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Food Addiction: Why Junk Food Is A Drug (+Mastering Self-Control)

Feb 21, 2019

Blog Post Summary

Let's call a spade a spade...

What spade?

Fast food.

Junk food.

Candy.

Unhealthy snacks.

"Convenience" food.

Processed food.

Highly palatable food.

Hyperpalatable food.

Crap.

Whatever you want to call these "foods" - they're all the same

My claim in this blog post is that these "foods" should be categorized as drugs, and that food addiction directly depends on the consumption of these foods.

Of course, I'm not claiming fast food should be envisioned to be a drug as dangerous as heroin or cocaine.

I'm not that stupid...

My point is subtler: subsuming junk food is akin to smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol in terms of both addictive potential and health hazard.

And many more people than you'd think have a food addiction, because they're addicted to some extent, and harm their bodies by taking in these substances.

You may think: "are you out of your mind?!" Why consider food a drug?

Well, I'm not considering all foods drugs - I only consider what are called "hyperpalatable foods" drugs. Hyperpalatable foods combine sugar, fat, salt, protein, and artificial flavorings to make them as tasty as possible and are always processed foods.

I therefore don't consider beef from grass-fed cows or fruits drugs. 

Examples of hyperpalatable foods are the cookies or other processed foods you buy in the supermarket, such as fast food like pizza, and other junk foods. I'll use the terms "hyperpalatable food", "fast food", and "junk food" interchangeably in this blog post.

Because of their combination of sugar, fat, salt, artificial flavoring, and other ingredients, these foods hijack your brain's reward system. Your brain thinks it has hit the jackpot when consuming it, a mechanism through which you can develop a food addiction.

Of course, you won't turn into an addict after eating a few slices of pizza. Many people, however, eat hyperpalatable foods on a daily basis and do develop a degree of food addiction.

So let's explore the implications of my thesis further. Look below:

The following image displays the danger of becoming dependent on and health risk of several street and prescription drugs:

graph showing the dependence and harm ability of several drugs

See junk food or highly palatable foods or junk food anywhere on that graph? No? My claim is that such foods should be on that graph (note the added blue colored dot):

Now, I'm agnostic towards where exactly hyperpalatable foods need to be placed. These foods might also be placed here, for example:

highly palatable foods added to a graph that displays harm and dependence in relation to several drugs

Or alternatively these destructive foods might be placed here:

My simple argument is that hyperpaltable foods need to be included on that graph--they're currently not...

Yo may think: "do food addictions even exist?"

My answer is a resounding yes...

It's becoming clearer that hyperpalatable foods are addicting. What's also very clear is that these crappy foods cause lots of health problems. The more frequently you ingest hyperpalatable foods, the greater the harm.

You don't have to be a Nobel prize laureate to observe that many people have problems with their food intake in modern society - just opening your eyes and seeing the obesity problem getting worse and worse does the trick.

Billions of people are overweight or obese.

Yes, not millions but billions.

Many of these people are eating crappy hyperpalatable foods. Want proof these foods are addictive?

Sure:

If you quit eating these foods you'll get withdrawal symptoms such as low energy, a poor mood, headaches, sleeplessness, and more, in other words, the withdrawal symptoms you're also getting if you're addicted and quit alcohol or tobacco.

Eating these foods frequently also increases your cravings for these foods, just as with alcohol or tobacco.

With more frequent consumption your brain starts to want these foods without necessarily liking them. After some time you'll hardly derive any pleasure from eating cookies in front of the television, even though your brain craves them more and more.

Before you know that bag of chips is gone - dipped in a sauce to make them even more addicting...

Coincidence?

And if you continue that pattern, you increase your risk for obesity, heart disease, cancer, and many other modern diseases.

Sounds like a problem to me.

smoking woman, a behavior compared to eating junk food
Hopefully, junk food marketing will be considered 
just as evil as cigarette marketing is within a decade...

 

I'm aware that claiming that hyperpalatable foods are drugs opens Pandora's box. You cannot un-see or un-hear this blog post. 

And yet, there's no alternative - it's my moral duty -  many people's health is suffering because of these crappy foods.

The problem gets worse though:

Food companies, just as cigarette companies, have the goal of making you addicted to their product.

The reason is simple:

The more you crave hyperpalatable foods, the more you'll consume them, and the higher the profits of such companies become. These companies don't care that the nutritional value of such foods is really poor--the only thing they care about is the bottom line. 

Just as the cigarette industry in the 20th century, food companies are marketing these destructive food products to children and teenagers.

Food companies spend billions of dollars each and every year persuading you that you should buy their products. 

And similar to cigarettes in the 1970s, hyperpalatable foods are sold everywhere: supermarkets, libraries, schools, train stations, and more. Through marketing, the consumption of these foods has been normalized - even though their consumption is devastating to your health.

I'm not giving a political solution in this blog post though, I'm just stipulating the problem. 

My goal with this blog post is to re-think the assumed safety of hyperpalatable foods. The first step in re-thinking that safety is making you aware of the danger of hyperpalatable foods.

Caveat: I'm not saying that obesity is fundamentally a food problem.

But if you're eating hyperpalatable foods many days a week you're probably addicted to such foods in one way or another.

And even in that case, my message is optimistic: by making lifestyle changes you're able to lower your dependence on such foods.

The truth shall set you free...

Let's explore my counter intuitive proposition that food addiction is not necessarily a food problem. In this summary I'm giving you four strategies to help you wind of hyperpalatable foods:

  1. Get lots of sunlight exposure, especially during the morning time and noon. Sunlight helps create a brain signaling substance called "dopamine" that makes you feel good and motivated.

    Hyperpalatable foods hijack your brain's dopamine system. The more sunlight exposure you're getting on your skin and eyes during the daytime the better you'll feel - even when winding down from junk and fast food.

  2. Avoid as much artificial light at night as possible by wearing blue-blocking glasses. Yes, really. 

    Blue-blocking glasses prevent certain light frequencies from entering your eyes after sunset. When blue and green light is blocked from entering your eyes, your body increases its melatonin production. Melatonin helps you sleep quicker, deeper, and longer.

    With better sleep, you'll have more willpower, energy, and you'll boost your mood so that you're in a better position to quit hyperpalatable foods once again.

  3. Chronic stress makes you way more susceptible to eat low-quality foods. Many people simply use such foods as self-medication.

    If you're able to lower your (chronic) stress levels, you'll massively improve your chances of winding off this food.

  4. Finally, you're able to cut out hyperpalatable foods. My main tips are to remind yourself that you don't need such foods to be happy - humans have lived happily ever after without humanly-made hyperpalatable foods for millions of years.

    Also, do yourself a favor to remove fast food and junk food from your home - the easiest way to resist temptation. I also recommend planning your meals ahead for the day, so that you avoid hunger in your withdrawal period. 

    Hunger increases your risk of eating hyperpalatable foods again...

 

The full blog post contains four additional strategies to wind off hyperpalatable foods.

Remember: this blog post is not just about you: your kids, family, and friends may also be influenced by marketing to make you think that eating fast food or junk food all the time is normal.

The opposite is true...

So after reading this blog post, you can no longer consider giving the food displayed below a love, if you frequently feed that to your kids or friends:

burgers and french fries as junk food

Another example:

candy and sugar as unhealthy fast food

Feeding yourself or others these toxic foods is a form of abuse. The flip side is that if you feed the following meals you're supporting the health of yourself and others:

And no, money is not the issue here--the willingness to spend time is. If necessary, rice and beans is both cheaper and healthier than fast food alternatives:

rice and beans as health foods

In fact, rice and beans are dirt cheap if you buy them in bulk. 

Optimal?

No.

But much better than fast food.

The full blog post tells you exactly how hyperpalatable food hijack your brain to create strong cravings, how such foods emerged historically, and why food industry practices exhibit enormous similarities with tobacco companies in promoting unhealthy products.

This short summary does no justice to my full argument about these foods.

Read the full work for maximum benefit... 

By the way, this blog post is the second installment of my fat loss series. The first part can be read here. Also, grab my top 10 practical fat loss laws infographic for keeping the pounds permanently off:

 

 

 

FOOD ADDICTION: WHY JUNK FOOD, FAST FOOD, AND HYPERPALATABLE FOODS ARE DRUGS (+ MASTERING SELF-CONTROL GUIDE)

Last updated: March 25 2019

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*Post can contain affiliate links. Read my affiliate, medical, and privacy disclosure for more information. 

Author: Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MSc: Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MSc). 



TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Tracing The Problem:

1. Introduction: Defining "Hyperpalatable Food" And "Food Addiction"
2. A History Of Food Addiction Promotion: The Food Industry's Original Sin

How Hyperpalatable Foods Affect Your Body:

3. Food Addiction, Dopamine, And Brain Structure: Hyperpalatable Foods' Craving Mechanism
4. Fast Food Addiction Symptoms: A Vicious Cycle Of Cravings, Overeating, Guilt, And Shame
5. Malnutrition As Both A Cause And Consequence Of Food Addiction

Why Highly Palatable Foods Are Drugs According To The Government's Own Criteria:

6. The Case For Categorizing Highly Palatable Foods As Drugs
7. Hyperpalatable Food And Cigarettes: Comparable Industry Practices And Long-Term Health Effects?

Taking Back Self-Control:

8. Eight Self-Mastery Strategies To Beat Cravings, Food Addiction, Dependence, And Withdrawal
9. Conclusion: Take Full Responsibility And Become Your Own Hero

1. INTRODUCTION: DEFINING "HYPERPALATABLE FOOD" AND "FOOD ADDICTION"

If it looks like a duck...

Swims like a duck...

Quacks like a duck...

Then it's probably a duck.

The same analogy is true for junk food being a drug:

If the withdrawal symptoms of junk food are similar to those of several drugs.

And if the cravings for junk food are similar to those of drugs.

And if the repeated (failed) attempts to cut down on junk foods are similar to those drugs...

Then junk food must be a drug. You may think: "are you insane? That comparison doesn't hold at all".

Well, I'm going to argue it does.

Many things were accepted as "self-evident" in the past until they're overthrown:

  • For centuries humans believed the sun revolves around the earth until the opposite was proven by Nicolaus Copernicus. 
  • Your great-grandparents believed for millennia that air travel was impossible until the Wright brothers proved them wrong.
  • For decades it was believed that second-hand smoke was harmless until strong contrary evidence emerged...

And for decades it's believed junk food is just another food with more calories, but I'm claiming it has properties of a drug instead.

You'll be surprised by how your vision on fast food will change - so let's bring a "Copernican Revolution" regarding junk food...

So what's the difference between "junk food", "highly palatable food", or "hyperpalatable food" anyway? Let's define terms before digging into the science:

  1. "Palatable", "highly palatable", or "hyperpalatable" foods have the inert capacity to increase your appetite and make you eat more than you otherwise would.

    Store-bought baked goods are a classical example: even if you're not hungry, taking just one cinnamon roll incentivizes you to eat many more. 

    There's an increasing propensity for appetite increases, craving, and overeating when moving from "palatable" to "highly palatable" and finally "hyperpalatable" foods. I.e., hyperpalatable foods stimulate appetite, cravings, and overeating most.

    So not only do these hyperpalatable products taste great, you're also very likely to start desiring such foods even if you're not hungry.

    cinnamon roll as a highly palatable food that makes you overeat
    Cinnamon rolls: can you stop eating after JUST ONE?


  2. "Junk food" or "fast food" are processed foods that have very little or low nutritional value. 

    Pizza, or a hamburger with Pepsi Cola, or a Wendy's chicken sandwich are all examples of fast food. While some healthy foods can also be consumed very quickly (such as a ribeye or milk), I'm not subsuming them under the category "fast food" because they're inherently nutritious.

    I use the terms "junk food", "fast food", and "hyperpalatable food interchangeably in this blog post, which leads me to the next main concept:

  3. "Food addiction" entails that you're using a substance (or engaging in a behavior) compulsively, even though you experience negative consequences of that behavior in your life.[303]

    Two other characteristics of addiction are not being able to fulfill your daily tasks properly, and losing control when using the substance or engaging in the behavior.[302] How? People eating hyperpalatable foods may get morbidly obese and call in sick for work more often, and may also lose control over their cravings.

    A third characteristic is experiencing signs of withdrawal when quitting the behavior or no longer using the substance. Additional characteristics may exist as well, such as frequently thinking about the food you're going to eat..[309] 

    I'll later explore how these characteristics relate to food addiction in more detail.


My fundamental claim: food addiction has so many similarities to other substance addictions, that hyperpalatable foods have to be considered drugs as well.[38; 39; 56-58; 259-261] 

So what do I add to the obesity discussion?

Easy:

Many scientific papers argue that food addictions exist without necessarily claiming that hyperpalatable foods are drugs. I think that's a mistake. 

My second fundamental claim, moreover, is that food companies want you addicted to their food so that you keep buying it - an analogy I do not see in many research papers either.

You may think: "isn't that too radical?"

No...

Not at all...

Billions of people's health are destroyed by such foods, and I think the problem needs to be confronted head-on.

You may also ask: "do food addictions even exist?" 

I'm assuming in this blog post food addictions do exist, even though the science is not completely settled on that topic.[300; 301; 304]

One counterargument against the existence of food addictions is that there's not one compound, such as alcohol or cocaine, that's responsible for the addiction.[347] I think that claim is invalid as it's also possible to be a gambling addict through several means, such as blackjack, slots, or poker, without thereby denying the validity of the concept of "gambling addiction".

Another counterargument is that food is natural, and cannot therefore be addictive.[349] I disagree yet again: alcohol is natural and is addictive as well. Alcohol is intentionally concentrated in certain drinks such as wine or vodka, even though the natural compounds on which they are based barely contain any alcohol (grapes; potatoes) unless processed.

And similar to alcohol, that concentration of rewarding compounds occurs in hyperpalatable foods as well. 

Food can thus be addictive if it's created in such a way that you get hooked on it...

I will include so much evidence for these claims so that the existence of food addictions becomes almost undeniable. In other words, I'll demonstrate that the way many people eat hyperpalatable foods in modern society, fully accords to the definitions of addictions and that hyperpalatable foods accord to what is commonly understood as a "drug".

Keep in mind that the concept of food addictions themselves are nothing new: eating disorders are part of "DSM-5", the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, for example, and have gained legitimacy.[55; 56] 

churros cookies as unhealthy food
Perception shift: if you feed your kids these drugs regularly you're actively harming them.

 

So let's dig deep into this topic. You may think: "why care about this topic? So what?"

Well, many people ruin their health by eating crappy food:

Food addiction is not just problematic if you're obese, but also if you've got a normal body weight or if you're lean.[234-241]

In my argument, I will mainly focus on the role of junk food in obesity though, because obesity carries it's own health risks. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia will thus not have the main focus. 

