Food Addiction and Binge Eating

By Kim Banting,

Why do we struggle with an uncontrollable desire to eat the wrong foods, even though we know they are harmful to our health?  Processed foods contain carefully combined flavours and other sensory factors designed to keep us wanting more.  This makes them highly addictive and is very different from whole foods  which have taste and consistency of which is created in nature and therefore work with your body to satiate hunger and cravings.

Refined sugar is as addictive as cocaine, but sugar is not the sole culprit in food addiction.  ”Flavour science” is how food manufacturers combine specific flavours and textures to create Frankenfoods that we can’t get enough of.  Have you ever tried to make from scratch something you would normally buy at the store, like ice cream?  Your version will be very different in taste and consistency than the store-bought version.  Some people find this difference unappealing, but this is only because you have been trained to think the processed version is superior.  Everything that comes in a package has been enhanced to achieve a desired product.  Junk food manufacturers use “food science” to bring processed foods to extraordinary levels and create what is referred to as the “bliss point”.  This seriously confuses and muddles your body’s metabolism.  For example, artificial sweeteners disrupt your metabolic response to real sugar, exacerbating obesity and diabetes.  Your body isn’t fooled by a sweet taste with zero calories, so it keeps signaling to your brain to continue eating because the point of satisfaction isn’t reached.

What is Food Science?

Food science is how scientists change the properties of food to get a specific quality.  Below are the factors that are considered when a new product is being developed:

  1. Taste and Mouth Feel.   This one is pretty self-explanatory.  The company designing the product has hired people called super tasters to go to produce farms to taste the food grown there and those super tasters then go to the laboratory and assist the scientists to create a flavour, such as strawberry, that is a sweeter, stronger, strawberry-er flavour than any you have ever tasted before.  There may be dozens of vials of “strawberry” flavour in the lab, and together, these people work to choose the most appealing version that will keep the consumer buying their product over a competitior’s.
  2. Macronutrient Content of Food:  The combination of fat, sugar and salt plus additonal flavourings target the brain’s reward centre and it keeps you wanting more.  The reward centre is the area of your brain that pumps out happy hormones, like dopamine.  This gives a chemical feeling of pleasure that can be worn out over time, similar to insulin resistance.
  3. Dynamic Contrast:  Is when a combination of contrasting sensations produces a pleasurable experience; biting through a crunchy chocolate shell into a soft, creamy centre, also called orosensation.
  4. Salivation Response:  Boosts the taste and feelings of pleasure, the food almost swims around the mouth, coating the taste buds. Foods that promote salivation are butter, chocolate, ice cream, mayonaise.  Salivation triggers desire to continue eating.
  5. Rapid Food Meltdown and Vanishing Caloric Density:  (Can you believe this?!??!  The people making food for us to eat actually consider these things.  This is an actual thing!)  Foods that melt quickly in the mouth trick your brain into thinking you aren’t really eating as much as you are.  Cheetos has perfected this.
  6. Sensory Specific Response:  Repetitive flavours  or flavour overload tend to lead to decreased sensations of pleasure.  You “get tired” of eating the same flavour again and again.  Your palate can even tire of a flavour in minutes.  Food manufacturers get around this by creating more complex flavour and sensory profiles.  The greatest successes from food and beverages owe their craveability to formulas that pique taste buds just enough without overwhelming.  This overrides your brain’s inclination to say “enough”.
  7. Caloric Density:  Junk food is designed to convince your brain that it is getting nutrition, but not fill you up.  This is accomplished by combining an ideal number of calories to prevent satiety signals from going off.  Receptors in the mouth tell your brain about how many carbs, protein and fat you are eating and how filling it is.  Compare eating chips with eating a salad.  You could continue eating more and more chips, but with the salad, you will reach a point where you are satisfied.
  8. Memories of Past Eating Experiences:  The psychobiology of junk food works against you.  When you eat something tasty, your brain registers this feeling and experience and logs it away.  Your brain picks up information that you aren’t even aware of like the temperature in the room, the sounds around you and so much more.  This is significant, because the next time you see, smell, read about or think about that food, it triggers the memory of the past experience making it impossible to resist eating it.

All of this is part of making a bag of cookies, snack cakes, french fries, etc.  How do you feel knowing that this is the manipulation that goes into creating food for people to eat?  Do you feel helpless, or powerless to fight it?  Remember this:  the more processed junk food you eat, the more you will come to crave it.  However, when you begin replacing junk food with whole, natural, unprocessed, high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, this is what your body will begin to want more of.  Junk food becomes less appealing over time.  When you make the effort to choose the better option, your body gradually detoxifies and your mood and energy levels begin to shift.  You sleep better, you wake up feeling rested, you want to exercise and you look forward to each and every day!  You will simply become motivated to keep it up.

For more information on why we over eat, read the article attached: