are proof positive that we’ve fallen prey to an industry designing food, ON PURPOSE, to be addictive.
We are nothing but unwitting pawns in their profitability schemes. Our health has been sacrificed on the alter of corporate profits.
You can read much more about the extraordinary science of junk food and the diabolical thinking of the processed food industry in this New York Times exposé.
Ready to wean yourself from highly processed foods that are damaging your health?
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Isn’t it time that you made use of the free Strategy Call I offer to find out how?
Start today! Learn how to make weight loss easier than you ever imagined by ending your addiction to processed foods.
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