Although food addiction isn’t an official medical diagnosis, most people have one or more foods that they find very hard — nearly impossible — to resist. So, the term “addiction” is used here as it captures the compulsive nature of eating these foods.
Sometimes the temptation to eat unhealthy foods is simply an annoyance. But in other cases, it can contribute to medical conditions like obesity and binge eating disorders. So, it’s important to understand why certain foods are so “addictive” and how to cut back on eating them.
How Food Addiction Works
The brain has what’s called a “reward system.” Its very primal function is to encourage behaviors that help us survive. When we do something beneficial, like eating, the brain releases chemicals such as the neurotransmitter dopamine that produce the sensation of pleasure.
The problem with many foods is that they trigger a very large reward, and if we continue to eat them over time, the brain notices that too much dopamine is being released and starts removing dopamine receptors. As a result, we must eat more of the food to reach the same level of pleasure.
That’s a simple summary of the complex mechanics of food addiction, but it’s clear how the reward system creates cravings (as opposed to hunger) and can lead to unhealthy eating.
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What Are the Most Tempting Foods?
Every person has different food preferences, of course, but most will agree that seven of the most addictive foods are:
- Potato chips
- Ice cream
- French fries
How to Resist Food Temptation
If there are foods you find very difficult to resist, one way to enable yourself to continue to enjoy them occasionally but without overdoing it is to remove some of the tempting ingredients. For example, if you crave pizza, you’re much better off making it at home using cauliflower crust and fresh ingredients instead of eating restaurant or frozen pizza, both of which tend to have much more salt and fat.
If chocolate is your top temptation, switching from milk chocolate to dark chocolate — which is less sweet and better for you — can be a good strategy. Can’t resist potato chips? Switch to popcorn made with coconut oil or olive oil to satisfy the desire for a crunchy treat but in a healthier form.
These are just a few examples of an approach you can apply to any craving: Dull the desire a bit by changing the recipe.
Treatment for Food Addiction
If food addiction is harming your physical and/or mental health, help is available. And it’s important to understand that seeking help for food addiction is a sign of strength and a positive step toward better health — just like getting help with any medical condition.
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