Find Out about Fast Food Addiction
Obesity has become an epidemic in the United States and other countries across the world. Many people place part of the blame on fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell because of the food’s high caloric content and their easy availability. The result of easy access to this kind of food is the onset of fast food addiction.
It seems like there is some type of burger joint, taco stand or pizza place around every corner in many cities. While some may think that depending on fast food for meals is a sign of laziness, the truth is, it could be a form of addiction.
The Recognition of Food Addiction
The concept of food addiction is becoming more readily accepted in the medical and psychological communities and its impact is being studied more as problems with obesity continue to grow. For many people, compulsive eating is a problem that they have difficulty overcoming.
Rather than stopping with a handful of potato chips, a food addict will devour the entire bag in one sitting, even if they are not hungry. Instead of an indication of a lack of willpower, researchers are discovering that food with a high-fat, high-sugar content are making changes within the brain that may be make it more difficult to resist overeating.
The changes to the brain resemble what happens to the brains of those who are addicted to drugs, nicotine and alcohol. However, unlike most addictions, a food addiction is made harder to overcome because food is necessary in order to survive, whereas someone addicted to drugs, nicotine or alcohol can eventually give up those vices forever.
Why is Fast Food Addictive?
Most foods served in fast food chains are high in fat content, making them ideal for feeding into a food addicts addiction. High fat and sugar contents in food make them taste better than most healthier foods, adding to their addictive qualities. Also, most fast food meals are accompanied with drinks that are both high in sugar and high in caffeine, which has been proven to be another addictive substance.
Researchers are finding that an addiction to fast food is made possible because these foods trigger dopamine responses in the brain. Dopamine is the hormone that is released when we have feelings of pleasure and it plays a role in the reward system of our brains. So, when an addict “rewards” themselves with fast food, dopamine is released and it gives them a feeling of pleasure.
Fast food restaurants are hard to avoid, especially if you live in poorer neighborhoods where they are usually clustered. You may be able to avoid going down the street past them, but their advertising is all over the television when you turn it on, making it hard to avoid seeing the food, which can trigger cravings.
Help for Addiction to Fast Food
An addiction to fast food cannot be overcome just by avoidance and a switch to healthier eating. Scientists have noted withdrawal symptoms in rats feed a high-fat, high-sugar diet, symptoms that are similar to drug addicts who are trying to detox.
The rats had five times the normal rate of corticotropin-releasing factor, CRF, mRNA in their brains when they were denied the junk food. CRF aids in regulating fear. stress and anxiety. When the rats were put back on their junk food diet, the CRF decreased and they didn’t avoid stressful situations.
These results may help explain why people have difficulty sticking with a diet and return their bad eating habits. To get help with addiction to fast food, there are several steps that can be taken.
Much like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program has been started for food addicts. While the organization is still in its infancy, there are meetings addicts can attend or they can go online for virtual meetings.
Those who think they may be addicted to food can seek help through going to therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist who deals with addictive behaviors. There are centers that specialize in food addiction treatment, information about which can be found online.
Some people have found relief by going “cold turkey” with foods they’ve had the most problems with, such as chocolate or soda. However, this method doesn’t work for everyone and solutions should be explored for others.