Who doesn't love the rush of swinging into a fast food drive-thru?
It may feel as good as a warm hug, but you know that the charbroiled double-bacon cheeseburger you just picked up isn't good for you.
You know this, yet you continue to battle the urge to pull into the drive-thru every time you pass it on your commute home from work.
Why is that? Why is it that you, and so many others, feel so compelled to eat junk food all the time over nutrient rich and all natural foods?
The truth, according to recent research, is that this addiction may not be your fault.
Fake Food = Fake Pleasure
In 2016, almost 40% of adults in the US over the age of 20 were medically labeled as "obese", and just about 70% of the population were cataloged as medically “overweight”. For those keeping track at home --that's a lot of junk food obsessed people!
The reason the stats were and are still are so high is not because we are hungry creatures with no self control (although that may be part of it). The real reason is because on a scientific level --junk food is chemically altered to appeal to the utmost of pleasure sensors in our brains.
Orosensation: That “Ahh” Reaction We Believe is Too Real
You know the feeling.
That blissful euphoria you get when you take that first sip from a freshly cracked can of cola.
That flavor filled rush as you crunch down on that perfectly crispy chip.
Those feelings? All false and chemically manufactured.
This experience, called “orosensation”, is that pleasure message that is sent from our tongues and nose to our brain, letting it know that what the mouth is currently eating --the brain is loving.
However, that feeling we get while eating junk food is hijacked --it’s a synthetic message. A false signal crafted to be exponentially stronger than the natural phenomena felt when eating natural food.
Over years and years of becoming too familiar with this false sensation, our brains have been trained to prefer the chemical rush of junk food. Compared to the natural pleasure of a freshly picked raspberry or a bite of crisp apple? -- our brains will pick a pouch of potato skins any day of the week.
Why? Because the flavor-altered potato skins give our brains way more pleasure than the berries ever could naturally.
So What's The Problem?
There is nothing wrong with the feeling of pleasure we get when we take that ‘perfect’ sip of soda, or bite into that joy-loaded cheeseburger. The issue kicks in when we become addicted to that artificial pleasure boost.
“Highly palatable foods may produce pleasure and reduce pain in a manner similar to other addictive substances” says Doctors Valeria Taylor and Caroline Davis in their study The Obesity Epidemic: The Role of Addiction. “Research also suggests that eating is commonly used as a method of self-medication in response to negative emotional states, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger and interpersonal conflict.”
The Fetishization of Flavor
Our brains crave novelty. This preference for variety is why we can maybe go only one full day at a time eating healthy foods, and the next day lose all interest return to junk food. Our junk food addiction causes us to become bored with natural foods.
Junk foods were created with the ability to dodge this feeling of “flavor boredom”. This feeling of boredom is avoided with junk food because is it chemically altered to dodge that lack of flavor variety. This is why we feel we can eat Cheetos forever and raisins for like, 10 seconds max.
The slogan “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One?” ...it’s harder to win that bet than you may think.
Here’s How To Curb Your Cravings
So what do we do? How do we combat this feeling of flavor boredom? The answer is that we ultimately need to ween ourselves off of the artificial pleasure spike that comes from junk food.
To do that, we must do what looks impossible: abstain.
In the meantime, we can trick our brains and bodies and also avoid flavor boredom by keeping our meals and snacks mixed up and full of variety. Keep the target moving. Our brains crave variety and novelty, so keep it guessing when loading up on natural foods by becoming creative with your meals and snacks. Cut out junk and processed foods and replace them with all natural snacks and meals. The less artificially tampered with the food is, the better.
Next thing you know --you’ll be addicted to the pleasure of natural foods, and that’s an addiction you and your doctor can get behind.
Remember, that happiness rush you are feeling when you bite into that burger, it’s empty happiness, and empty calories… and we both know you deserve better.
"Faststats." Cdc.gov. N. p., 2017. Web. 18 Sept. 2017.
Geha P., Small D., de Araujo I.. “Orosensory and Homeostatic Functions of the Insular Taste Cortex”. Chemosens Percept. 2012.
Taylor V., Curtis C., Davis C.. “The obesity epidemic: the role of addiction”. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2010.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with questions regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read here. This article is for general information only.