Binge eating and compulsive eating come closest to the phenomenon I purport to tackle in this blog post.

To me, the phenomena of "food addiction", "compulsive eating", and "binge eating disorder" overlap.[406] It's highly likely that only the degree of the problem differs in these instances--not the nature of the problem.

Food additions also exhibit individual differences though. Binge eating or emotional overeating is not the same as slowly and imperceptibly increasing your calorie intake over the years and becoming morbidly obese, for example.

The latter instance is perhaps most dangerous: if you're living in a developed nation it's very likely that you're consistently eating hyperpalatable foods and gaining weight, without knowing why.

And just feeling powerless to resist certain foods such as pizza, moreover, does not immediately entail that you've automatically got a full-blown binge eating disorder - addictions are complex.

Obesity and food addiction are of course not the same thing either: you can be addicted to food and have a normal weight, or be overweight without having a food addiction.

Food addictions are most problematic if you're 1) overweight; 2) repeatedly try to cut down on your food consumption and fail to do so; 3) feel helpless in overeating certain foods; 4) experience health issues as a result of being obese.

"Surprise": if you're obese you're also more likely to have a food addiction in the first place.[305-308] Hence, my emphasis on obesity.

So let's return to my most basic claim:

When discussing the topic of food addiction, scientists do not (yet) equate hyperpalatable food with drugs.

In fact, many different studies actually make a comparison between food addiction and substance abuse without explicitly stating that hyperpalatable foods are drugs.[337-341]

To me these two concepts are tied together, if you're addicted to a substance, that automatically entails that the substance should be categorized as a drug. 

Will the term "drug" stigmatize fast food usage? Yes, I even hope so. To me, that consequence is just an inconvenient truth, just like heroin usage should in a sense be stigmatized.

The problem cannot be solved if it's not named.

I thus decided this blog post needed to be written. People are dying every day because they're eating food that is damaging and gets them hooked.

So let's begin:

In the next section, I'm going to explore the history of the food industry. It turns out that food companies that offer modern processed (a.k.a. hyperpalatable food) have a direct incentive to make their food maximally addictive. 

Such hyperpalatable foods are a human creation.

As you'll find out, these addictive foods make you a return customer time and time again, which is untrue for the simple food offerings your ancestors relied on for millions of years...

 

 

 

Return To Table Of Contents

2. A HISTORY OF FOOD ADDICTION PROMOTION: THE FOOD INDUSTRY'S ORIGINAL SIN

As often I'll start with the topic of pre-history. You probably know that your human ancestry goes millions of years back.

For those millions of years, your ancestors ate bland foods. 100,000 years ago you would surely have felt on top of the world after killing a woolly mammoth - you and your tribe would have food to eat for days.

After going without food for some time eating that high-fat mammoth must have felt like entering heaven. Sure, you didn't use sous vide meat or the double searing technique to prepare the meat, but it nevertheless tasted great.

Well, the first pound of meat probably tasted amazing, even if prepared with primitive cooking techniques (or the absence thereof). 

But four pounds of meat?

You'd only be eating that if you were hungry. And hungry your ancestors really were sometimes, so those couple of pounds ended up straight inside.

Bland food thus never prevented human beings from eating.

If no meats of shellfish were present, you could gather many other foods from your immediate environment, such as berries, honey, tubers, fruits, and other stuff. Whatever it takes to survive...

My point?

Your ancestors exclusively ate single ingredient dishes which were directly collected from the environment. So let's fast forward to the present:

Fast food "restaurants" can be found in almost every street in modern cities. On several street corners of a city you may be able to order pizza: an almost evil creation that combines high levels of quick carbohydrates from grains, fats, salt--and very few vitamins and minerals:

pizza as example of a hyperpalatable food
Tasty or disgusting?

 

(The vegetables on that pizza mostly exist for appearance's sake. If you see some tomatoes and spinach on junk food it's easier to convince you to eat unhealthy stuff.)

Other street corners have stands selling hot dogs, which are delicious but equally devastating to your health (if you eat them frequently).

Yes, even hot dogs exemplify the "winning" combination: the ketchup supplies sugar, the refined grains in the bun add additional quick carbohydrates, and the heavily processed sausage poor-quality fats and salt.

Add even more salt, some artificial flavoring, and many other compounds on top of that, and customers are now eating foods that are made up of 20-30 ingredients...

The contrast between modern food and ancestral food is striking. Your ancestors could only use single ingredients--90% of modern food, on the contrary, contain multiple ingredients.

How did I get that 90% number?

Take a stroll through the typical supermarket: fresh, canned, or frozen whole single-ingredient foods only take up 5-10% of the space of a supermarket.

The central places in the supermarket, where people spend most of their time, is mostly made up of processed goods...

That 90% of processed foods are humanly-created. As an example, let's consider five different multi-ingredient supermarket products:

(Product images below are exclusively included for educational purposes only) 

  1. Blue Diamond Almond Milk Vanilla

    [17]

    Smart choice right?

    Instead of eating junk food you're drinking almond milk because you're such a health freak. The food is even vegan...

    Well, think again.

    One 240 milliliter (a fourth quart) cup of this product contains 2.5 grams of fat, the main macronutrient of almonds). That same cup also contains 13 grams of added sugar.

    A truer name would thus be "sugar milk with added almonds". But you wouldn't buy a product with that name, so the company deceives you with a more "convincing" name.

    Hence "Blue Diamond Almond Milk Vanilla" was born...

    Just to be clear on how deceptive this product is: one quart (~1 liter) of this almond milk contains about an ounce of almonds - two hands full...

    The rest of the product is filler such as sugar.

    (My calculation proceeds as follows: 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of almonds contain about 50 grams of fat. One quart of this almond milk contains 2.5 * 4 = ~10 grams of fat. One ounce of almonds contains 100 / 3.5 = 14 grams of fat, so my calculations is lenient.)

    Let's subsequently peek at the full ingredient list:

    "Almond milk, (filtered water, almonds), cane sugar, calcium carbonate, natural flavors, sea salt, potassium citrate, sunflower lecithin, gellan gum, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, d-alpha-tocopherol (natural vitamin E)."
     
    Question:

    Why do vitamin A, D, and E have to be added to this product? The reason is simple: most of the nutrients were probably removed during processing, so that you'd end up deficient in nutrients if such foods were not fortified.[18]

    Why are "natural" flavors added, if almonds should make this product taste great? Straightforward answer yet again: the product tastes terrible without these additives, because this product contains so few actual almonds.

    Shocker:

    The food company probably adds artificial almond flavor to the milk, as the product almost contains no almonds...

    Next question:

    Why are vitamin A, calcium, and potassium specifically added? Answer: you'll read these nutrients on the food label, and assume you're buying an inherently healthy product. Vitamin A and calcium are included on US food labels--magnesium and zinc are not displayed so the latter nutrients are not added to many foods.

    James Bond would be proud of such deceptive capabilities...

    Next:

  2. Heinz Tomato Ketchup:

    [2]
    The original ketchup

    The "king".

    The "one and only".

    Can't go wrong, this tomato ketchup is purely made from tomatoes, right?

    Think again.

    The list of ingredients:

    "Tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, natural flavoring".[3]

    Next to "natural flavoring", which are added chemicals to make the product taste better (yet again), the ketchup also consists for 23% out of pure sugar. Coca Cola contains 11% sugar--Heinz ketchup thus contains twice as much...

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not a sugar hater and don't think sugar is responsible for the obesity epidemic. I do think consuming sugar without vitamins and minerals can be devastating to your health in the long-run.

    Also note that sugar is listed twice in the ingredient list: "high fructose corn syrup" and "corn syrup". The food industry uses several sugar types because if the relative contribution of that ingredient in the product is lower it can be listed later on the ingredient list.

    If sugar were listed on the ingredient first fewer people would buy the ketchup, which is why food companies use several sugars to deceive you. The inclusion of multiple sugars food companies is thus "helping" you not notice the added sugar in the product. 

    Result?

    Most people are simply unaware that they consume so many empty calories from sugar in this ketchup and think they've made a healthy choice.

    The sugars in this product also easily make you eat more than you'd otherwise would.[4-6] A quicker bottle turnover means more profit for Heinz - at cost of your health of course.

    Moving on:

  3. Wonder White Bread

    [16]

    So you're ditching the pizza and sugary ketchup and going for healthy food instead. What about white bread? Put some cheese and butter on that bread, and you're eating a great quick and healthy meal, right?

    Not so quick...

    Let's look at the ingredient list of this "wonder" bread:

    "Unbleached enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, high fructose corn syrup, yeast, contains 2% or less of each of the following: calcium carbonate, soybean oil, wheat gluten, salt, dough conditioners (contains one or more of the following: sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium stearoyl lactylate, monoglycerides, mono- and diglycerides, azodicarbonamide, enzymes, ascorbic acid), vinegar, monocalcium phosphate, yeast extract, modified corn starch, sucrose, sugar, soy lecithin, cholecalciferol (vitamin d3), soy flour, ammonium sulfate, calcium sulfate, calcium propionate (to retard spoilage)."

    Ask yourself, why are three different types of sugar added (high fructose corn syrup; sucrose, sugar)?

    Why is a whitening agent (azodicarbonamide) included?

    Why does this food contain soy (spot the three different soy ingredients)?

    Why is gluten specifically added, even though some people do not tolerate that stuff?

    Why does bread have an ingredient list that's 8 lines long?

    Insanity? 

    You bet...

    No further comment. Next:

  4. Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise


     [7]

    Looks can be deceiving, and with Hellmann's "Real" Mayonnaise that's especially true. 

    The word "real" implies a product that's un-tampered with - a healthy "real" choice, among the countless fake unhealthy mayonnaise products you may find. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    So let's explore the ingredient list:

    "Soybean oil, water, whole eggs, egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice concentrate, calcium disodium EDTA, natural flavors"

    Not too bad right?

    Well, the list is really bad: mayonnaise is mostly made up of fat, and soybean oil is the number one ingredient to build this mayonnaise.

    80-90% of calories in this product are thus derived from soybean oil.

    Soybean oil is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, and high levels of these specific fats contribute to illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.[8-15]  Most people in the developed world are already (over)-saturated with the fatty acids contained in this "mayonnaise". 

    Hellmann's Mayonnaise is truly toxic to your health. The product should be renamed to "real" heart disease and diabetes promoter...

    Next:

  5. Tombstone Original Pepperoni Pizza:



    This product is advertised as "100% real cheese, zesty sauce, delicious pepperoni – the right combination for your pepperoni needs."[1]

    The full ingredient list gives a different perspective though:

    "Water, Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Low Moisture Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese (Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes), Pepperoni Made with Pork, Chicken, and Beef (Pork, Mechanically Separated Chicken, Beef, Salt, 2% or Less of Spices, Dextrose, Pork Stock, Lactic Acid Starter Culture, Oleoresin of Paprika, Flavoring, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Nitrite, BHA, BHT, Citric Acid [Preservatives], May Also Contain Paprika, Natural Smoke Flavor), Tomato Paste, Vegetable Oil (Soybean Oil and/or Corn Oil), 2% or Less of Sugar, Seasoning Blend (Salt, Spice, Dried Garlic), Yeast, Salt, L-Cysteine Hydrochloride."[1]

    That's 34 ingredients, some of which even scares the monster of Frankenstein away.

    Examples are "flavoring", which are chemical additives to make the food more tasty (as always), "natural smoke flavor", an isolated extract to make the pizza taste as if it were smoked, and destructive vegetable oils, which are the aforementioned fatty acids which promote horrendous health outcomes.

    Oh yes, the pork, beef and chicken (yes, three different meat types) are probably sourced from hundreds of different animals in a factory. I doubt the chickens or pigs have seen 1 second of daylight in their lives.

    Pre-order your tombstone if you frequently eat Tombstone Pizza...


I could have included hundreds of products onto this list, but just included five for illustrative purposes.

Many multi-ingredient supermarket products thus follow the same formula.

Moral of the story: read the label of any product you're buying. Don't buy products if 1) you don't understand the label's ingredients or; 2) if many ingredients are included.

Why?

Well, you surely know that eating at McDonald's or Burger King every day makes you unhealthy. What you probably don't consider is that the same is true for most of today's processed supermarket food.

Processed supermarket food may be even worse as you may incorrectly think it's healthier...

Your ancestors did not have this problem because they ended up withsingle ingredients after hunting an animal such as an elk.

Your ancestors would have gotten muscle meat, organs (heart, brain, liver, thyroid, lungs), skin (which can be used for hides, for example), and bones (which can be used for bone broth).

Extracting these different ingredients from the animal still results in single ingredients. Pure liver is an example, not the same as supermarket liver intermixed with 10 different additives. 

The elk is also mostly made up of protein and fat, with no added sugars and artificial flavorings.

And sure, as an ancestral human you'd return home and probably combine the elk meat with several ingredients for a perfect meal - but you'd know what you're putting inside your body.

The kidney fat, for example, could be used for cooking. A few wild plants may have been included in the meal - if they were currently available.

And you know what? 

The meal tasted great if you were hungry.

That pattern lasted for million years...

elk meat as a health food that mainly contains protein and fat
What the source of normal food looks like...

 

Even 100 years ago, hyperpalatable foods were (almost) non-existent. Let's put that number into perspective by comparing it to the period human beings have lived on this planet...

For the sake of argument, assume that human evolution has lasted 3 million years.

The choice for focusing just on human evolution is extremely conservative, as mammals have eaten bland foods since the end of the dinosaur era 60+ million years ago.

I'm willing to settle for just 3 million years, however. Let's also assume that processed foods have been in existence for 100 years.

In that case, the period human beings have been living without industrially produced foods is thus a mind-boggling 3,000,000/100 = 30,000 as long.

Trouble understanding that number?

Let's break the 30,000 number down even further: let's make an analogy to a 24-hour day.

A 24-hour day contains 24*60 = 1440 minutes, and 1440*60 = 86,400 seconds. 86,400 seconds divided by 30,000 leaves you with 2.8 seconds.

So if you viewed the entirety of human evolution as a 24-hour day, you've only been eating industrially-produced foods with multiple ingredients for 2.8 seconds.

Absolutely nothing...

That's what I call perspective...

So let's subsequently explore at what specific time everything went downhill, starting with the birth of supermarkets. The first commercially viable supermarket in 1916 was called "Piggly Wiggly".[20; 21] 

You can view an image of that first supermarket below:

the first supermarket in the United States
Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tennessee.
[19]

 

After a slow start, supermarkets spread vigorously after the 1940s. From that time onward, humanity's entire relationship to food changed. 

