Hello! Clearly, we eat not just to fill our stomachs, but to satisfy a whole range of biochemical impulses. The brain is built to encourage our efforts, not only with the relief of hunger pangs, but also with an intricate hormonal “reward” system.
When it comes to diet, I always say that what nourishes the body nourishes the brain. The proof is in the biochemical panorama. And while I sincerely believe that each of us chooses what we eat and how we treat our own bodies, there is something in science that shows the addictive properties of junk food.
I occasionally receive emails about this topic. Here's one I received a short while ago.
I know there are people who consider themselves addicted to sugar, so to speak. Some regularly offer their comments, and othe
rs write to me personally about the difficulty of breaking through that first "wall" on the way to a life free from rubbish. When you're addicted to sugar (or carbohydrates in general), even a “day off” can make you feel like a rabid demon looking for your next shot. Cutting all grains apart from sugar (as the grains quickly convert to glucose) will be critical to your success in this case. In fact, you probably can't get rid of sugar cravings in the long run without getting rid of the beans.
An interesting study presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference comes close to the biochemical reason for this. While the researchers observed mice that were fed a steady “junk food” diet (chocolate, cheesecake, bacon, sausage, etc.), they found that “animal brain reward circuits became less responsive” over time. Not surprisingly, animals began to exhibit "compulsive overeating habits". Even when subjected to light shocks, the animals were not intimidated when eating junk food and refused to eat healthier food when it was the only food available. In essence, junk food blunted their pleasure centers. As a result, they continued to search for junk food and eat in an attempt to trigger the reward trigger, but the neurological response was insufficient. This decrease in the response from the pleasure center, the researchers added (PDF), was "as if the rats became addicted to cocaine or heroin" (comforting, huh?)
Other studies have shown similar results. Using images of the human brain, the researchers found lower levels of the dopamine receptor (linked to reward and pleasure response) in obese people compared to individuals in the recommended weight range.
Likewise, restricting food appears to increase levels of dopamine receptors (through gene expression, of course). Rats whose intake was limited had higher levels of dopamine D2 receptors than rats that could eat everything they wanted. The better the reward response your brain has, the more sensitive it will be to pleasure. Consequently, you get pleasure and motivation from less food or other rewards, and you may simply learn to get more pleasure from eating healthy foods - the foods that your genes expect you to eat. If your response is weakened over time through junk food or the like, it will take longer to activate the pleasure response.
This pattern clearly affects more than weight; it is long-term mental well-being and general happiness. how to get junk food addiction off your back? The early setback, as our reader described, is not uncommon and is definitely not a reason to be discouraged. The worse your diet, the more time and commitment it will take to make all the changes (in fact, all the reprogramming of genes) and, in addition, to maintain them. You will be undoing the behavioral and biochemical patterns. Your body can and will regain homeostasis, and your hormones and neurotransmitters will recalibrate. The best thing you can do to facilitate the transition is to keep your weapons constantly cocked when it comes to diet and take care of yourself in the best possible way. It can be tempting to tackle one thing at a time, adopting a paleo lifestyle (eg, diet first, then exercise, then going to bed earlier to get more sleep, and finally working to reduce stress). If you are really having trouble overcoming the
sugar/carbohydrate problem, this kind of pure sequential approach may not be the best choice for you. In fact, all elements of lifestyle influence physiological balance. Think about improving your lifestyle on other fronts first and/or while simultaneously changing your diet. Exercise, in particular, has been shown to encourage release and increase dopamine receptors. Obviously, it is important to make the right types and quantities. Finally, once you've found your rhythm, I suggest you continue the course. You might think that a short-term diet interruption might not have an impact, but for some people (especially early in the transition), even a brief interlude (eg, a weekend holiday) is enough to derail the train. As much as we talk about the 80/20 principle, try to keep your food as clean as possible during that time. Resist the momentary temptation and you can save yourself a week of effort to make up for lost ground. Keep snacks made from real food on hand to go through moments of temptation. Eat an extra piece of meat instead of dessert!