Junk Food = Drug of Choice
If someone were to offer you a plain baked potato or a bag of potato chips, which would you choose? If you chose the plain baked potato, hooray for you! Most people however, would gobble down the entire bag of potato chips, lick their fingers, and look for more. The popular 1960's potato chip advertising slogan, "Betcha can't eat just one" was right; we can't eat just one. Many of us have probably tried, but failed. What compels us to gulp down the entire bag of chips, instead of the baked potato? Dr. Joel Fuhrman has the answer:
"The science on food addiction has now established that highly palatable foods (low-nutrient, high-calorie, intensely sweet, salty, and/or fatty foods - those that make up the majority of the Standard American Diet) produces the exact biochemical effects in the brain that are characteristic of substance abuse."
According to Dr. Fuhrman, "Junk food is ubiquitously available, legal, cheap, and socially accepted; therefore, it becomes the drug of choice for many of us."
In the article that follows, Dr. Fuhrman discusses several "characteristics of addiction to a substance or behavior." He explains in detail how addictive food stimulates the reward centers of our brains. When stimulated, dopamine (a neurochemical) is released, resulting in pleasurable thoughts and feelings towards those particular stimuli. Our brains react by demanding "more!" "The amount of pleasure we derive from eating a food" Dr. Fuhrman states, "correlates with the amount of dopamine released in the brain."
To make matters worse, those who are overweight have fewer dopamine receptors. This makes the reward response less sensitive, which encourages overeating. Overeating then weakens the dopamine reward response, which leads to more overeating. This is the same response seen in substance abuse, where a weakened dopamine response fuels the addiction. Whole, natural plant foods do not contain highly concentrated or refined fats, sugars and salts. Consequently, these foods do not promote overeating and food addictions.
Dr. Fuhrman concludes by saying:
"Recent research suggests that overeating and obesity cause greater desire for palatable food, but diminished reward from consuming palatable food - resulting in a progressively worsening addiction. Our level of susceptibility to addictive behaviors varies by genetic predisposition and emotional state. Nevertheless, highly palatable food has physiologically addictive properties that will make almost anyone experience a lack of control. "Just one bite" doesn't work because that single bite activates the dopamine reward system, causing the brain to demand more. Willpower, logic, and common sense are no match for addictive drives. As with other addictions, recovery requires abstaining from the addictive substance. An alcoholic can't have "just one drink" without grave risk of relapse. The same is true for food addicts."
For more information on food addiction, see:
Joel Fuhrman MD Links