Before the 1940s, your (great)-grandparents bought much of their food directly from farmers. After that time supermarkets began to buy food directly from farmers instead, and then sold that food to consumers.

Convenience was the main reason why supermarkets were granted existence.

Big food companies began buying food directly from farmers. These food companies then processed that food and supplied these humanly-made creations to supermarkets.

Such products exploded in popularity after the Second World War.

Before that time, grocers such as butchers had existed for centuries. These companies almost exclusively sold single-ingredient-foods up until the 20th century.

Then the new supermarket model took over:

Food companies began to compete for customer's attention in supermarkets. Marketable and beautifully packaged products gained more and more dominance over time.

Why?

Let me give you an example:

A simple steak? Can't market that. 

Oreos or Heinz ketchup that contains multiple ingredients, on the other hand, surely is marketable...

And with the emergence of refrigeration in the 1940s, supermarket foods could be stored for weeks in your house. By then you no longer had to rely on the milk farmer passing by your house to deliver milk--a weekly supermarket trip afforded all you needed.

After the Second World War, increasingly more novel foods began to be offered. And due to an extremely wide supermarket assortment, self-service, and lower prices supermarkets displaced direct farmer to customer selling in developed nations by the 1980s.

The impact of the transition to the age of supermarkets is hard to overestimate.

In (semi-)capitalist societies, food became less of a commodity and more like a designer product.

Single ingredients were combined into artificial creations, and customers paid premium prices for such designer products.

Again: tomatoes are hard to market because you're not willing to pay three times the price for one organic tomato rather than another. Tomato ketchup is another story...

The "original sin" of the food industry is considering food as a designer product instead of a commodity.

Let me explain that idea by considering the difference between a "commodity" and other goods in economics...

First an example:

Soybeans, wheat, oil, or precious metals are commodities from an economic perspective. One barrel of oil or one ounce of gold is mostly the same everywhere in the world.

There's a relatively fixed price for one ounce of gold. As per the third of February 2019, that price is $1,317. 

If you're paying $1,500 or $2,000 per ounce of gold you're out of your mind, because no difference exists (and should exist) between two separate ounces of gold.

Another example:

Organic grass-fed and grass-finished ground beef should cost you about $15 per 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) in the US. If you're paying twice or three times that price you're pretty crazy.

As a commodity, grass-fed beef products were (and are) thus largely the same. The same is true for milk, or whole grains, or eggs. You surely may have preferred the milk of one farmer over another in 1850, but no extreme price difference existed.

If you can change wheat into a designer product instead, into the "wonder bread", you now differentiate yourself from the competition, and you're able to ask for more money. Why? Simple: you offer something "unique" to customers that other companies do not.

Food is transformed into an experience, a designer product...

And if you do create a designer product it's best to get customers hooked on that stuff - addiction to your product is the highway to getting rich.

By the way, a quick intermezzo:

I'm not saying that the food industry is the sole cause of the obesity epidemic--other essential reasons exist as well:

Etcetera.

And yet the food industry is part of the problem. The following documentary supplies you with a 30,000-foot view to help you understand why (summary included below):

Century Of Th Self Documentary.

 

Summary: since the 1920s companies use marketing to convince customers to want products they don't necessarily need. Creating ever new wants massively increases profits because you're never fulfilled with what you have and always want new products.

(I'm a big proponent of capitalism and free markets--but not of consumer cultures creating artificial needs in individuals).

What's the alternative? Well, your great-grandparents mostly replaced goods when they were damaged or broke down.

Example: you probably were extremely happy with a Ford T-model car in the 1920s. Just repair the car every couple of months, and you'd do great for years on end

Lifetime-lasting cars are bad for profits though, as you're not continually transferring your hard-earned money to the car industry.

Through marketing, the car industry convinced you that you need a new car model every few years. Result? You're now spending 5-10 times as much money on cars within your lifetime.

The marketing that creates artificial "wants" grounds the entire modern consumer culture.

More examples:

Fashion? You don't need new clothes - but advertisement convinces you that you're a loser if you're not following the latest trends and buying a new wardrobe every few years.

A big house? Marketing in society persuades you that you need to keep up with the "arms race" of always staying on par (or getting ahead of) your neighbors. 

Technological gadgets? Again, through TV ads and billboards you're bombarded with the message that you're left behind if don't have the latest iPhone or newest Samsung smartphone.

A new car? Don't get me started...

Keeping up with the Joneses is thus a dangerous life strategy...

The food industry follows a similar pattern: commercials deceive you into thinking that their newest product makes you happy and improves your life - which rarely is the case.

TV ads and billboards all around the city target you for a new "food" product, having you visit the supermarket or fast food restaurant.

But by transitioning into this food system with supermarkets and marketed multi-ingredient processed foods, you're worse off. 

Obesity, heart disease, cancer, food addictions, diabetes, and brain disease are brought into your life if you ever buy into the deceptive marketing that you need such hyperpalatable foods.

So let's look at some heavily branded products and their marketing:

Oreos.

Big Macs.

Pop tarts.

Starbucks Frappocino.

A bowl of KFC "chicken"...

Such foods are nothing like commodities but carefully branded designer products. Groups of scientists have carefully crafted such products to make them maximally addictive:

cravings caused by foods such as oreos
A team of scientists made these Oreos as irresistible as possible,
to make you a "beloved customer" for life...

 

Addictive foods and branding go hand in hand. Without offering addictive foods, brands have much more trouble existing. And without branding, you'd be buying single ingredient foods just as your great-grandparents did...

The difference is simple: commodities are single ingredients.

Branded products almost always rely on multiple ingredients, and use their addictive potential to make you buy them time and time again. Without multiple ingredients, it's hard to distinguish one product because it cannot be branded as being very different from others...

Sure, some high-quality single ingredient branded products exist, such as US wellness meats (which sell high-quality grass-finished beef throughout the US), or ancestral supplements (who sell organ meat supplements). 

And still, most multi-ingredient products are horrible for your health...

Let's get back further in time to understand the transition in the food supply: several food preservation methods already existed before the age of refrigeration and supermarkets.

Canned food was invented in the early 1800s.

bewfore that time, curing was invented around the Middle Ages, and using fruit to produce jam a couple of centuries before that. View the following video on food preparation before the "age of supermarkets".

Food Preparation In Early Virginia Documentary.

 

Further back, around 3,000 BC, salting food was discovered as preservation method. Drying food in the sun may have been used 10,000-14,000 years ago, but that was your option back then: most foods had to be eaten soon it or the food would spoil. 

Of course, exceptions existed - Eskimos preserved fish in frozen soil and let it ferment. My point is that in general food, preservation methods were very limited until the 1920s.

None of these preservation methods led to multi-ingredient hyperpalatable food creations of today. 

So for most of human history, your ancestors have created their own foods with single ingredients.

Conclusion: crafting meals with single-ingredient foods is normal. 

Part of the obesity epidemic can be solved by simply returning to normal eating again.

And of course, supermarkets are not the only problem. Fast food joints also sell tons of hyperpalatable rubbish, as well as many other places.

Your great-grandparents were never plagued by the fast food joint problem: McDonald's only emerged in the 1940s, and the first KFC joint opened its doors in the 50s.

Supermarkets and fastfood chains thus appeared n the same historical period, and I consider them symptoms of the same problem.

Why care?

Well, the obesity epidemic is getting worse and worse.[22; 23] 

In 1890, when (grand)ma still prepared chicken, rice, and veggies for the whole family. Obesity rates were located around 3.5% back then. 

That number approximates 40% today - more than a tenfold increase. Since the 1970s obesity numbers have tripled. And unless something changes, a mind-boggling 85% of adults will be overweight or obese in 2030.[47] 

About 10% of the health care budget in the US is currently spent on the direct consequences of obesity.[48] Surprise: that number is also poised to increase.

The US can simply no longer afford to have a population that's overweight.

People are actually overweight because they're overeating processed food.[24-26] You're eating approximately 200-300 calories more than previous generations, even though your daily amount of movement has gotten down. 

Hperpalatable foods explain why you may be eating more than before - especially when you're not hungry...

Another issue is that current generations are snacking way more frequently than ever before while eating fewer calories during their main meals. Snacking a big mistake I'll come back to.

So what's the solution to obesity?

Diet down radically?

No:

Dieting through caloric restriction alone actually has a terrible track record for long-term weight loss.[49] I explain why in a previous blog post called Resting Metabolic Rate: Holy Grail Of Long-Term Fat Loss?

In that blog post I claim that establishing healthy food and sleep habits is superior to focusing on caloric restriction. This blog post further supports that thesis.

Many variables affect whether you're losing weight, such as movement, light in the environment, and alterations in food choices--food choice is one of these variables as well.[50-54]

You thus need to fundamentally re-think your relationship hyperpalatable food - if you have any. You'll soon learn why considering these foods a drug is the first step in that process.

Section summary: food companies have a direct incentive to make you hooked on their food to increase profits, and are doing so, through selling unhealthy hyperpalatable foods with many ingredients.

The next section demonstrates exactly how food addictions develop in your brain. 

Let's learn why some people are much more prone to eat against their better judgment while having no hunger at all...

 

 

 

Return To Table Of Contents

3. FOOD ADDICTION, DOPAMINE, AND THE BRAIN: HYPERPALATABLE FOODS' CRAVING MECHANISM

In this section, I'll look at how hyperpalatable food is specifically engineered by groups of scientists to be maximally addictive to your brain. Through that mechanism, food companies assure themselves of repeat customers for a very long time.

If you do get bored with one hyperpalatable food, however, you'll simply switch to another one--it becomes difficult to return to eating normal single-ingredient foods after you're addicted. 

To grasp why certain foods can be addictive you'll have to understand the difference between the "liking" and "wanting" processes in the brain.[28-37] Contrary to popular belief, liking and wanting are two totally different things. 

Example:

You may not really like to eat pizza you eat, but you can still really want that pizza. In fact, your wanting of the pizza is hardly influenced by your liking of that pizza.

Another example:

Let's say you grab a cookie while watching Game of Thrones. While you may really like the taste of that first cookie, but by eating your brain is triggered to want more of them.

Next, even if you no longer like the cookies you may still crave them. After half an hour, the brain's wanting process causes you to mindlessly finish half the bag of cookies while watching TV, without you deriving much pleasure (liking) from that activity.

Why?

You're mostly focused on the screen, and yet, eat a ton of "food" even though you've already eaten 2 hours before.

Bottom line:

The "liking" system determines the amount of pleasure you derive from an activity. The "wanting" system regulates hunger and food cravings. Food companies exploit that difference at your detriment.

Let me explain that difference in more detail:

(Keep in mind I'm oversimplifying somewhat)

The wanting process in your brain evolved through millions of years to efficiently obtain nutrients.[98-105] Your brain aims to maximize its "return on investment" when seeking food, which necessarily entails spending as little energy as possible.

Having access to honey, scavenging meat leftovers from carnivores (especially the extremely nutrient rich bone marrow), picking ripe fruits, and exploiting shellfish deposits would have been preferred over grains (which are not abundant at one specific location before the agricultural revolution) or vegetables (which are very low in calories).

During the process of acquiring food, your brain continually (re-)evaluates how well certain foods are predicted to feed you. The reason for that process is simple: caloric density allows you to live another day--foods with low caloric density such as vegetables eventually starve you.

Why?

Simple:

Let's say you expend 400 calories (kcal) to dig a bunch of vegetables out of the ground. Suppose that these vegetables only supply you with 200 calories. In that case, you're worse off than before - one small step closer to death.

Your body thus requires a net-positive return on its energy investments to survive. If your body accesses a steady supply of high caloric density foods you're more prone to live another day.

Through an inbuilt wanting system, the brain thus "updates" itself whenever high-caloric high-reward foods are found. So if you found an untapped high-quality shellfish deposit at a lake, and ate a few of these delicious oysters, your brain would recognize it hit the jackpot due to the abundant high-quality proteins and fats.

The next time around your brain gets more excited when being around a random lake - your wanting of oysters is increased, which makes you seeking out the food more likely.

Millions of years in the past, that wanting system increased your survival probability because you ended up with better foods.

foods that are laden with sugar, fat and additives to make them as addictive as possible
If this picture brings up cravings your brain is probably sensitized.

 

The same process occurs if you eat salted potato chips with barbecue sauce: your brain assumes it has hit the jackpot and registers that event.

Why does that food tell your brain you've hit the jackpot? Simple:

Salt? Check.

Carbohydrates from potatoes? Check...

Sauce for the fatty acids? Check.

Extra sugar in the barbecue sauce? Check.

Brain conclusion: let's ingest much more of this food next time.

Due to the update in the "wanting" mechanism in the brain, you'll now start craving the salted potato chips with barbecue sauce - even though you're getting just as much pleasure from the food as before.

So contrary to popular belief, the pursuit of reward (wanting) and the reward itself (liking) are thus not the same.[358-361]

Through that mechanism addictions are slowly created...

The more frequently you consume hyperpalatable foods, the more wanting system in the brain is sensitized to seek out these foods again and again. You already know that process by the name "learning".[90; 362; 363] 

More bad news?

Sure:

After frequently eating hyperpalatable foods you won't even enjoy normal meals anymore. A grass-fed steak will probably feel bland compared to the overly-salted french fries, Coca Cola, and 35-ingredient burger.

Craving for hyperpalatable foods is thus learned behavior. You simply learn to desire such foods after consuming them more frequently.

And sure, one pizza will only have a slight impact on that learning process. Eating pizza more frequently, however, cements the propensity over a period of months and years..

So let's further explore that mechanism in the brain:

Several brain areas are involved with food addiction in general, and the wanting systems in particular:[59-63]

 how hyperpalatable foods work in the brain

Important areas are highlighted in gold and referred to with bolder black letters. 

(Highlights are oversimplified and non-exhaustive as brain interactions are highly complex. No need to remember these brain areas - I'm just including them to give you a sense that brain changes do exist if you're prone to overeat processed food.)

Let's explore the brain areas affected by food addiction:

  • The striatum, an area closely tied to motivation and reward.[63; 64] That striatum is essential to the proper functioning of the "dopamine" signaling substance in your brain. Such signaling substances are commonly called "neurotransmitters". You can have a heightened dopamine response towards unhealthy (read: hyperpalatable) food as a result of food addiction. That response signifies an updating of the wanting system.
  • The orbitofrontal cortex aids in the valuation of different foods, even regarding the function of taste.[65-70; 312] Taste is a great proxy for the caloric value of different foods - your brain links the taste of fat and sugar to survivability. If you eat lots of hyperpalatable food your orbitofrontal cortex "updates" the valuation of Oreos and pizza so that you start to prefer them in the future. That process will then even be linked to the smell of food. Just smelling pizza can thus make you crave that substance if your brain is sensitized.
  • The cingulate cortex also plays a role in the interaction between the reward your brain allocates to certain foods.[74; 76; 77; 81-83]  Without an (anterior) cingulate cortex, your brain does not learn to reward certain foods over others. The role of the cingulate cortex in (over)eating is interesting, as the brain area also plays major roles in attention, higher-order decision making, emotion, and pain sensations - all of which play an indirect role with regard to food choice.
  • The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is (once again) related to anticipated reward.[84-89] This brain area is best known for its higher-order functions, such as planning, reasoning ability, abstract thought, self-control, and short-term memory. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (and surrounding brain areas) specifically helps you restrain yourself in the face of temptation. The more you train this brain area, the better you're able to resist hyperpalatable foods.

