Is There An Addiction Factor To Processed Foods?

Many patients will use the term “I am ADDICTED TO ___” when describing food/snack sources such as chocolate, cookies, chips and similar types of foods.  In these cases, people are using this term in a joking sort of way and not implying a true “addition” as in people with alcohol, drug, gambling and/or sex addictions.

In medicine, addiction is considered a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.

A study performed at the University of Michigan demonstrated that highly processed foods can be addicting, based on the following criteria:

  • They trigger compulsive use where people are unable to quit or cut down (even in the face of life-threatening diseases like diabetes and heart disease)
  • They can change the way we feel and cause changes in the brain that are of a similar magnitude as the nicotine in tobacco products
  • They are highly reinforcing
  • They trigger intense urges and cravings

When you take a step back and look at the rise of obesity in America, this parallels the increase in the use/reliance on processed foods.  I believe that the ever-increasing use of processed foods has contributed greatly to the obesity epidemic.  Stroll through the aisles of the supermarket freezer sections and there are so many more processed, frozen foods available than years ago.  Why?  The dual-income working families simply have little-no time to prepare healthier, fresh meals.  Plunking a frozen pizza, lasagna or chicken pot pie into a microwave is a much easier solution.

During a long-term weight control journey it is very important to rid yourself and your families of processed foods as best as possible.  They are not only damaging, but they are also addicting.