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Addicted to Crap

Discarded McDonalds packaging
Image via Wikipedia

The picture: the honey-coloured bun, the juicy beef and that weird-but-delicious golden cheese melting all over it, and sitting right next to it is the box of cracking-hot, fresh out of the pan and lightly salted fries. De-lic-ious!

I hate junk food. No, seriously, I do. I’ve never liked fried food, not ever. It usually makes me feel a bit sick afterwards, and now, in my … well, we’ll say adult years, I find I can suffer occasional bouts of indigestion after a particularly fatty meal. And I also notice that I end up feeling a bit down after I’ve eaten a pile of greasy mess, like when a favourite TV show has just been cancelled. 

But for some reason that has baffled me for years, I can’t seem to stop myself from eating it. I try, really I do, but man, some days it just gets the better of me and the next thing I know, I’ve done it again.

I thought it was just me. I thought I was just weak-willed and lilley-livered (okay, can anybody tell me what lilley-livered is without using Google?) and sucked at having enough will-power to blow out a dandelion. Only it turns out it’s not just me. And there’s a good reason behind it all.

An article in the journal, Psychology Today, talks about how the creators of these chain-store masticators use neuroscience to trap and addict ordinary human beings, like myself, to eating their foods. The article, Seven things McDonald’s Knows About Your Brain shows how the success of junk food can be chocked up to a lot of cleverly-used neuroscience – the science of the brain.

  1. Studies have shown how, under the right circumstances, sugar can become an addictive drug, behaving – and engendering the same behaviour – as though it were cocaine. Withdrawal creates the same symptoms as heroin withdrawal. Junk food outlets know this, and ensure that all their food has sugar in it, including the fries.
  2. Chemicals in the cheese are converted to serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a ‘feel good’ chemical that you can’t live without. The more you get, the better you feel.
  3. The reward centre in the brain can be extremely susceptible to constant reminders of the one thing you’re trying to avoid – which is why MacDonalds’ can be found everywhere. The convenience and ease of use overwhelms the reward centre and demands to be fed NOW because you can see the food everywhere.
  4. And the speed of access to the food means that the reward centre gets a hit within a few minutes of the craving. This process works, even if you’re not even hungry.
These are just some of the things junk food makers know about our brains. No wonder I have so much trouble turning it down. But now that I do know, at least I have a fighting chance.
Are you addicted to a food that’s not good for you? What happens if you can’t have it?
For further reading, try this.
Thanks to K’Rin for the story idea.


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One Comment

  1. Allegra Devereaux says:

    This level food engineering is one of the many reasons why for years now I have stayed away from the fast food giants. Whilst I marvel at their ingenuity, I really don’t like being tricked and I really don’t like my food being tampered with so much. When did it start being ok for food to not really be food … and I ask “surely it’s not really food by the time they get through modifying it?!”.

    Going along with my anti- giant fast food chain philosophy, I have my substitute in Fish N Chips (FNC’s). Love them. My local makes particularly lovely FNC’s … especially around ‘new oil day’. They’re quick and incredibly tasty. And on new oil day I don’t even have FNC’s remorse as they’re light as a feather (albeit a feather full of oil).

    But I’ve had to compromise. I cannot have FNC’s anymore, thanks to high cholesterol, so with a little effort I now have to make my own. I make my own oven baked fat chips (and sometimes go one better by using sweet potato, which is known to reduce cholesterol). And I also cook up the odd piece of fish. Voila, homemade goodness … and I know exactly what is in and on my food, which is a very comforting consideration.

    The key word here is effort … it takes a little effort, which is what the fast food industry preys on … those who cannot be bothered with the effort of looking after themselves. My new revelation though is that they’re not really looking after me at all, as they put too many nasties in their food … looking after me is really my job, and it’s a job I really really shouldn’t entrust to strangers who have dollar signs in their eyes.

    There is a great new recipe book out called Eating for the Seasons by Janella Purcell. Yes, the recipes require a few new ingredients in the store cupboard that probably might not already be there … but they are all things which really should be there. And yes, the recipes take a little while to get through the first few times … but with practice it gets easier and quicker as you understand the basic principles. Before you know it you’re cooking healthy food. This book is also great for teaching you healthier alternatives to those bad things we cook with (ie: butter, sugar, bleached flours, etc). It’s my new food bible.