 

Note: additional brain areas such as the "amygdala", "ventromedial prefrontal cortex" and "insula" play a role in your brain's response to food as well - even though they are not included here.[71-73; 75; 78-80] All of these areas and systems interact, and reality is thus far more complex than my depiction here.[355-357]

I expect the picture I'm painting above to be supplanted in the coming decade(s), in part because most current research only uses brain scans (such as fMRI) and animal studies. High-quality human research is currently also lacking, and such research would almost inevitably update the brain interactions I've just laid out.

Nonetheless, the staggering fact is that high-caloric processed food consumption almost certainly cause brain changes.

And there's more circumstantial evidence:

Remember I mentioned "dopamine" in relation to the striatum brain area? 

Dopamine signaling is central to many addictions, including food addiction. The "opioid" system is similar.[90-97; 107-111; 114]

Let's explore both. 

I'll first consider dopamine:

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that's traditionally responsible for making you motivated, assertive, and happy, but can also play a role in compulsive eating.

Certain foods trigger the dopamine system. Sugar, for example, instantly increases your dopamine levels.[154-156] That rise in dopamine can both be beneficial and problematic.

The dopamine is co-responsible for updating the "wanting system" after you get exposed to hyperpalatable foods.

From an evolutionary perspective: "successful" foraging is reinforced through dopamine. Hyperpalatable foods thus create a positive feedback loop in the brain, instead of a negative one.[317] 

Dopamine simply makes you more motivated to hit the jackpot next time.

Instead of your brain thinking: "I've just had an amazing meal, so I don't need more of that food" your brain assumes: "That was an amazingly nutritious meal with lots of sugar and fat, let's crave that food even more next time around". 

How?

Say you're on a diet, and you're feeling down. If you decide to have pizza "just once", you already get a spike in your dopamine levels without having been exposed to the food. Dopamine then helps your brain get the drug of choice as quickly as possible, planning how and where to get the next "hit"...

Dopamine helps you calculate how to get to your car quickest, the most efficient path to drive to the city, where to park your car, and makes you excited about entering the fast food restaurant.

In many situations dopamine is great, but in this case it gets hijacked. The fact that the dopamine system is also affected in certain eating disorders such as binge eating disorder or Bulimia Nervosa yields additional proof for that thesis.

Over time, with sensitization, just smell of warm bread, pizza, or fried french fries will really get you going...

Opioids, secondly, also play a role in the reward system of the brain. 

You probably know that the US currently experiences an opioid crisis.

You may not know, however, that opioid drugs and food both stimulate the same brain system. It's self-evident that food will not affect that brain system in such an aggressive extent as some drugs will do, but the effect nevertheless exists.

Interestingly enough, opioid drug abuse itself can also cause weight issues and the body's inability to process carbohydrates properly (insulin resistance). While the opioid system mainly regulates pain perceptions, it also overlaps with how your body handles food.

Evidence?

Sure:

Whether you desire hyperpalatable foods or not can directly be manipulated by injecting opioids or substances that block opioid function into the body.[352-354]

The food you eat also affects that opioid system.

Different macronutrients such as sugar or fat affect the opioid system in different ways. Removing sugar from your diet, for example, may lead to harsher withdrawal symptoms than fat. These withdrawal symptoms are similar to (but far milder) than opioid drug withdrawals.[149-153]

(That conclusion does not make sugar bad per se, as cutting out all protein from the diet will also cause "withdrawal" symptoms - or better yet: health damage.)

The opioid system also seems to be disproportionally responsible for a phenomenon called "binge eating" - in which you're consuming loads of (often hyperpalatable) food in one sitting.

As I've stated before, I see "food addiction", "binge eating", "emotional eating" and "compulsive eating" as different instances of the same phenomenon. The case can be made that all types of overeating on hyperpalatable foods are forms of binge eating - some people just do so more forcefully.

Over time, brain structures literally change with food addiction.[328] Food addiction is thus not just "in your mind".

Surprise:

Addiction is not just a problem of the reward system (including the "wanting system") in the brain, moreover, but also involved an anti-reward system.[116-118]

That sentence sounds abstract, so let's simplify:

With addiction, your brain gets de-sensitized towards normal everyday pleasures. A well-prepared ribeye that would normally give you intense bliss no longer does the trick.

People who are consistently eating on junk food thus rely on that food to feel good, and can no longer feel pleasure even if they eat high-quality organic food.

Your brain becomes like a spoiled child: after going on expensive holidays to the Cayman Islands, Antarctica, and a grand tour through India, camping in the woods for 2 weeks is no longer fun.

Hyperpalatable foods exploit that principle...

Disclaimer: sugars or fats are not the exclusive culprits in highly palatable foods--refined grains are equally dangerous.

The reason is simple: refined grains lead to much bigger raises in blood sugar than fruits or table sugar.

For that specific reason hamburgers with a bun sell really well, while a steak with some fruit on the side doesn't. Add some high-sugar ketchup to that hamburger and the food gets even more rewarding.

Sure, both sugar and fat are (somewhat) rewarding in isolation. But a combination of fat, sugar, some salt, that is taken up quicker than the speed of light is exponentially more gratifying.[316]

Add some vanilla, caffeine, MSG, a tiny bit of pepper for hotness, artificial flavors and a dozen of other ingredients, and the reward your brain thinks it's getting goes through the roof. 

Again: scientists struggle for years to perfect the rewarding capacity of processed foods. Higher rewards equal greater addiction potential and thus profits.

Another food "scientist" secret? 

Make foods melt in your mouth - no chewing required. The less you need to chew, the quicker the nutrients are taken up, and the faster your brain recognizes it's hit the jackpot. 

Add some caramelizing, the right kind of creaminess from fat, and reward potential goes through the roof once more.

Let's compare that reward principle to drug analogy:

The difference between chewing coca leaves or snorting cocaine is huge even though the same substance is used. The latter option is simply much more rewarding because it's taken up quickly.

You're hit with a double whammy...

Recreational drugs have the same type of effect as hyperpalatable foods do on your brain. Both recreational drugs and hyperpalatable foods are characterized by quick intense pleasure spikes.[27; 28; 38-45]

The longer you need to wait for a recreational drug to kick in, the lower the addictive potential generally is - the same is true for hyperpalatable foods.

Going back to the examples of evolution: your ancestors may have gorged on a fatty elephant or woolly mammoth, or may have drunk a huge load of honey in one single sitting.

Such examples, however, only exemplify taking in massive quantities of a single ingredient. Your brain is never hijacked by eating 3 plain ribeyes without salt.

Hyperpalatable foods that perfectly combine sugar, fat, protein, salt, and many additives don't even exist in nature.

Want to make even more money as a food company? Then make your customers snack as often as possible:

An unprecedented 25% of daily consumed calories are now consumed through snacks.[141-145] Snacks are problematic. 

Your ancestors didn't snack (often).

The introduction and normalization of snacking is beneficial to the food industry, however, because they can push many new processed foods that way.

Why?

No-one is going to prepare a meal in order to have a quick snack. Snacks thus end up being processed foods most of the time, and are almost always poor choices with higher caloric and lower vitamin and mineral contents. 

Most people won't snack on a few ounces of potatoes or celery, for example, but they'll happily eat a cookie or candy.

The problem is that taking in more energy through snacks is also associated with weight gains and obesity.

I hope you're beginning to understand the "winning" combination of the food industry:

Many naturally non-addictive substances are combined into food to make them as addictive as possible - just as is the case with drugs such as coca leaves.[119-124]

One last example:

Cacao beans are hardly addictive: 

cacao beans which are naturally non-addictive

How do I know?

Try to eat a full bar of 99% pure chocolate: you don't want to keep eating that stuff.

Secondly, consider honey:

honey which is naturally non-addictive

Addictive?

No.

How many people do you know who drank a full liter of that stuff? I know no-one...

But when the properties of these two foods are combined you've got the basis for a new deadly combination:

bonbons which combine sugar and fat and are naturally more addictive

Fat from the cacao and sugar from honey are combined to make a very addictive designer "food". 

Most of the fiber is removed from the cacao as well, by mainly using the cacao butter from the cacao beans instead of the higher-fiber parts of the plant. And if the fiber-y cacao powder is used, it's treated with heat to make it sweeter. 

Include some additives and you've now got a lethal formula.

Increasing pleasure is not the main goal of these food companies though--pleasure is only a secondary objective to profit.

The end result?

You're back at square one:

Recall that addictive eating is defined by several properties, such as an inability to restrain impulses, emotional reactivity, and continued use despite setting intentions to cut down on processed foods - all signs of addiction to a drug.[55-58]

If you have a food addiction you're also are more prone to have problems with impulse control, for example.[112; 113] Impulse control is by brain regions such as the prefrontal cortex, which is located in your forehead.

You now understand that these properties of food addiction can also be traced back to the brain. 

Sure, genetics do play a role, but addiction is never a purely genetic problem.[115; 262; 342; 343] 

Why?

Easy: genetic can load the bullet but only the environment pulls the trigger. Without exposure during pregnancy, no-one is born addicted.

So that's it...

Third section done.

Let's consider my claim so far: 

Food companies have an incentive to make you addicted to their stuff: food commodities such as grass-fed beef or oysters carry pretty low-profit margins, but if food companies can turn you into a life-long addicted customer of their (hyperpalatable) designer products their profit margins shoot up.

Oreos, for example, cost almost nothing to create, and yet many people pay their hard-earned money to unknowingly get addicted to that stuff.

After consuming hyperpalatable foods brain changes set up you up to consume that unhealthy stuff time and time again. The next section considers how to recognize such behavior - addiction symptoms...



(Nerd section: many other systems in the brain may be affected by food addiction, such as the endocannabinoid system, the leptin, insulin, and ghrelin hormones, the role of dietary fats on overeating - which all stand in relation to the dopamine system. Despite my oversimplified depiction, dopamine is probably more central than the other domains.)[352; 364-371]



Health Foundations Program

 

  

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4. FAST FOOD ADDICTION SYMPTOMS: A VICIOUS CYCLE OF CRAVINGS, OVEREATING, GUILT, AND SHAME

In this section, I'll describe common food addiction symptoms. 

The best evidence for these symptoms currently emerges from animal studies - many high-quality studies on overeating have been carried out on rats.

Let's explore these studies' outcomes:

If rats are exposed to hyperpalatable foods they'll overeat until they're morbidly obese. When exposed to typical food called "rat chow", on the contrary, they'll self-regulate their portions.[126-136]

The hyperpalatable foods don't just make rats ingest more energy during the day - rats also start to prefer the higher energy food over their chow. Rats additionally begin eating more frequently.

These studies simply simulate a diet lower in fiber, but high in fat, salt, carbohydrates, and containing less protein - the deadly highly palatable combo I've talked about before.

The more bland foods are, on the contrary, the less prone rats overeat. With very bland foods rats also rarely if ever eat compulsively.

With a junk food habit, some rats even developed a dangerous combination of muscle mass losses and fat gains - making them appear at a healthy weight while having many underlying metabolic issues.

Many people fall into that category today are called "skinny-fat", signifying low muscle mass with higher body fat levels. Being "lean" or "thin" is thus not always safe if you've still got high body fat levels.

When rats are no longer offered the hyperpalatable food they experience anxiety. You may thus also experience anxiety if you're transitioning to a normal eating pattern.

Another shocker:

Even if rats consume the hyperpalatable foods just some of the time, gut bacteria are still changed.[137] 

I can go on and on about the negative effects of such diets, such as increased inflammation, damaged mitochondria (the energy-producing factories of cells), disrupted sleep patterns, and de-sensitization to dopamine.[138-140; 147]

Hyperpalatable foods are truly addictive to rats. Rats choose to continue seeking out these foods even if they have to go through painful shock to attain their reward.[148]

But let's look at the bright side:

In rats, transitioning from a diet with hyperpalatable foods to a standard chow diet reverses obesity and metabolic syndrome (e.g. insulin resistance, which is an inability to handle carbohydrates from foods properly, and heart disease).

The effects of hyperpalatable foods on humans are thus somewhat predictable. many of the effects exhibited in the rat studies will take time to confirm in humans, unfortunately.

So what about humans?

How do you get addicted?

Let's find out:

Of course a food addict after eating a slice of pizza, just as you won't be an alcoholic after a few late nights of drinking. Addictions take time to develop. 

The health effects of these foods slowly add up over time. But by the time you're realizing you can no enjoy normal foods, it's too late. The vicious cycle is also easily started by then. 

How?

Passive overeating during the evenings of hyperpalatable foods, when you're watching TV, can slowly turn into an addiction.[157-159] That model of passive overeating is perfect for food companies: addictions are best created if you're imperceptibly moving towards them because you won't consciously resist as much.

So let's explore what happens when you are addicted. I'll start with the king of symptoms: overwhelming cravings.

Remember that time you had a great meal?

A juicy steak at a restaurant?

Your stomach was filled to the brim - not one ounce of food could be added. 

But then...

Then you saw the waiter bring a beautiful sorbet to another person in the room. 

Cravings emerged out of nowhere...

And even though you had just eaten a great meal and were stuffed 20 seconds ago, your body was convinced it needed a sorbet. 

Not wanted, but needed...

Some more steak?

Impossible...

But a sorbet?

Sure!

And another beautiful looking dessert on top of that? Also possible...

dessert with lots of sugar and fat, which makes some people crave that food and eat compulsively
Cravings generators for some...

 

Contrary to regular hunger, cravings have a different pull to them. Cravings are the emotion that exemplifies the want I've talked about in the revious section.

You may think: "how do you KNOW for certain that cravings are different from hunger?"

Simple: the presence of cravings can be established with functional MRI scans, which allow for real-time observations. MRI scans, for example, allow to see what is happening in your brain when you're exposed to hyperpalatable foods.[310-315]

Just pictures of a beautiful pizza can create cravings in some.

Interesting fact:

How you respond to pictures of junk food under an MRI also predicts how well you will be doing in the weight loss department.

