Junk foods are addictive.
There is no question about it... they light up the same areas in the brain as drugs of abuse (1).
For many people, food addiction can become a very real and very serious problem (2).
The biochemistry of the brain gets hijacked and people lose control over their thoughts and behavior.
They end up eating way too much of these foods and are simply unable to stop, no matter how hard they try.
I am a recovering drug addict with a history of multiple rehabs, jail more often than I can count and several trips to the emergency room due to overdose.
I am also an ex smoker and have extensive personal experience with addiction (been sober since January 4th, 2007).
Several years after I stopped doing drugs, I started developing an addiction to unhealthy foods.
I had become highly interested in nutrition and health, but I had an extremely difficult time actually sticking to what I thought was healthy.
One day I realized that the cravings and thought processes were exactly the same as they had been for drugs of abuse like amphetamine.
There was no difference, only a different substance and the social consequences weren't as severe.
Craving junk food felt the same as craving an addictive drug. Exactly the same.
I've since spoken to several of my friends who are also recovering drug addicts. They agree that craving junk food feels the same as craving drugs.
Even though a lot of people don't even know that food addiction exists, I am personally convinced that it is a huge problem in society today and one of the key reasons it is next to impossible for some people to stick to a healthy diet.
Btw... you do NOT need to have problems with smoking, drugs or alcohol to become addicted to junk food. It is very common, actually.
If you think you might have this problem, then ask yourself these 5 questions:
- Do you get cravings despite feeling full?
- Do you feel guilty after eating particular foods, yet do it again soon after?
- Do you make excuses in your head about why you should eat certain foods?
- Have you unsuccessfully tried setting rules (like cheat meals/days) about certain foods, but been unsuccessful?
- Do you feel unable to control your consumption of certain foods, despite knowing that they are causing you physical harm (includes weight gain)?
These are all typical symptoms of food addiction.
If you can relate to this, then you DO have a serious problem and you better start doing something about it, or it will only get worse and end up ruining your health.
During my years of battling addiction, I learned many things that have stuck with me.
The most important lesson I learned is called the law of addiction:
"Administration of a drug to an addict will cause reestablishment of chemical dependence upon the addictive substance."
An ex-smoker who has a puff of a cigarette will become instantly addicted again and might be back to a pack-a-day habit the next day.
An alcoholic who has a sip of beer will relapse... with all the horrible consequences that follow. One sip can ruin an alcoholic's life.
I am personally convinced that junk food addiction is no different. One bite, one "cheat" - that's all it takes.
A food addict that has been abstinent for a long time and decides to indulge "just once" will relapse and start eating that food more frequently again.
Many people with a history of yo-yo dieting will be able to relate to this.
Although some food addicts may be able to control their consumption while they are highly motivated, these "cheats" or occasional indulgences will quickly turn into more regular habits when the motivation runs out.
Many nutrition professionals argue against "extreme" approaches like completely eliminating junk food from the diet.
They often say that people should make en effort to include these foods in their life, only in small amounts (the "everything in moderation" mantra).
Although this approach may be reasonable for some people, it is a complete disaster for people with food addiction.
When it comes to addiction, moderation fails. Every single time. There is no reason to believe that food addiction is different.
Telling a food addict to eat junk food in moderation is about as ridiculous as telling an alcoholic to drink beer in moderation.
It simply does not work, period.
We all need to eat something... otherwise we'll die from hunger. That is inevitable.
But it is very important to realize that not all foods have this effect.
There is no physiological need for junk food in the diet. This crap didn't exist until very recently in evolutionary history and our genes haven't changed since then.
Food addicts can eat most real, unprocessed foods without problems. But they DO need to avoid the trigger foods that cause cravings, binge eating and addiction.
People who manage to do this often lose a lot of weight without any major effort. That's what happened to me and every other recovering food addict I know.
So... what is the answer for food addicts?
What can they do to finally get rid of the nasty, disease promoting foods from their lives?
The solution is the same as it is with any other addiction... avoiding the addictive substance. Completely.
No junk food on birthdays, no junk food on Christmas. Nothing. Ever. Not a single bite.
For addicts, this is an ALL or NOTHING deal.
Either you avoid junk food completely, or you eat it constantly. There is nothing in between. A single bite will trigger a relapse and ruin everything.
Abstinence is the only thing that works against addiction, period.
You might think that complete abstinence is extremely difficult, but this really isn't the case.
What IS difficult is trying to control a relentless biochemical drive (craving) using willpower. For someone with full-blown addiction, this is simply impossible.
On the other hand, when you've made a decision to never eat this stuff again, sticking to a healthy diet actually becomes much easier. Seriously.
When you don't even invite the option of indulging, then there's no need for you to start justifying anything in your head... so the craving may not even show up.
If you have had multiple unsuccessful attempts at "moderation," then perhaps you should consider eliminating this stuff... completely.
It may end up saving your life.