Over Eating Junk Food? Here’s why… and what to do about it!

Obesity in adults has increased by 60 percent within the past 20 years and obesity in children has tripled in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Over-Eating Junk Foods are as Addictive as Cocaine and Nicotine – But Shockingly Little to NO Treatment, Even for Young Children to Seniors  

In fact, food addictions can be very much like addictions to alcohol, caffeine or illegal drugs, but while a drug addict can eventually shun the substance that is luring them, a food addict must learn to balance healthy eating with food cravings and overeating, as simply “quitting eating” cold turkey is not an option.Cravings are just one of many causes of increasing levels of obesity, and many struggle with food addictions that make it virtually impossible to stop eating when they’re full. Instead, the scale creeps up ever higher while those affected battle on a daily basis with the very food they need to stay alive.

Those who struggle with food addictions often do not receive the same level of support and help that those suffering from cigarette or drug addiction do. However, a new study published in Nature Neuroscience found the two might be virtually one in the same.

In the study, researchers divided rats into three groups. One group ate a healthy diet, another ate healthy food with access to junk food for one hour a day, and the third group were fed healthy meals with access to junk foods all day.

As you might suspect, the rats in the third group nibbled on junk food all day and quickly became obese. Further, the researchers found that:

  • Over-eating high-calories foods triggered “addiction-like responses” in the rats’ brains and turned the rats into “compulsive eaters”
  • Overweight rats had decreased levels of a dopamine receptor — a chemical that triggers feelings of reward — in their brains

“These data demonstrate that overconsumption of palatable food triggers addiction-like neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuits and drives the development of compulsive eating,” the researchers wrote.

Researcher Paul Kenny of The Scripps Research Institute in Florida also told Reuters, “What we’re seeing in our animals is very similar to what you’d see in humans who overindulge. It seemed that it was okay, from what we could tell, to enjoy snack foods, but if you repeatedly overindulge, that’s where the problem comes in.”

Indeed, experts say that eating becomes a problem when you can no longer distinguish between eating because you are hungry and stopping once you are comfortable. But there may be more to it than that, especially as foods are being increasingly manipulated precisely to make you crave them even more.

Food Manufacturers are Trying to Get You to Crave More to Eat More

The definition of a food craving does not stray far from reality. While it may be possible to “crave” healthy foods, most people do not.
That’s right, food cravings are usually for something “bad” for us. Something full of bad fats and sugar, lots of calories and not a lot else.”In theory, you ought to be able to learn to crave carrot sticks,” says psychologist Marcia Pelchat of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, who was the first to publish brain images associated with food cravings, in the Washington Post. “But 95 to 97 percent of the foods that people report craving are energy-dense.”

When we eat a food we love, it activates the brain’s pleasure centers, the same ones activated by drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and even buying shoes, Pelchat says.

Think of food cravings as a sensory memory. You remember how good it felt the last time you had that food. You have to have experienced eating it before,” she says.

Food manufacturers are well aware of the power of food over our brain’s pleasure centers, and they actively work to make food’s so enticing they’re hard to resist. This is part of the reason why foods grown in nature, fruits and vegetables, for instance, cannot compete with pizza, chocolate, potato chips and French fries when it comes to craving potential.

You are hard-wired in a sense to crave fat, salt and sugar, so when a junk food meets all three of these needs it can be hard to pass up.

Further, once you get used to eating these foods, it can be hard to stop. In fact, in 2002 Princeton University researchers showed that after binging on sugar, rats showed withdrawal symptoms when the sweets were taken away. They actually got “the shakes,” anxiety and showed changes in brain chemistry similar to what happens when a drug addict can no longer take a drug.

Does the “Junk-Food Gene” Play a Role?

A study released by the New England Journal of Medicine reported that children with a specific gene variant were more likely to eat more energy-dense food, meaning fattening unhealthy foods.

The study however did not reveal a difference in metabolism between the kids with the genes and those without it, meaning the gene influenced the way they ate, but not necessarily the way their body digested and used the calories.

“The way the genes influence obesity is through behavior, rather than metabolism,” said Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the weight management and wellness center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, on MedicineNet.com. “That means this is something you can work on. And, the good news is that a lot of kids who had the gene weren’t overweight.”