If you've got a food addiction, your cravings also increase under stress - a phenomenon absent if you're not addicted to food.[327]

(So I'm sorry about all the food picture I posted above. To make it up to you: I'm later giving you the keys to the kingdom to beat food addiction once and for all.)

Remember that food addiction and impulsivity are also interrelated.[332-334; 350]

Impulsivity is per definition unplanned and exemplifies actions that not thought through (well). Being impulse increases your likelihood to be addicted to several drugs.[329-331]

Delayed gratification and ignoring cues are more difficult if you're (more) impulsive. Impulsivity is thus a central concept to food addiction because many people intend to follow diets that they then break precisely because of upcoming cravings.

Functional MRI studies validate that pattern: greater impulsivity predicts more weight gain over time.[335; 336] 

Fortunately, you can train your impulsivity: by sticking to healthy habits long-term poor choices will have less of a "pull" on you. Always remember: every single time you resist hyperpalatable foods is a victory.

Impulsive actions are problematically not always (fully) conscious choices.

Think about it: ever seen someone binge eat on 3 pounds of plain potatoes? 

Mindlessly chug down 50 oysters while watching television?

Complain that they're really craving beef, as opposed to being hungry for beef? Well, okay, vegetarians and vegans do crave beef.

In all other instances, the answer is "no".

If you're losing control and start bingeing then it's usually hyperpalatable food.

You're not going to binge on celery or rib eyes or fruits...

I hope you're beginning to see a pattern: if you're addicted to food, you'll have cravings for hyperpalatable foods, often impulsively giving in to these cravings.

Sounds like a drug to me...

Guilt and shame then complete the vicious cycle.[160-163; 402-404] These terrible emotions induce you to engage in the self-destructive behavior again and again.

Counter-intuitive for sure...

I'm not only claiming that guilt and shame don't help you at all, but also contending that these emotions are literally counterproductive.

Example:

You may be ashamed of being obese. In that case, eating hyperpalatable foods is the means to relieve yourself of shame. And even though that behavior is completely irrational, the shame incentivizes many people to actually take that route.

Gaining extra weight after overeating easily creates more shame, and thus more overeating once again.

And while guilt is fortunately more "positive" as you're less likely to re-engage in the destructive behavior compared to shame, even guilt is obsolete. 

Why?

You're much better off if you can change your behavior without feeling guilt. If the energy you're spending on feeling guilt was directed at finding a solution to your food addiction you'd be way better off...

But there's a paradox:

The less you're willing to experience negative emotions, the more prone you're to succumb to feeling of shame and guilt and develop a food addiction.

The solution to negative emotions is to let them go so that they leave most quickly. The more you resist guilt and shame, the more power they have over you.

(My 100% free guide on mindfulness meditation teaches you how overcome that pattern).

So to summarize this section:

Hyperpalatable foods have been studied extensively in rats, and cause extraordinary health problems. In humans, these foods may lead to vicious cycles of cravings, overeating, guilt, and shame, which keeps the addiction and self-destructive behavior in place.

Let's move to the next section, in which I'll consider one last downside of being food addicted: malnutrition.

  

 

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5. MALNUTRITION AS BOTH A CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE OF FOOD ADDICTION

Hyperpalatable foods being addictive is just part of the problem: the other part of the equation is that these foods are commonly extremely low in nutrients.[45; 46]

In other words, you're consuming lots of calories but are not taking care of your daily vitamin and mineral needs. Nutritional deficiencies cause cravings in turn...

The more "hyperpalatable" or "ultra-processed" foods you consume, the greater your risk for vitamin A (retinol), C, D, and E deficiency, as well as several minerals such as zinc, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.[46]

You'll additionally ingest more saturated fat and sugar.

While I do not think saturated fat and sugar are problematic in isolation, consuming lots of saturated fats and sugar without ingesting vitamins and minerals will you'll get in trouble.

End result?

Micronutrient deficiencies are extremely prevalent in the developed world. Let's look at an example of people living in the US:[387-396]

  • More than 40% of Americans have insufficient vitamin D levels, even though foods such as milk are fortified with vitamin D3. Of course, the vitamin D problem also exists because most people are not getting any sunlight exposure.
  • Vitamin A deficiency? 34% prevalence. Vitamin C: 25%. Vitamin E: 60% - despite additional intakes though supplements and/or food fortification.
  • While good lab tests for vitamin K2 do not yet exist yet,  the vitamin is mostly found in pasture-raised animal products. If you're eating lots of plants or conventionally raised animal products then you're likely deficient. My guess is that vitamin K2 deficiencies are extraordinarily high, approximating 80-90%.
  • About 5.5% of US adults are iron deficient, and 1.5% have severe iron deficiency problem. 10% of toddlers and adolescents are deficient.
  • 60% of adults have a full-blown magnesium deficiency, while 80% has a minor one.
  • 17% of the world's population is zinc deficient. For the US that number is probably lower but not non-existent.
  • 98% of adults are potassium deficient. No, that's not a typo. 98%, yes

You get the drill...

The numbers speak for themselves...

Keep in mind that without supplements and food fortification the problem would be much bigger.

Ask yourself this question: "if the Standard American Diet is inherently nutritious, then why do many foods need to be fortified?"

The reason is simple:

Processed foods contain very low quantities of vitamins and minerals while containing tons of calories. Your body cannot function with such a diet.

You're thus likely to be starving for nutrients even if you're morbidly obese - even if you're living in a developed country.

Hyperpalatable foods can simply not match highly nutritious foods such as eggs, organ meats, or shellfish that contain high levels of vitamins and minerals per calorie.

oysters as a health food with tons of vitamins and minerals
A key element in resolving vitamin and mineral deficiencies...

 

You may even get additional cravings precisely because you're underfed in vitamins and minerals.

Yes, really.

Recognize chocolate cravings?

Such cravings do not actually entail your body is deficient in chocolate, but only in one of it's quintessential components: magnesium.

Your body can thus be craving chocolate simply because you're magnesium deficient. 

You can also crave red meat if you're deficient in zinc or iron. If you're on a high carbohydrate for longer periods of time, and your body is not using (body)fat as its main fuel, you can get sugar cravings.

The balanced viewpoint is thus that cravings are both good and bad.

The problem is that hyperpalatable foods create bad cravings, for foods which are devastating to your health. And eating hyperpalatable foods creates new cravings in turn, because you become vitamin and mineral deficient.

Another double whammy...

Paradoxically, you're thus starving if you're eating hyperpalatable foods on the one hand, and, you're eating far more trash than you need on the other hand.

Section summary: hyperpalatable foods leave you underfed, which puts your health at risk due to vitamins and mineral deficiencies. Such vitamin and mineral deficiencies can create new and stronger cravings.

one way to prevent such cravings is thus to ensure you're eating a diet with high-quality foods.

Let's now, finally, completely my case and look at why I think hyperpalatable foods should be categorized as drugs...

By the way, this blog post is the second installment of my fat loss series. Read the first part here. Consider grabbing my top 10 practical fat loss laws infographic for keeping the pounds permanently off below:

 

 

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6. THE CASE FOR CATEGORIZING HIGHLY PALATABLE FOODS AS DRUGS

Finally, the time has come to close my case against hyperpalatable foods. So let's compare the effects highly palatable food overconsumption against the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) definition of drugs.

I'm starting with one of the most stringent definition: schedule II drugs have the following criteria:[169-171]

  1. The drug or other substances have a high potential for abuse
  2. The drug or other substances have currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions
  3. Abuse of the drug or other substances may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

The DEA further states that:

"Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous."[171]

Let's consider how well junk food or highly palatable food match these criteria:

A. Highly palatable foods do have a high potential for abuse.

B. The substance is currently accepted for medical use in treatment - although the statement is not technically true. The point of the classification system is that schedule I drugs have no medical benefit, while schedule II drugs sometimes do. As food does have health (and medical) benefits, I wouldn't subsume junk food under schedule I drugs.

C. Junk foods and highly palatable foods do cause both psychological and physical dependence.

So overall, hyperpalatable foods do accord to the FDA's own standard of a schedule II drug (or lower). How about the DEA?

"High potential for abuse?" Check. "Potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence"? Check again. "These drugs are also considered dangerous" Not yet, but they should be...

Now, I don't necessarily think hyperpalatable foods should be specifically included in the schedule II category.

I'd be willing to settle for schedule III, IV, or V as well, as long as highly palatable foods are categorized as drugs.

Let me explain the difference between schedule II, III, IV, and V in their potential for bodily and psychological harm:

  • Schedule II contains prescription drugs such as oxycodone (a painkiller) and methylphenidate (ADHD stimulant). These drugs are classified as having a high potential for abuse.
  • Schedule III drugs include benzos (for calming and sleep medication) and anabolic steroids (for combating muscle wasting and fatigue). Schedule III drugs have less of an abuse potential than schedule I or II.
  • Schedule IV drugs have a low potential for abuse and include short-acting benzos (again: anti-anxiety and sleep drugs) and drugs that treat spasms.
  • Schedule V drugs, lastly, have the lowest potential for abuse and includes cough medication, for example.

(For simplicity sake I've not distinguished between "narcotics" and "non-narcotics" in relation to drug categories).

To me, a strong argument can be made that processed food needs to be subsumed in the Schedule III category.

Why?

Again: two-thirds of the US is either overweight or obese. And while food is not the sole cause of that problem, food choices matter.

8 in 10 Americans visit a fast food restaurant every month, and half of them every week.[416] That statement still does no justice to the depth of the problem, as processed foods bought at the supermarket are not included in that calculation.

At least 250 million Americans thus use the drug called "hyperpalatable food" on a monthly basis. And many of these people experience skyrocketing health care costs because obese or morbidly obese.

Caveat: carrying somewhat more body fat at a later age may be protective (but being morbidly obese is certainly not). Most Americans, however, are not 60+. Obesity at a younger age thus remains dangerous, and many young people are thus too heavy.

Obesity is contributing to a horrifying 300,000 yearly deaths in the US.[417] If only a fifth of those deaths was caused by eating overeating (due to the introduction of hyperpalatable foods), that's 60,000 people dying every year due to such foods.

And how many people are addicted to schedule II drugs? 

In 2017, the worst drug, synthetic opioids, killed 49,000 people. Even if only a very conservative fifth of all obesity deaths is attributable to food intake it's still much worse the worst drug out there.

My schedule III classification is thus still conservative. 

Total drug overdoses deaths are located just over 70,000. Obesity-related deaths thus approximate all prescription and non-prescription drug-related deaths combined.

Let's further explore why I think fast foods should be considered a drug:

An original graph of the addictive potential and possibility for harm of several drugs looks like this (2007):[222; 228]

highly palatable foods create both dependence and physical harm

I simply want to update that graph by including hyperpalatable foods (find the added blue dot below):

placing highly palatable food on a drugs continuum

I'm currently agnostic towards where exactly that dot should be placed. You might argue that the blue dot can be placed here as well, for example:

another graph of different drug categorizations, including junk food

 

The dot may also be placed farther into the dependence domain, and less far into the physical harm domain.

My fundamental point is that hyperpalatable foods should be included in that graph due to their very nature.

But let's first explore that graph a bit further...

The "dependence" domain signifies the addictive potential drugs have. The "physical harm" domain denotes the extent to which your health is damaged by drugs.

Observe that certain drugs both have high dependence and physical harm potentials such as cocaine and heroin. Other drugs exhibit more physical harm, and less dependence (anabolic steroids), while some drugs create more dependence while doing less physical harm (khat).

Because tens of thousands of people are dying due to overeating-related obesity every year, I'd put the dot farther into the physical harm domain, approximating the 1 or 1.5. The physical harm of hyperpalatable foods thereby equals alcohol or tobacco.

It's even very well possible to make the case that hyperpalatable foods exceed the harm of alcohol and tobacco...



(Nerd section: counterarguments exist against the classification used above. One counterargument is that the scheme does not include potential benefits of certain drugs such as benzos or cannabis.[223-227] For my thesis that counterarguments do not matter - my point is that hyperpalatable foods should be classified as drugs due to harm and dependence impact alone.)



Let's explore the many reasons why junk food should be categorized as a drug. To do so I'll return to discussing the properties of distinguishing a "drug" from a "non-drug".

I'll give three arguments:

Firstly, many people in modern society have the feeling they cannot stop eating hyperpalatable foods.[156-159; 231-233]

I'm neutral towards whether that feeling is correct or incorrect. If perception originates from the eye of the beholder, however, the feeling is correct.

In the same way, you may have a feeling you cannot stop drinking as an alcoholic, and have a feeling that you need the drink when you're a food addict you may have very strong cravings towards hyperpalatable foods.

The simple fact that many people repeatedly set an intention to stop eating junk food, or to quit binge eating, but then "relapse" again, is a sign that hyperpalatable foods are drug-like.

Secondly, you'll get withdrawal symptoms if you don't eat hyperpalatable foods for some time - i.e. hyperpalatable foods create dependence.[240; 242-244; 305; 324; 348]

I've discussed withdrawals before. Withdrawals are also a side-effect of stopping many other drugs.

Many of the classical withdrawal symptoms exist when cutting down on junk foods, such as being extremely tired, craving the junk food more than ever before, being irritated, having a very poor mood, sleeplessness, and more.

Withdrawal might take up to several weeks, which is comparable to many drugs.

If you're addicted to hypepralatable foods, you may even need to consume them just to feel normal. As a consequence, you'll feel down when eating normal (healthy) food, which then incentives you to continue the destructive pattern.

While more research is needed in this area, preliminary evidence demonstrates that withdrawal symptoms do exist when you quit hyperpalatable foods. 

Thirdly, you're actively harming yourself by eating hyperpalatable foods.

You may have noticed that health care costs are spiraling out of control in modern society. 

Obesity is associated with many health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, joint conditions, and more.[245-253] Again, many deaths can be attributed to being overweight. Compare that outcome to cannabis: almost no-one becomes diseased or dies because of smoking weed, and cannabis is considered a drug on the federal level.

Being slightly overweight may paradoxically increase your chances for survival in older age though.[254-257] But make no mistake: there's no reason to be obese or morbidly obese if you're young. Counterarguments against that obesity paradox thesis have also emerged.[258]

If you're living in a country without socialized medicine, then health care costs associated with obesity even incur social harm. 

Obesity costs about $2,000,000,000,000 per year on a worldwide scale, or $2 trillion dollars.[263] A trillion equals a thousand billion, or a million million.

Mind boggling.

Alcohol overconsumption leads to 2.5 million worldwide deaths each year--for obesity that number approximates 4 million.[264] 

Societal influences of obesity exist as well of course - if you're obese, you're less productive at work, more frequently absent, and at greater risk for disabilities.[265-270]

Food addiction does, therefore, cause societal harms, although these harms are different from other drugs. Cocaine and alcohol use often lead to violence and criminal behavior, for example, which is obviously not the case for overeating on hyperpalatable foods.

