a person snacks on several junk food items while on the computer

The Science Behind Junk Food Addiction

It’s no accident that Americans are addicted to salty, crunchy chips and surgery soft drinks. Scientists and “crave experts” in the processed-food industry have worked for decades to make it so. Food addiction can become just as severe as substance addiction if not addressed.

If you or a loved one are in need of help curbing your eating habits, junk food addiction, or need bulimia addiction treatment, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Promises Behavioral Health today at 844.875.5609.

What Makes Junk Food So Addictive?

In the New York Times investigative piece ‘The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,’ Pulitzer-prize-winning author Michael Moss exposes the way companies from Frito-Lay to Coke use chemistry and economic theory to make their products irresistible and addictive. “What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery store aisles to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive,” writes Moss, who talked with some 300 current or former employees of the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to CEOs. Moss goes inside the laboratories where the “bliss point” of sugary drinks and the “mouth feel” of fat are calculated. How do you reach the bliss point? When the flavor piques the taste buds enough to be alluring but doesn’t have a single overriding flavor that tells the brain to stop eating or drinking. 

And what about “mouth feel?” One food scientist called Cheetos “one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet.” Cheetos have an uncanny ability to melt in the mouth, which food scientists deem “vanishing caloric density.” “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there are no calories in it … you can just keep eating forever,” the researcher said. It’s no surprise to anyone that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the amounts that we consume them. 

But the processed-food companies are loath to take the blame. “Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” said the head of General Mills, whose Yoplait yogurt has twice as much sugar as its marshmallow cereal Lucky Charms. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.” 

During the last 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States, and rates remain high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) and about 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years are obese. Aimed at children, Kraft’s Lunchables take a bit hit in the piece. Geoffrey Bible, the former CEO of Philip Morris (prior owner of Kraft Foods), said that “If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item is the napkin.” 

But one of the most striking revelations in the article is the scope of the junk food industry’s ambitions. Todd Putman, who worked at Coca-Cola from 1997 to 2001, said the goal became much larger than merely beating the rival brands; Coca-Cola strove to outsell every other thing people drank, including milk and water. The marketing division’s efforts boiled down to one question, Putman said: “How can we drive more ounces into more bodies more often?” 

There’s a lot more to digest in the article. Moss said in an interview of his own after the story was published that he was shocked at the number of executives who don’t eat their own foods.

Healthy Alternatives to Junk Food When You Need a Snack

You don’t need to be obsessively counting calories, which isn’t necessarily healthy either. Still, there are many healthy and delicious alternatives to junk food if you want to start eating better and working on your eating habits. Some more nutritious snack options include:

  • Mixed nuts
  • A charcuterie board
  • Vegetables and dip
  • Cured meats
  • Fresh fruit
  • Granola bars
  • Cheese sticks

Junk food triggers the brain’s reward center the same way substances do. If you’ve reached a point where you feel ready to address your disordered eating habits, an eating disorder treatment center is the safest and most effective way to do so.

Release Yourself from Food Addiction at Promises Behavioral Health

Take back control of your life and have a healthy relationship with food again with help from Promises Behavioral Health. Our eating disorder treatment services can teach you how to modify and implement healthier eating habits. Reach out to us today at 844.875.5609 to learn more. 

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