These findings are “hopeful” because the researchers didn’t find a difference in metabolism, he said. In other words … just because you have the gene it doesn’t mean you’re destined to be fat … although you may tend to want to eat a bit extra.

Upon studying the eating habits of 97 children, the researchers found children with the variant gene consumed around 100 calories more per meal — this translates to an extra pound of weight about every 12 days!

So it could very well be possible that certain people are even more predisposed to craving unhealthy goods. But the good news is that it’s totally in your power to overcome those cravings, whether you have it in your genes or not!

How The U.S. Government is Fueling Your Junk Food Addiction with Your Tax Dollars!

As if it weren’t already hard enough to resist, the government actually makes it cheaper for you to buy junk foods than healthy fresh foods. How? By subsidizing crops like corn, soy, wheat and rice.

What this does is make it cheaper for farmers to grow these foods, and in turn cheaper for food manufacturers to stockpile them in your favorite processed and fast foods. The problem, of course, is that these crops are used in such abundance that they exist in record amounts in the foods you feed your family.

For instance, you’d be hard-pressed to find a processed food that does not contain some type of corn, be it corn oil, high fructose corn syrup or one of the countless other variations. Even the cattle you depend on for meat are typically fed corn, even though their natural diet is grass.

For an in-depth look at exactly how the government and agribusiness may be contributing to your food cravings and expanding waistline, check out the movie Food, Inc.  If you are a current client in the Minneapolis area you can email me and check this movie out of the Altman Fitness library.

Meanwhile, your body processes these refined foods very differently from whole foods. Take, for example, a handful of whole grains and a handful of white flour. Let it sift through your fingers and what do you notice? The whole grains go through slowly, while the white flour runs through like water.

This is similar to what happens inside of your body. While whole foods, such as an orange, contain fiber, nutrients and other beneficial compounds that take your body some time to digest, refined foods, such as orange juice, contain only simple carbs that get metabolized very quickly.

Under normal circumstances, every time you eat your blood glucose (sugar) levels  will rise slightly. This signals your pancreas to release insulin, which makes sure your blood sugar levels do not get too high.

However, if your blood glucose levels remain elevated for too long, such as can happen if you eat a steady diet of refined foods, it can lead to obesity, diabetes and damage to your kidneys, eyes, nerves and blood vessels.

Refined foods also will not keep you satisfied for long. After a brief boost, you will need to eat more and more refined foods just to keep going, leading to weight gain and potential health problems but not satiety or the nutrients your body needs to thrive. Eventually even an unlimited amount of refined foods will not be enough to fuel your body.

Ready to Beat Your Food Addiction?

Denying your cravings goes beyond willpower and could be blamed on your ancestral roots, a time when people hunted for every meal and depended on fat-rich foods to get extra energy and increase their chances of survival.

To further complicate trying to control your cravings are triggers you are faced with on a daily basis. Smelling scents of fast-food restaurants as you are driving, seeing the picture or a commercial of a favorite fatty food or passing by a bakery that carries your favorite cookies can all bring on cravings.

You can learn to tame your cravings by:

  • Replacing your unhealthy favorite treat with a healthy food
  • Avoiding eating when you’re feeling sad or depressed, while you’re watching TV or during other times when you know you’re likely to overeat. If you’re finding it hard to stop thinking about a food, distract yourself by taking a brisk walk, calling a friend or working on a hobby until the craving passes.
  • Taking the longer route to get home to avoid passing your favorite bakery, fast food restaurant or ice-cream shop
  • Listening to clues of what your body is telling you… replace unhealthy with healthy choices when a temptation strikes and think about the health benefits (such as feeling less winded when you walk or how good your stomach feels an hour after eating healthy food (vs. feeling tired or sick an hour after eating unhealthy food)… all by becoming aware and not giving in to the temptation of your prior pre-conditioned behavior replaced with your new healthy desired behaviors!
  • Indulging in healthier versions of your favorites such as:
  • Munchies: dip raw pecans or celery into hummus or guacamole (vs. chips and dip) for the same crunchy dip experience (only you’ll feel good about eating healthy)
  • Dessert treat: low-fat frozen yogurt with almonds (instead of a hot fudge ice-cream sundae with the works).