Bottom line: hyperpalatable foods addictions harm both yourself and may harm others.

You may think: "but food is natural so it cannot be a drug?"

Well, you also need to drink water to survive.

Water is natural. If you add alcohol to your water, then the drink gains an addictive potential.

Furthermore, even alcohol can also be considered natural. The fact that something is natural does not mean it's not a drug. Why? Cannabis is natural and a drug as well. Many drugs are actually found in nature, such as cocaine, heroin, and DMT.

You can push that argument even further and claim that cocaine is natural because it's specifically extracted from coca leaves. 

Foods can thus be and natural, and humanly-made, and a drug.

I'm not supplying a political or social solution to this problem. I merely want to make you and the public aware of why a good case can be made to consider hyperpalatable foods drugs.

Even though I've got my political preferences, I think you should be able to read this article without you having to accuse me of having a political bias.

(The astute reader will note though that I have argued in favor of free markets earlier, and will also note that abstaining from politics is by itself already a political decision.)

Nevertheless, by steering mostly clear from politics hopefully a broader discussion on the political solutions can follow.

cannabis as drug that does less harm than junk food
Cannabis: less harmful than junk food, and yet,
still a schedule I drug. Mind boggling.

 

Classifying fast foods as drugs will almost certainly have political consequences. 

Let me give an analogy:

Today tobacco is seen as a substance that can alter your brain structure. Since the 1950s society has moved away from exclusively emphasizing personal responsibility in dealing with smoking. 

Tobacco marketing has been curbed in modern societies, cigarettes are no longer sold everywhere, and children and teenagers are prohibited from purchasing tobacco products.

The same is true for alcohol in many countries. Such trends may also arise with hyperpalatable foods if more people begin to see it as a drug.

Categorizing hyperpalatable foods as drugs thus entail that it's treated like many existing drugs:

  • Ad campaigns for hyperpalatable foods may be forbidden, just like cigarette ads are
  • Junk food may no longer be sold to children or teenagers (or only under parental supervision)
  • Fast food could be prohibited from being sold near schools and in public areas
  • Vending machines can be removed to make these foods less accessible
  • Taxes may be levied upon hyperpalatable foods, while single-ingredient foods remain untaxed.

I'm not saying I agree or disagree with these measures, I'm only claiming they're logical consequences many people will derive from seeing hyperpalatable foods as drugs.

Through those same means, cigarettes have lost much of their glamour, and are no longer considered "cool".

A downside of that approach, obviously, is that less emphasis is given to personal responsibility. 

Section summary: hyperpalatable foods exhibit many classical properties of drugs, and additionally accord to the DEA's and FDA's own definition of a drug, as well as other classical drug properties.

It's thus time to reveal what death and destruction hyperpalatable foods are causing, to awaken more people about their health effects.

in the next section, I'll compare food industry practices to that of the tobacco industry - it turns out these have huge similarities...

 

 

 

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7. HYPERPALATABE FOOD AND CIGARETTES: COMPARABLE INDUSTRY PRACTICES AND LONG-TERM HEALTH EFFECTS?

woman who functions as an analogy between cigarette smoking and eating junk food
A similarity between smoking and food addiction? 
Let's find out...

 

Cigarette (or smoking) and food addictions are similar in that they create intense "wanting" without corresponding "liking". 

Most people do not actually derive intense pleasure from eating junk food after a while, only partially because of the guilt and shame associated with the behavior. Cigarettes are the same - cigarettes just become a means to normalize your mood and avert withdrawals.

(Indications even exist that the liking component of drugs goes down over time so that you'll no longer experience intense pleasure that you did in the past by taking the drug.[325; 326])

Today everyone knows that smoking is unhealthy. But in the 1950s only lots of circumstantial evidence existed that smoking kill, and you only knew smoking was dangerous if you studied lots of evidence yourself.

Because of that uncertainty tobacco companies were able to stifle scientific research since the 1950s, making average citizens doubt whether smoking cigarettes really caused lung cancer or whether it was addictive.

In 1954, for example, tobacco companies published a statement in hundreds of newspapers claiming that smoking does not cause negative health effects.[172] That publication started a decades-long war to deceive the public about the true health costs of smoking.

How?

The tobacco industry employed an army of scientists and lawyers to retain and even expand their market position.

Publications showing that cigarettes cause lung cancer were criticized. Science was systematically distorted always leave room for doubt as of whether tobacco really causes health problems.[187-189]

So were your grandparents in the 1950s and 60s as aware of the perils of tobacco smoking as you are today

Not fully...

Even in medicine, some doubt existed regarding how bad cigarette smoking was. The tobacco industry exploited that uncertainty.

To be sure: the tobacco industry knew that cigarettes were unhealthy but always ensured to reduce claims of harm as much as possible. Let me give three examples:

  1. Branding is of enormous import for cigarette companies. With the threat of brandless standardized packaging by governments, it would become much harder for cigarette companies to sell their product.

    As a result, companies such as Phillip Morris fund research that demonstrates that standardized packaging may not work to prevent smoking. To accomplish that goal, lobbying, manipulating research, and other methods were used.

    By seeding doubt about the effectiveness of standardized packaging, these companies averted the implementation of brandless cigarette packaging for decades.[190; 191] 

    When brandless packaging was finally introduced, the measure "surprisingly" worked extremely well in reducing smoking incidence--against the conclusions of the tobacco industry.

  2. Evidence that second-hand smoke was damaging was also undermined for years by tobacco companies.

    The reason for that strategy is simple:

    Hard evidence that second-hand smoking damages health would likely to result in smoking bans - especially in places where many people begin their road to addiction, such as bars and restaurants.[193-195]

    And if you can get teenagers hooked on a product in the disco scene, you'd create customers for life.

    Science that trickles out claiming that second-hand smoke was dangerous thus had to prevented at all cost for the tobacco industry. Alternate studies were set up, for example, to demonstrate that second-hand smoke was harmless.

    Shocker:

    The damaging effects of second-hand smoke were known by the tobacco industry since the 1930s-1950s, but only considered definitively proven in the 1990s and 2000s by the general public.

    That's many decades of deceptions, causing millions of deaths.

    One last example:

  3. Right now the tobacco industry is saving their market share by claiming that e-cigarettes are 95% less damaging than smoking.[196-198]

    Through that means, smoking can now be normalized again. E-cigarette usage is growing exponentially under teenagers, with up to 50% of US teenagers using them.

    With the use of e-cigarettes, tobacco companies may be able to get youngsters hooked on cigarettes again.

    Welcome back smoking...

 

End result? 

The insistence of the tobacco industry to seed doubt in the public's mind about smoking may have caused tens of million deaths on a worldwide scale, and lowered quality of life in billions.

Another shocker:

Many developing countries still go through the marketing and science-manipulation process that the tobacco industry leveled upon developed nations in the 1950s-2000s.

Asian and African countries are especially hard-hit by such tactics.

Of course, if you're living in a developed county you know that tobacco smoking is devastating, but it's incorrect to project that knowledge upon other parts of the world.[173-176]

Tobacco consumption is still on the rise in some developing countries.[177-180] Smoking causes 1 in 10 deaths worldwide today...

Cigarette companies try very hard to get young customers in the developed world hooked on their products to save their profits

Once you're addicted your brain is sensitized - the "wanting system" of the brain needs cigarettes. If you've ever quit smoking and started again, you probably know that "just one" cigarette is an almost impossible policy to maintain. 

Cigarette smokers also have super high brand loyalty, so if you smoke Marlboro you're prone to stay with that brand for a long time. Hence if Marlboro can get a kid hooked at 14 or 17 they'll have a customer for a lifetime.[199-201]

And you know what's crazy?

If you're of lower social-economic status you're more prone to smoke - and also to be overweight.[181-186] 

True story...

So let's make the comparison to junk and hyperpalatable food: 

Junk food may follow the same cycle: your brain gets sensitized as a kid, and eating junk foods in later life will lead to strong cravings as your brain remembers hitting the jackpot many times in your youth.

Of course, that statement is scientifically unproven at this point, but it's very plausible.

The hyperpalatable food industry also has similarities to big tobacco: 

Right now it's totally normal to market very unhealthy food to children, even though children are very easily influenced.

Getting kids' "wanting" system sensitized for hyperpalatable foods also means creating a customer for life, which entails big profits for food companies. The earlier you can get someone hooked on a certain type of products, the better your profits will be.

Let's look at some commercials:

First, an Oreo commercial.

Just look at the associations the clip is building: an intelligent kid, who chooses to educate their parents about Oreo candy.

The video also exemplifies the idea of a happy and playful family.

Will you attain happiness and intelligence as a child, while eating Oreos? No, and you'll probably move in the reverse direction: towards depression, food addiction, a lowered IQ, and obesity - if you're frequently eating that toxic stuff.

Of course, commercials that demonstrate how people become fat and addicted don't sell well. *Sarcasm*

So let's look at another commercial. This time it's McDonald's.

Associations created by that commercial are youth, energy, the use of premium home-made ingredients, and happiness.

Too bad the commercial doesn't show that most people drink a big soda in addition to the hamburger, and help themselves become addicted and overweight in the process.

Why?

Just look at the ingredient list of only the sauce of the product:[419]

"Soybean Oil, Sweet Relish (Diced Pickles, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Corn Syrup, Xanthan Gum, Calcium Chloride, Spice Extractives), Water, Egg Yolks, Distilled Vinegar, Spices, Onion Powder, Salt, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Garlic Powder, Vegetable Protein (Hydrolyzed Corn, Soy and Wheat), Sugar, Caramel Color, Turmeric, Extractives of Paprika, Soy Lecithin."

The there's ingredient list of the pickles:[419]

"Ingredients: Cucumbers, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Alum, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Natural Flavors, Polysorbate 80, Extractives of Turmeric (Color)."

The bun and all other ingredients also have their own ingredient list. Is that normal? I 'll let you decide.

No further comment...

One last commercial, just for fun...

Observe that this commercial obviously targets hardworking parents who need some "relaxation time".

During their relaxation time with Milano cookies these parents ingest:

"Enriched wheat flour (flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), milk chocolate (sugar, cacao butter, while milk powder, chocolate processed with alkali, chocolate, skim milk powder, soy lecithin, vanilla extract), sugar, vegetable oils (soybean, hydrogenated soybean and/or palm), eggs, contains 2 percent or less of: cornstarch, salt, baking soda, soy lecithin, natural flavors, nonfat milk. Contains: wheat, milk, soy, eggs."[202]

5 lines of ingredients, of which vegetable oils, soy, sugar, wheat, and additives to make the product taste better and more addictive.

These cookies will certainly not be a relaxing influence in your life anymore once you start craving them...

A realistic commercial of that product would depict someone dying of heart disease at age 60, due to becoming morbidly obese - unless you can quit after eating just a few Milano cookies...

So there's a big problem:

(TV) advertisements for hyperpalatable foods are working well, just as cigarette commercials did for decades. If not, commercials wouldn't be used.[209-213]

Children's food preferences chance if they get exposed to such ads, for example. The more television kids watch, the more they'll start to like junk food and hyperpalatable food and see them in a positive light.

Producers of hyperpalatable foods even specifically target schools, children's toys, and kids clubs to increase sales. In supermarkets, hyperpalatable foods are specifically placed low on stands so that children are more prone to notice them.

Seeing an analogy with the tobacco industry?

Sometimes advertisements include "children's toys" in a meal box, which makes kids more likely to convince their parents to buy that product.

Even though the obesity epidemic is getting worse and worse, children are hit the hardest. Obesity rates are rising 3 times as quickly in children as in adults.[221]

Consider another analogy with the cigarette industry:

Hyperpalatable foods are never advertised for being great foods or for their nutritional value, but always as lifestyle or entertainment.

Quizno's or Wendy's has no incentive to realistically advertise the health benefits of their products.

Marketing, instead, is aimed at convincing you of the pleasure a product brings you, its ease of use, and especially being part of a group or having a good lifestyle...

In other words, your lack and need.

So let's further explore the comparison to the tobacco industry. Compare junk food and candy commercials to that of cigarettes.

First, a commercial by Marlboro - a true classic.

 

To me, that cigarette commercial displays a sense of freedom, youth (even when growing older), and being a cool cowboy.

Many people were drawn to depictions like that in the 1960s and 70s, associating the qualities demonstrated in the commercial to the smoking of Marlboro cigarettes.

Is the same true for junk food marketing today?

Sure.

Of course, tobacco companies used many other means to sell their products. Cigarettes were sold everywhere just a few decades ago. The same is true for hyperpalatable foods today:

vending machine that sells lots of unhealthy foods and drinks
Vending machines: making trashy food available at restaurants,
schools, train and bus stations, nightclubs, libraries, and more...

 

Vending machines that help sell crappy food everywhere. Fast food restaurants are also omnipresent. Some countries such as the US lead the way in the 24-7 availability of fast food.

A very high density of fast food restaurants is problematic because it's very easy to eat that stuff whenever you feel like it...

For that reason living in proximity to fast food restaurants is associated with obesity.[203-208]

If you had to travel 20 miles for a Big Mac or Double Whopper, you'd probably not consume much if any of that stuff. But if a Burger King restaurant is found next door, the odds change - eating becomes a quick fix...

Remember that tobacco product vending machines were also everywhere in the previous century. 

But let's dig even deeper:

Another similarity between smoking and junk food: junk food is an accepted part of culture today, as were cigarettes in the 1960s and 1970s.

That culture is horrific and damages the health of billions on this planet.

If you were smoking in the 1960s you were "cool" - and the same is true if you're eating junk food and other crap today.

I've often been categorized as "weird" for not eating crappy food. 

When I was working security in 2015-2018 at festivals, I got a reputation for eating dark chocolate instead of soda, french fries, and mayonnaise. I didn't "fit in" because of my diet.

Many people think it's weirder today if you don't eat fast food than if you do. Insane. Many people also cannot believe that I'm almost never taking in hyperpalatable foods...

The implication of my claims?

This:

If the tobacco industry went over your dead body to discredit science demonstrating their products harmed health, you can expect the food industry to do the same.[215-220]

I'm not talking about a "conspiracy" here.

The tobacco industry's manipulation, discrediting, diminishing, and misdirection of science is an established fact, not a conspiracy theory.

Simply Googling "tobacco science" supplies you with plenty of evidence of that fact.

And while I only have circumstantial evidence that the food industry is currently doing the same thing, it's difficult not to be skeptical of the intentions of food companies. The hyperpalatable food industry is in the same position with regards to science as the tobacco industry in the 1950s.

