Hi, guys! (I know, I know… long time, no post… 😦 )
(Long story short, I have a Rhetoric final to make a post for, so this ought to be interesting… But just decided to fill you guys in a bit so you’re not completely in the dark.)
Anyways…Ever heard that ancient expression up above? Maybe your Mom said it to you when you were a tyke, munching away on candy while watching TV. Or maybe it was referenced in your high school health class? Either way, I’d like to tell you there’s actually some merit to that cliche– not in the sense of you LITERALLY being junk food, but of you being more of a… junk food JUNKIE.
To put it even more bluntly, an addict.
“Whoa, wait a minute, hold on,” some of you may be saying. “That’s going a bit too far. People who are into tobacco, drugs and that sort of thing are the addicts– not people like me. Just a few slices of pizza, the occasional bag of chips, and a chocolate bar every now and then won’t cause any REAL harm.”
Or… will it?
Well, let me put it this way–have you ever realistically craved (I mean CONSISTENTLY) healthy foods? Or has there ever been that one lonely little slice of pizza you can’t seem to bring yourself to waste after the party’s over? Or just started getting in the mood for chocolate out of the blue– but still not feeling satisfied even after having eaten it, wanting more?
If yes to the latter two questions, you’re more than likely to be addicted to junk food, aka processed food, even if only in the early stages. But the good news is, not only is the addiction preventable, it’s curable. But my main claim I’m going to argue is, processed food is highly addictive, and we need to do something about it.
But back to your question: How DO we know we’re addicted? Great question.
Addiction is generally defined as, “being physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance, and unable to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects.” (Google Definitions.) If you’re addicted to something, you crave it; you need it. If you attempt to part yourself from it, it will take a toll on your body; you’ll go through a kind of withdrawal, including shaking, etc. Just like a drug addict trying to clean up.
I know this feeling all too well: both the feeling of an addict, and the want of complete and utter denial of anything being wrong. I myself have struggled/am struggling with it right now. My current diet consists probably of about 90% processed foods. I am not kidding. I know it’s tough to stave off those foods, especially when the craving for chocolate or ice cream hits. But I am trying in earnest to limit myself, to stave off cravings (within reason.). In part, I chose this topic in particular for that reason– and also in part so that I might be more aware of how to help others with this issue.
They (meaning various scientists and researchers) have actually done in-depth studies on these processed/junk food addictions, believe it or not, and there’s this whole complicated science behind it. While there’s a mass of complicated scientific factors including but not limited to endocrinology, genetics, brain chemistry, neuro-imaging, and the state of hunger affecting food-related stimuli, the most important one to keep in mind is your brain’s reward system. Your brain has a reward system set up with two different receptors for a special brain chemical called dopamine– the pleasure chemical. They learned through series of tests, such as comparing brain scans of obese people (who were addicted to processed foods) to those of drug addicts; not only were they shockingly similar, but both had the access to the second dopamine receptor, D2, cut off. This is important to note, because it’s a receptor that actually regulates actions, or responses to receive any kind of pleasure. When this particular receptor gets blocked, as was the case with both kinds of addicts and even lab rats, both people and animals were found to become compulsive eaters in regards to processed foods MUCH more quickly.
If you are a compulsive eater, you eat more for recreation and if you’re bored rather than if you’re actually hungry; essentially, you’re an impulse eater. This will up your chances quite dramatically of becoming a processed food addict.
But it doesn’t just stop with brain and body chemistry; oh no, there’s a reason behind being addicted to processed foods, too. Essentially, they have certain ingredients that are addictive to people, such as hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, and casein (the last one is actually known as the “nicotine” of the processed food world; it’s found in all kinds of foods, including pastries, creamy salad dressings, milkshakes, and cheese. We Americans are cheese-addicted.). These ingredients are cheap and easy to manufacture, so processed food companies are all for them– but really, at what cost? Are we letting them reap profit while our health continually suffers for it, and we become addicted to their products, thus causing us to buy more?
I propose two fairly simple solutions, friends. The first is that we take a stand against food companies who use such ingredients, and find foods that are better for us, more natural and less processed, less addictive. This will make them take notice, and, once they realize what the demand of the public is, they’ll replace (or start to) the ingredients with healthier, less/non-addictive ingredients to regain business. Although not every company is this way, sadly, many are; if concern for their customers’ well-being does not speak to them, then money unfortunately will. This has been shown to be an actual thing; it happened when the “trans-fat free” craze broke out, in fact. Companies scrambled to ensure their product were just that to ensure their customers’ fealty– and the security of their profits. Today, many boast of being “trans-fat free,” but my point is that, the more the public does their research, the more we can say with confidence that this stuff isn’t good for us, and companies need to act, or we will.
My second fairly simple solution suggestion is that, for the sake of our health, that we drastically reduce our intake of processed foods to try and wean ourselves off them, since I believe it is unreasonable and unrealistic to just quit cold turkey and outright eliminate them right off the bat. We should decrease our exposure to them, and substitute ingredients, instead; seeking better alternatives. This way, no one has to necessarily even give up favorite foods– just alterations to make them better for you and your health.
It is imperative that we make these changes to our health, to our lifestyles– because these affect the society around us in seemingly minor ways that could have a hugely negative impact on it in the long run. An addictive lifestyle with processed foods can even affect unborn children in expectant mothers, just like alcohol and tobacco.
So please, when it comes to food choices– choose wisely. And remember,
“You are what you eat.”
Image Credit: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/what-are-processed-foods.aspx