Here, Dr. Oz also shares tips for giving up sugar in 28 days. The tips are great, but the recommendation for a sugar replacement, agave, may not be a healthy one. Agave is high in fructose and has many of the same health risks as high fructose corn syrup.

Why A Balanced Diet is Key

The more you eliminate junk foods from your diet, the easier it will be for you to stick to a balanced diet simply because you’ll feel so good.

Healthy eating is also a great opportunity to expand your horizons and open yourself to a variety of new foods, adding excitement to your daily food plan.

This also means altering your diet to be mainly fresh, whole foods, rather than processed varieties. As you switch over to more fresh foods, we highly recommend you take advantage of the healthy and absolutely delicious recipes in the book “Alive in 5”: Raw Gourmet Meals in Five Minutes. When prepared with locally grown ingredients from a source you trust, these are among some of the healthiest meals you can eat.

If you’d like to know more about how a healthy diet can change your life, the book The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health is an excellent resource. As the book states:

“Some of the findings, published in the most reputable scientific journals, show that:

  • Dietary change can enable diabetic patients to go off their medication.
  • Heart disease can be reversed with diet alone.
  • Antioxidants, found in fruits and vegetables, are linked to better mental performance in old age.”

Hopefully the knowledge that overcoming your unhealthy food addictions will help you build a healthier you will give you even more motivation when a craving strikes.

7 More Tips to Send Food Cravings Packing

As you get healthier and start to slim down, you may find it is easier to avoid over-indulging. But for times when you need some extra help, here are seven tips to help:

  • Don’t overload your plate or table with food: Start by taking smaller plates (9” vs. 10” plate) plus smaller amounts of food on your plate and then eat very slowly. Remind yourself that 20 minutes to one hour after eating if you are still hungry , you can always go back to get more. This is called “grazing” and can be especially healthy when combined with exercise.
  • Cut your portion sizes in half: If your daily lunch is a huge sandwich, try cutting it in half, eating one half and saving the other half for at least an hour later or more. This will give your body time to receive a “full” sensation. You may even decide you’re not hungry enough to eat the other half, which next time you might want to share and give half to a friend.
  • Slow down: Eat slowly to avoid overeating. The process of your brain signaling to your stomach that you’re full takes about 20 minutes.
  • Start cleaning more: Once you finish eating your meal, get up and start clearing the table and washing the dishes immediately, etc., getting busy. This way you won’t be tempted to get up to go for second helpings.
  • “Graze” by eating several small meals each day: Instead of eating three big meals, try eating five small ones a day. Eating smaller meals allow your body to metabolize the meals quicker to burn more calories and lose weight.
  • Start a daily exercise program: It’s good for your body and your mind, and a vigorous workout is one of the best eating distractions there is.  Altman Health and Fitness can help you with a plan that fits your needs.  office@altmanhealthandfitness.com
  • Have healthy outlets for stress: Stress can trigger over-eating, especially binges on foods that aren’t good for you. So it’s important that you have a plan in place to help relieve stress before it gets to you. This could be a long soak in the tub, a good book, or a cuddle with your kitty. You’ll know what works for you.

A book we Love on how to keep stress from becoming overwhelming:

Positive Energy: 10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress, and Fear into Vibrance, Strength, and Love


Description of this book from Publishers Weekly:

Orloff, a psychiatrist who has appeared frequently on television and written an eponymous Guide to Intuitive Healing, here provides 10 detailed prescriptions for harnessing one’s “positive energy” to replace fatigue with physical and emotional vigor. Her commonsense program includes pursuing an individual spiritual path, developing “true-to-self eroticism,” designing an energy-building diet and exercise plan, learning to celebrate laughter and protecting oneself from “energy vampires.” Along with practice exercises for following these prescriptions, each section ends with a public figure describing the ways that he or she uses Orloff’s methods. In the chapter on spirituality, Amy Gross, editor in chief of O: The Oprah Magazine, discusses how practicing deep breathing and meditation replenishes energy as she centers herself. Wavy Gravy, who warned against eating the brown acid at Woodstock, explores the way laughter has not only helped him cope with pain but also heightened his vitality level. Orloff delivers her revivification techniques in thoughtful, accessible prose that some may find an energy builder in itself.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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