And yet, all countries on this planet still condone still junk food ads, as far as I know.

I understand that food companies need to sell a product, but the same was true for the tobacco industry. 

The fact that you can sell a product doesn't mean your intentions or the consequences of your actions are ethical.

If I make my livelihood by harvesting kidneys from African children and selling them on the black market, I may need that job to "survive", but my actions are not anywhere near ethical. Promoting hyperpalatable food is similar, just not as bad as that example.

The previous case study of the tobacco industry demonstrates that companies can act very immorally out of a direct profit incentive. 

That statement brings me to my next point:

Hyperpalatable food consumption is directly responsible for the profit of food companies, and yet, its sales are inversely correlated to your health.

Conflict of interest?

If the average American only ate a single Oreo each year, its parent company Mondelez international would go bankrupt. These companies thus need you to buy more of their product than what is healthy for you.

I'll now let you finish your imagination with the analogy between food and tobacco industry practices. To me, the relationship is problematic.

In the next section, I'll look at solutions to the problem.

You have to free yourself of that addictive influence, and cannot wait for governments to save you through regulation - it's much better to take charge yourself.

The tobacco problem took decades to resolve. You don't have that time. So let's consider what to do instead..,

Section summary: the food industry has many similarities with the tobacco industry, such as using ads to hook children, highlighting positive associations on unhealthy products, and preferring profit over health promotion.

 

 

 

Return To Table Of Contents

8. EIGHT SELF-MASTERY STRATEGIES TO BEAT CRAVINGS, FOOD ADDICTION, DEPENDENCE, AND WITHDRAWAL.

victorious person after beating their eating and food addictions
Time to take your power back...

 

Congratulations if you've read until all the way down here.

It's finally time to start looking at the bright side:

Cutting down on hyperpalatable foods is probably not as hard as breaking a cocaine or heroin habit. Remember that cocaine and heroin scored highest in the "dependence" category earlier.

I'm making sure, moreover, that you're three or four steps ahead in kicking your food addiction with the strategies that follow. I'll give you eight strategies in total to break away from food addiction by using some quite unorthodox methods.

How?

Let's start with the basics:

Health-supporting habits are the best way of dealing with fast food dependence and withdrawal symptoms.

This section focuses heavily on developing such habits.

Examples:

Well, if you're not sleeping well or really stressed, then kicking a habit of overeating on junk food is crazy difficult. With perfect sleep and low stress, the opposite becomes true.

The first four strategies in curbing overeating are designed to give you more leeway: the better your overall health, the easier it will be to stop consuming hyperpalatable foods. The last four strategies deal with food addiction directly.

And just to debunk one myth about quitting hyperpalatable food: 

Your genetics may affect your ability to cut these foods out of your life.[96; 262; 342; 343]

Nevertheless, food addiction is completely unexplainable by genetics alone, as both food addiction and obesity were almost non-existent before the 1970s.

And even if you have a genetic predisposition towards food addiction, the cure of cutting out hyperpalatable foods remains equally valid.

Let me give an analogy:

Having a higher genetic susceptibility for becoming alcohol addicted is not a reason to keep drinking, but a stronger reason to quit than if you didn't have the genetic predisposition instead. With genetic predisposition alcohol is more - not less - dangerous.

The same is true if you've got a genetic susceptibility to consume (excessive) fast food. 

So no excuses. Let's get started:

 

STRATEGY 1: OPTIMIZE YOUR ~24-HOUR RHYTHM (THE CIRCADIAN RHYTHM): GET MORE SUNLIGHT AND AVOID ARTIFICIAL LIGHT EXPOSURE AT NIGHT.

I've talked about the necessity of sunlight for optimal health, and preventing artificial light from entering your eyes many times before at this blog.

Guess what? Sunlight is a natural means to build dopamine in your brain.

Let's find out how...

When emitted by the sun, several types of light actually reach the earth's surface:

the circadian rhythm to combat food addiction

As you can see, the main categories of light are 1) ultraviolet; 2) visible; 3) infrared. These three main light types can be sub-divided into different subtypes:

  1. From the ultraviolet light spectrum, only the sun's UVA and UVB light reach the earth's surface. Ultraviolet is the light type that can give you sunburns.
  2. Visible light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow, ranging from blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and all colors in between them.
  3. Infrared, lastly, makes sunlight feel hot. 

For millions of years, our ancestors were exposed to that full sunlight spectrum during the daytime and experienced (almost) complete darkness at night.

Besides campfires - which emit the red and infrared light - no other bright light sources were present at nighttime.

Recall that sunlight emits UV light, visible light, and infrared light. Modern indoor artificial light such as LED and fluorescent bulbs, however, only emit visible light, and predominantly the blue part of that visible light spectrum.

The problem?

You need ultraviolet light for dopamine, that's built through sunlight exposure in the eye.[271-275] If you're not getting outside during the day, you're missing out on that daily dopamine spike.

No sunglasses allowed.

Without high dopamine levels, you'll be more likely to resort to (hyperpalatable) food to get that same dopamine spike. Getting sunlight exposure during the day during both morning and noon is thus not only essential for optimal health, but also to decrease fast-food dependence.

Sunlight has countless other health benefits that I won't go into here.

Suffice it to say that you're much more prone to get addicted to food if you feel poorly. And because most humans have avoided the sun for 50 years, they now feel worse and are more prone to get addicted.

sunlight boosts dopamine which counters food addictions
Boosting your dopamine levels with sunlight may make you less susceptible
to use hyperpalatable food for the same purpose.

 

And there's more: remember I told you that modern artificial lighting only emits light in the visible spectrum, specifically lots of blue light?

That's a problem.

Big problem...

The light in your environment tells your brain which time of the day it is. Millions of years ago, the sunrise thus told your ancestors that many systems in their bodies needed to get ready for the day.

The eye is (again) key to that process. If you expose your eyes to artificial light at night, you're telling your brain it's daytime.

Result?

The timing of all processes in the body is thrown off. Your body only functions best like a yin-yang cycle, alternating between light and darkness. And unless you go camping without a smartphone, there's almost never true darkness in the modern world.

The bottom line:

Artificial light at night exposure leads to insomnia, waking up tired, poor recovery, low daytime energy levels, obesity, a bad mood, and more.

Artificial light exposure should thus be avoided at night - especially eye exposure..

If you're not acquainted with these principles, I recommend reading some of my previous blog posts:

  • Why Vitamin D Supplements Won't Cut It (And Exposing Yourself To Sunlight's Ultraviolet Light Fixes The Problem).

    This post tells you why you need sunlight for optimal health, and why the full benefits of the sun cannot be replaced by taking a vitamin D pill. I.e., sunlight has many additional benefits besides vitamin D creation.

  • The Ultimate Blue Light Filtering Glasses Guide explains why high-quality blue blocking glasses are necessary for proper sleep today.

    Blue-blocking glasses prevent the blue and green part of the visible light spectrum from entering your eyes after sunset. Blocking blue and green light results in deeper, longer, and quicker sleep due to an increase in your melatonin hormone.

    Blue-blocking glasses thus directly solve that artificial light problem I've just talked about...

  • Beat Insomnia Tonight: The 50 Most Remarkable Sleep Quality Tips.

    If sunlight and wearing blue-blocking glasses don't massively boost your sleep quality, it's time to bring in the big guns. This blog post supplies you with the 50 best strategies to sleep like a baby.

    The tips are ranked from most important to least important so that you can work your way down until you get the desired result.

    No excuses: sleep is of massive import to your health.

 

I know what you're thinking: "beating food addiction by focusing on the light in your environment and sleep? Are you freakin' kidding me?"

"Where's the evidence" you may ask...

Let me explain why this strategy works with an analogy:

Compare the following two environments, and think about where it's easier to overcome a food addiction:

Your first option is to go to a holiday resort with lots of sunlight and recovery. Your second option is working 70 hours a week in a city with air pollution, noise pollution, millions of WiFi networks that affect all of your body's cells, and staying under artificial light all day long (which is unnatural and stressful).

Easy choice right?

By including strategies of sunlight exposure, blocking blue light, and improving sleep into your life you're creating an environment that's closer to the holiday resort.  The more excellent your environment, the better you'll feel and the higher your energy levels - the easier cutting your hyperpalatable food intake becomes...

Want hard evidence?

Sure:

Food addiction and eating disorders peak in the wintertime, and are tied to what is called "Seasonal Affective Disorder" - commonly called "winter depression".[397-401]

That's right...

The reason for that relationship is simple: most people get much more sunlight exposure during the summertime than wintertime. 

In Northern countries such as Canada or Norway, Seasonal Affective Disorder is also more prevalent.

If you're thus sitting inside all day during the dark wintertime, you're increasing your risk for both winter depression and binge eating episodes. 

The root cause of food addictions is thus not always food, but light.

Another shocker? Mismatches in the circadian rhythm increase the risk for (food) addictions.[407-414]

Surprise, surprise:

That circadian rhythm also affects your brain's dopamine levels (once again). Recall that dopamine is a brain signaling substance responsible for motivated action. Dopamine also plays a role in the "wanting" system in your brain.

The better you take care of your circadian rhythm, the better dopamine operates. A poorly functioning circadian rhythm is both a cause and an effect on addictive behavior.

Surprise, surprise (yet again):

Substance addictions are more problematic the farther you get away from the equator.

Avoiding artificial light at night and getting your sunlight are thus by far the easiest steps to make the transition to eating healthier food.

The increase in technology usage in the last few decades combined with the rise in food addiction is thus not a coincidence...

sunlight helps you relax and gain energy, which improves self control so that you can beat food addiction
All road lead to Rome: sunlight holds a central place on this blog.

 

 

STRATEGY 2: LOWER YOUR CHRONIC STRESS LEVELS.[160-167; 318; 319; 344-346] HAVING HIGH CHRONIC STRESS LEVELS DIRECTLY NUDGE YOU TO OVEREAT.

Yes, seriously...

Again:

Food addiction is not just about food. Having lower stress levels makes you less prone to overeat--chronic high-stress levels accomplishes the opposite.

And while acute stress may lower food intake, chronic stress has the contrary effect (yet again). 

The bad news is that most people are chronically stressed in modern society.

Remember having a horrible week at work?

What's will you habitually do in that instance? Sit at the couch and eat some tomatoes and celery? Or are you more prone to opt for the most (filthy) rewarding high-calorie foods?

The second answer is correct (unfortunately)...

For (temporary) stress relief, only rewarding high-calorie food does the trick. Eating hyperpalatable foods is thus a form of self-medication (hint: another analogy with cigarettes). 

Stress is also one main reason why many people develop food addictions in the first place, and why you may relapse into eating low-quality food after beating food addiction. 

If you're overweight you're more likely to self-medicate with hyperpalatable foods. That consequence is unsurprising as a relationship between stress and addiction exists.[320-323]

Want help dealing with stress properly?

Read my guide on conquering (chronic) stress to indirectly help you overcome a fast food addiction...

But let's further explore the relationship between fast food and stress.

Fast food is a form of instant gratification that's available everywhere. And yet, such foods are not stigmatized if you use them to deal with emotions or stress the way other drugs are.

Sure, alcohol comes close to food, as it's the drug of choice for many people in society--although it's not socially accepted to drink whiskey on a street corner.

Highly palatable foods, on the contrary, are not only sold on every block but also in libraries, hospitals, and elementary schools. Nobody will frown if you self-medicate with food on a street corner.

Due to widespread availability, it's becoming harder and harder to control yourself as opportunities exist everywhere if you've got a food addiction

Consider that example:

Suppose you were an alcoholic, and alcoholism was not only socially accepted (as eating junk food is now) but the drug was also offered everywhere. 

What if hospitals, school buildings, vending machines on the street, even government buildings would give you easy access to alcohol?

And what if no one would turn an eye if you were drinking whiskey on broad daylight in a hospital cafeteria?

In that case it would be exponentially harder to quit drinking. Food addiction may thus be harder to beat due to its wide availability, and for that reason, it's essential to get your chronic stress in check before trying to curb your food addiction...

Less stress equals fewer cravings and less overeating.

Why?

Experiencing strong negative emotions directly increases your risk of overeating.[285-291]

Eating hyperpalatable foods then becomes the ideal way to push such negative feelings away. The fact that many people use hyperpalatable foods to self-medicate is yet again proof that these foods should be considered drugs.

Of course, not everyone uses overeating as a means for dealing with negative emotions. My point is just that many such instances exist.

Again: no need to worry if you eat pizza once in a while or drink wine sometime. But if you eat pizza every day or need wine to feel fine you've got a problem.

Moving on to meditation...

animal that does not experience chronic stress, a countereample to stress-related overeating in many humans
"Chill out human! Get your act together to resist temptation..."

 



(Nerd section: some scientists are critical of the concept of "emotional eating", claiming that the construct cannot be measured validly or precisely.[297; 298] Many other cues - such as walking by a bakery - may also lead you to overeat, in addition to negative emotions. Moreover, positive emotions can also make you overeat if you're susceptible, due to the "celebration effect".[299])



 

STRATEGY 3: DEVELOP A MEDITATION HABIT TO REDUCE CRAVINGS AND FOOD ADDICTION 

Shocker:

Mindfulness meditation is a science-backed solution to help you with eating disorders.[276-278] 

Binge eating and emotional eating are reduced with mindfulness practice, for example. Even more shocking is the large effect size.

You may think: "what's mindfulness anyway"?

Mindfulness meditation is a technique in which you focus your attention. That attention can be focused on your breath, for example, or an object in the room.

During practice, your mind naturally deviates from your focus, by bringing up thoughts about work, or how you're going to pick your kids up from school, or how to deal with your mother in law. 

The goal with mindfulness is to continually re-direct your attention to your breathing or the object in the room. 

While I'm oversimplifying here, you're basically upgrading your capacity to stay present - which can really help with resisting temptation in the food department. Mindfulness may help to divert your attention away from food cues, for instance.

(I've written a 100% free guide on mindfulness before, that can fully help you pick up mindfulness meditation as a practice. Hint (yet again): mindfulness works.)

If you practice mindfulness over time, you'll also start to see patterns in your experience. You'll observe your cravings for certain foods appear in your mind, and you're able to entertain that craving without necessarily seeing the craving as part of your person or having to act upon it.

That's golden...

buddha and mindfulness to increase self control
Cravings come and go and do not necessarily
have to influence you.

Another upside?

Mindfulness practice is 100% free. You've got nothing to lose. Moving on:

 

 

STRATEGY 4: UPGRADE YOUR SOCIAL LIFE AND FEEL HAPPIER

OK, I admit it...

My social life currently sucks, but at least I know what area to improve to take my health to the next level.

That's right...

Many people don't even know their social life is of massive import for their overall health. In fact, your social life may be one of the most important predictors on whether you'll reach a healthy older age.[279-283]

A great social circle also helps you prevent overeating. Why? Simple:

Loneliness frequently leads to overeating, even if you don't have a full-blown eating disorder.[292-296]

What's very interesting is that theories on the import of social relationships go a lot further: being lonely may increase your metabolic demands - the basic biological processes of your body - all by itself.

Higher metabolic demands entail a higher energy need...

Upgrading your social life is not easy though - and I cannot help you with this step because mine's not great as a blogger who spends 60-70 hours a week in front of a screen researching and writing...

But if you'd like to know more about the science as of why a social life is important, sign up to my Health Foundations Introduction Course.

Overall, improving your social life should not be rocket science:

  • just say "yes" more frequently to social proposals (and yes, wear your blue blocking glasses)
  • reach out more often to friends
  • work on your anxiety if that's holding you back (Google "rejection therapy")
  • get Tinder on your phone and go dating
  • join a dance or chess group, or any activity that you enjoy

I'll have to start following my own advice soon as well...

a bristling social life to increase happiness and self control
Together with sunlight and meditation,
the cheapest health intervention out there.

 

Bottom line: if a poor social life is the root cause of your food addiction, a myopic focus on food alone leaves you blind sighted.

The same principle holds true for chronic stress: if you're using food as self-medication, then I highly recommend dealing with the stress instead of the eating first.

All four previous strategies focus on areas that have nothing to do with food. So let's now finally transition towards dealing with food: 

 

STRATEGY 5: EXPLORE COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY TO DEAL WITH CRAVINGS, BINGE EATING, OR OVEREATING.[57; 372-379]

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aims to affect the interplay between your emotions, thoughts, and behavior.

Because emotions, thoughts, and behavior is always interrelated, gaining insight into and correcting your thoughts leads to better emotional regulation and finally improved behavior. Examples:

  • you may have cravings, and your thoughts may tell you that you're hungry. That thought, however, may be a distortion, because you've just eaten a meal while you're now craving a slice of pizza because your friend is eating that stuff.
  • experiencing loneliness (an emotion or feeling) can bring up the thought of eating a bag of potato chips. If you're consistently using potato chips to deal with loneliness then you're cementing a self-destructive new habit (behavior).
  • you may falsely assume that you're never going to be satisfied while eating healthy food (thought), which then brings up intense resistance of eating a healthy diet (emotion), that then leads to the continuation of self-destructive behavior.

The goal of CBT is to fix these problems: solutions include meal planning, recording your food intake, education about the consequences of being morbidly obese, learning and developing strategies to avoid triggers for eating junk food, and improving self-esteem.

Many different areas of intervention also exist, such as your self-image and body-image, how you deal with stress, and your strategy, psychology, and expectations with dieting. CBT simply teaches to deal more rationally with the world and yourself which then leads to practical solutions.

CBT is best proven to work with eating disorders such as "binge eating disorder", "bulimia nervosa", or emotional eating--but nevertheless also aids in general weight loss.

Remarkably, CBT is less likely to increase your ability to keep the weight off permanently in regular fat loss programs - although conflicting studies do exist. Hence: mainly use CBT for eating disorders...

a book that displays a heart as interpretation, which ties in with CBT
Your beliefs about the world affect your behavior.
Questioning those beliefs thus change your actions.

 

STRATEGY 6: BUILD SELF-COMPASSION AND REALIZE THAT YOU DON'T NEED JUNK FOOD TO BE HAPPY. 

Remember the difference between wanting and liking? 

Food companies want to stimulate that "wanting" component, without necessarily making you get much more pleasure out of a meal.

You're thus not necessarily getting ten times more pleasure from eating pizza than you'd get from eating oysters. 

I'm not saying you should eat extremely bland food every day. What I am saying is that if normal healthy foods don't give you pleasure anymore, it's yet another sign you're addicted. 

Food companies want you to think you need such foods to be happy. Nothing could be further from the truth: 

Becoming 200 pounds overweight because you're eating hyperpalatable food is not an expression of self-love.

As an analogy, smoking cigarettes is not a reflection of self-love either, but tobacco companies want you to think you're a "loser" or "outsider" for not fitting in with their vision.

If a part of your mind is telling you that you need to smoke cigarettes because you need relaxation then that part is lying.

If a part of your brain is telling you that you need to eat pizza or donuts because you deserve to relax then that part is lying as well.

Humans have been happy with bland food for millions of years. You, therefore, don't need to put crap into your body.

Could you once in a while?

For sure...

Should you all the time?

Hell no...

So how to break the chains of needing fast food then?

Simple:

Consider the concept of "self-compassion". My definition is that self-compassion is that you consider yourself valuable despite your imperfections.[381-386]

In other words, you deserve being taken care off, even though you may have lost your job, or accidentally insulted someone, failed your diet, or if you're obese.

Self-compassion is thus unconditional: you deserve it whether you do great or poorly in life.

Self-compassion is like a loving parent nudging you towards your long-term interest, away from instant gratification.

Let me explain why...

If you're obese, for example, you're more likely to form negative judgments about yourself. But such negative judgments don't actually help you lose the weight--they move you in the opposite direction...

Think about compassion this way: is a parent loving when they give you cigarettes to feel good?

No...

For that reason, self-compassion doesn't promote other habits that are detrimental to your health. The greater your self-compassion, the more you'll realize you need to eat healthy out of self-love.

Healthy food choices thus equal self-care and love...

Caveat: not much research has been carried out on how to boost self-compassion to indirectly influence weight loss. 

Engaging in mindfulness practice, however, does increase self-compassion. Mindfulness also decreases stress - another mechanism through which self-destructive eating patterns are undermined.

two people helping each other, which is similar to self-compassion in yourself - an internal aid
Self-compassion often helps you take the HARD route
because the easy way out does no justice to you at all.

 

STRATEGY 7: REALIZE THE POWER OF HABIT, CALM DESTRUCTIVE INNER VOICES, AND FIND YOUR INNER WISDOM

And I'm back at the topic of beliefs and thinking patterns...

How you deal with setbacks and successes is also habitual. Habits are patterns of behavior that you engage in on a daily basis, without always being consciously aware of them.

Many people are "chronic dieters" - they start dieting on Monday and fail somewhere during that week. These chronic dieters then think: "**mn it, I've made a mistake. I might as well start again on Monday and enjoy myself in the meantime"

That's black and white thinking...

So after failing your intention of following a diet on Friday evening, you're now in the position to eat whatever you want for the remainder of the weekend. Big mistake.

You've now got permission to eat as many hyperpalatable foods as you'd like, as you're going back on a strict diet on Monday anyway, right?

Wrong...

The inner voice telling you to go all out on eating is misleading you. A better strategy would be to admit you've failed, forgive yourself, and immediately get back on a healthy diet that same evening. Come Saturday morning, you're now back in the habit of eating healthy food again.

Another type of chronic dieter is successfully spending weeks or even months to lose weight, but may lose all self-control after eating a piece of pie at a birthday party. That piece of pie is followed by days or even weeks of overeating crappy foods until all weight is regained (and more).

The key is to realize that you've got different inner voices- some are great, some not so. The inner voice of wisdom - of self-compassion - is comfortable thinking grey instead of "black and white".

That wise inner voice tells you: "one mistake? No problem, my next meal will be healthy again"

The problem is that many people are not even aware of the different inner voices they have inside themselves. Not being aware of your self-talk can help you develop really destructive habits, such as the ones I've just laid out. 

Many self-destructive habits exist, such as continuing to eat even if you're stuffed, hiding overeating (because you're ashamed), making up excuses as of why you've earned some fast food, 

All habits - good and bad - are solidified in the brain over time. Your self-talk helps establish these habits and keeps them in place.

Succeeding in breaking the pattern of hyperpalatable foods only for a while is a huge reason to be happy. The more often you're able to break that pattern, more your brain will shift to a new habit.

This seventh strategy was taken from the book From Fat to Thin Thinking: Unlock Your Mind for Permanent Weight Loss

Disclaimer: my words can do no justice to the complexity of this subject, and I highly recommend getting the From Fat to Thin Thinking book if you've got self-destructive thinking patterns...

Suffice it to say, many people with food addictions or emotional eating have problems in this area. 

Bottom line: simply becoming more aware of your self-talk can break the cycle of justifying poor decisions. If you're not aware, you're destroying your health on an automatic pilot. Change that pilot and you're upgrading your game...

 

STRATEGY 8: FIX THE OBVIOUS: REMOVE HYPERPALATABLE FOODS FROM YOUR LIFE

Finally, the low-hanging fruits.

Let's get started:

First, simply lowering exposure to hyperpalatable foods decreases your risk of eating them.

If you don't buy Oreos in the supermarket, there's no possibility of you eating them in front of the television.

If cutting all hyperpalatable food from the house is difficult, I'd explain to house members that fast food has a devastating effect on your brain and that you've decided to beat your addiction. 

(If a food addictions holds a stigma, just tell them you'd like to diet down.)

I don't think removing all hyperpalatable foods from a house is overkill: if you're an alcoholic or a cocaine addict, it's not smart to keep the triggers in the house either. Fast food is the same.

Also avoid places with easy hyperpalatable access, and proactively deal with such situations.

The beginning is the hardest...

Even in many US hospitals, for example, hyperpalatable foods and snacks can be found, while unprocessed foods are unavailable.

Planning your meals and making sure you're eating enough are other strategies to avoid being underfed. 

Yes, that's right...

I consider being underfed - eating too little on a day - the ultimate danger in reversing food addiction. The reason is simple: if you're genuinely hungry, you're much more prone to walk to a vending machine grab a bag of candy.

The best way to deal with the omnipresence of processed food is thus to keep yourself well fed, especially during the early periods of curbing food addiction.

After you get used to eating normal foods for some time, your brain re-wires to decrease cravings and enjoy normal food again. Junk becomes gets less of a pull by then...

I also highly recommend making a weekly meal plan and sticking to it.

The less you have to think about your food choices, the easier reversing the addiction will be. Simpler is often better, as long as you're making the right choices.

It's best to plan your meals a week ahead to avoid any surprises. Also make sure you've got some healthy quick food with you, for if you cannot eat your regular healthy meal.

Three meals per day - make sure to have a good breakfast. Keep thinking four steps ahead...

Health Foundation Program

That's it...

Everything you need to know about food addiction. Let's therefore conclude:

 

 

Return To Table Of Contents

9. CONCLUSION: TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY AND BECOME YOUR OWN HERO

Is it love if you give your kids cigarettes so they can enjoy their nicotine high?

Of course not...

So is it love if you raise your kids on junk food, even if their brain temporarily experiences intense pleasure? 

Not at all.

So should you (or possibly your kids) never ever have any hyperpalatable foods again? 

Once again: no...

Just as with alcohol, you and your kids need to be informed about the consequences. The same is true for cigarettes, gambling, and playing computer games...

Black and white solutions are rarely the answer. If you have kids though, you should teach them that eating such foods can be dangerous in the long run. Then follow your own advice as well...

Just that shift, parents teaching their kids about the dangers of junk food, can create a radical shift in society. Kids become parents, and parents teach their kids about unhealthy foods.

The same principle applies in teaching kids not to smoke nowadays...

My blog post proposes just that: a "Copernican Revolution" in how hyperpalatable foods are understood.

Modern factory-produced foods are an anomaly from an evolutionary perspective.

Your ancestors have built their own meals with single ingredients for millions of years. Since the advent of supermarkets that dynamic has fundamentally changed.

All foods are no longer safe to consume, even if you buy them in a supermarket. And because many people are not aware of the danger, hyperpalatable foods have become a "drug of choice" for many... 

Billions of people's health is hurt by food industry practices today, just as billions were hurt from the 1950s until today by the tobacco industry.

Become your own hero, and save yourself.

Don't wait for governments to help you...

One last caveat: my argument on fast food is in no sense final - I'm just taking the first (necessary) step.

Remember that in this work, I've oversimplified my claim in many ways, such as not taking the role of gender or familial history into account, or distinguishing between different types of food addiction, or supplying you with a theory about how exactly to distinguish hyperpalatable foods from normal foods.

The main claim of hyperpalatable foods being a drug nonetheless stands...

Pandora box has been opened...

You can no longer un-see this argument. 

Do what you need to do. Protect yourself and your loved ones. Eat less hyperpalatable food. Your health and life will thank you for that, tomorrow and especially years down the road.

Remember that self-compassion?

You deserve the best.

The very best.

Today.

This second.

Right now.

Begin...


The road ahead is clear now. You know what to do...

By the way, this blog post is the second installment of my fat loss series. Read the first part here. Also, grab my top 10 practical fat loss laws infographic for keeping the pounds permanently off below:

 

 

For other blog posts, see:

Resting Metabolic Rate: Holy Grail Of Long-Term Fat Loss?

Why Everything You've Heard About Salt Is Wrong (Seriously) And How To Easily Manage Your Sodium Intake

Rethinking Magnesium: Why You're Deficient And Need To Supplement (Quick Fix)

Cannabis: CBD (Oil) And THC For Health? Yes! The Scientific Verdict (2019)

The Carnivore Diet: Unsustainable Fad Or Archetypal Human Diet?

If you're like to read further on the science of food addiction and hyperpalatable foods, consider (both pro- and contra arguments):

  1. Stephan Guyenet, PhD, who has researched highly palatable foods in intricate detail; a review of Guyenet's book on the relationship between food and the brain 
  2. New York Times: why junk food has great addictive potential
  3. Scientific American: How combining sugar and fat increases overall caloric consumption
  4. Scientific American: fat over-consumption and hard drug addiction comparison 
  5. Why hyperpalatable foods have addictive potential; another source on the same topic
  6. American Psychological Association: eating disorders
  7. Systematic review: how food addiction changes habitual dietary intake; another study on the same subject
  8. Systematic review: more processed food consumption equals lower nutritional dietary quality
  9. Systematic review: prevalence of food addiction
  10. Systematic review: food reward in the human brain; another source on the same subject
  11. Systematic review: dopamine and reward in the brain
  12. Systematic review: food addiction is a real scientific construct
  13. Systematic review: how people use food to cope with mental hardship
  14. Systematic review: a review of the concept of sugar addiction (I don't agree sugar alone is the culprit)
  15. Nature: scrutinizing the concept of addiction in relation to diet
  16. A blog post denying the validity of the concept of food addiction - suggesting a replacement with the term "eating addiction"
  17. Binge eating biology; binge eating and the brain
  18. Mental background of binge eating disorder; how acute stress feeds binge eating disorder
  19. The relationship between mental health and eating disorders
  20. Psychology today with a categorization of different eating disorders, and how to distinguish them

 

 Show References

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