Your Brain on Junk Food
What is the neurology of bingeing? I’ve been fascinated by what causes the out-of control- addictive behavior that seems to overcome me; often times the urge comes out of nowhere. I wondered, " Am I crazy?" My behavior sure is. As it is turns out the binge behavior is very explainable and therefore “normal.” The binge phenomenon is spurred on by chemistry far more powerful than mental willpower. The more I understood the brain’s response to junk food, the easier it became for me to take control over it. Junk food alters brain chemistry and it is crucial to understand how it does if you want to reach for anti-aging, and strive for a transformational body.
Junk Food redirects our brain messaging
Research shows that the unhealthy and excessive salts, sugars, fats, and additives, artificial substances, such as: chemicals that prevent food from rotting, or chemicals that provide texture or flavors to foods found in tacos, and the chemicals to induce stimulating colors found in dressings, shakes, burgers, fries, baked desserts, cookies, candies, frozen foods, snacks, lunch meats...foods otherwise known as junk food---all these commonly consumed highly processed and preserved substances, signal to the switch in our brain that turns off an important food completion“alarm."
When the alarm is on-- this sends messages to our brains that that we have had enough to eat.
When the alarm is off--this sends the message that we are longing for more food.
Processed foods by design, are engineered for us to eat more, and haven't most of us experienced this? I always wondered why I have no "moderation mode." Once I’ve started to eat the chips, cupcakes, ice cream, I am likely to gobble up an obscene quantity of food. I assure you this is not a pretty sight. And now I know that the binge-switch is not in my imagination.
Junk food and your endocrine system
I believe many of us already know that junk food is like heroine for many of us, but reading up on the tremendous amount of literature covering the addictive chemical properties will help you steer away from the foods that make you look and feel older.
As I read more about what exactly I was doing to my body, the "getting fat" part just wasn't as important, as I realized how much additives and preservatives, sugars, and fats were impacting not only my heart, which most of us already know, but the chemicals in junk food and fast foods contain seriously harmful chemicals such as phalates and have been identified in major studies to be a significant source of hormone-disruption.
Stephan Guynet describes the neurology of overeating and why that crave cycle is so intense. According to his studies: the “Junk Food” causes inflammation in the brain and in a sense deregulates or confuses our hypothalamus command center that senses those signals that make us feel satiated or hungry.
Leptin and food regulation
A key hormone involved in this food regulation is leptin. Leptin is produced from our body’s fat cells.
When we dig into those fries and shakes and sodas, the extremely processed, fabricated and synthetic chemicals that make up what we call "fast food" or "junk food," inflame the hypothalamus region and trigger a signal where the brain thinks we are starving.
Haven’t we all been there? As I mentioned, I do not mind testifying that at times, I do allow the extreme junk food into my system. Without even being told about the phalates, leptin, and insulin, hormones, and glycemeic index, and all the biology, chemistry,y and physiology; I am wise to the fact that “something” goes haywire when I eat a bag of chips, and a gallon of ice cream, and a couple of doughnuts ----oh! and some pizza. I don't really need the academic studies to know that when I start, I can’t stop.
Once I consume the junk food, even just a little bit, I am contributing to a host of serious pathology in my body. I think this is the central message of this entry, this was certainly why I began to be more intentional about the foods I put in my body and led to creating an anti-aging blog.
With the junk food, the brain is confused and thinks,“Oh no! There are no more fat cells-I need food!”(when in fact there are plenty of fat cells- my brain just can't see them,) Body --go eat! Eat the ice-cream! Now eat the chips, go get those cookies! Not enough? Go do it all again! Another bowl – and add some fudge please…
With my satiation cue switched off by the additives and chemicals I am driven to eat more. My poor brain is controlling me,
“What? I’m still not full? I really really gotta have some more, any cookies left? No? Ok I’m getting in my car and driving to the store. But it’s 11:00! Who cares, I gotta have those chocolate dipped cookies”
Your Brain can’t see the leptin hormone: when this craziness is going on and when my brain is not “seeing” the leptin it is called by many, to be“leptin resistance”. This state induced by the fats, sugar, etc is considered to be one of the roots of obesity.
I stumbled upon Gunner’s e-book Vicious Eating that describes a personable and relatable food addict’s journey. He describes the crave cycles and what goes on in the brain’s reward centers and gives a personal account. While I may not agree with some of his nutritional conclusions, I still thought his book has value. It's good to know we're not the only ones struggling to extricate ourselves from junk food's grasp.
Modern junk foods are also called “superstimuli” and these cause an intense dopamine release (the pleasure reward center in our brain) and numerous studies show that the chemical compounds in junk foods activate the brain just as they would with drug abuse.
In this same way that doing drugs such such as cocaine or heroine would, with junk food and narcotics, there is eventually, a gradual overload in the "pleasure-centers" of the brain. Scientists have found that this overloading causes pleasure-system crashes- and just as narcotics force a person to go for more and more, with higher and higher doses to achieve the intense pleasure - superstimuli foods uncontrollably urge us to seek more and more food with increasingly higher concoctions of "confected" foods.
If you are as old as I am, you can see the arc of junk food and it has become colossal: It's very "in" for restaurants to out-manufacture one another with towering food ensembles: a baconation of everything from burgers to pies and shakes, cheese stuffed crusts, stuffed cobbler pancakes...I surely don't need to recount.
The food-stimuli presses us to continually seek out increasingly extreme junk food doses in order to feel the pleasure-center of our brain light up.
I can see the compulsive and destructive drive of the drug addict in my own behavior when I get in the car and drive to a 24 hour convenience store for junk food, even though it’s so late, because I still am not satisfied. This is a great example of addictive or compulsive behavior due to the combination of dopamine flooding and insulin confusion, crossed hormone signaling, insulin spiking. Meanwhile I’m now putting my fat cells into a store-housing overdrive which means, I’m gonna get unhealthy and a side product of this is, fat!
Baseline of healthiness
Sadly, as much as I know about the pathology of the fast foods and junk foods, I haven't fully vanquished the need to seek out junk food once in a while. However, hold on, all is not lost. Because with this healthy, On The Training Table eating that I do at least 90% of the time, intentionally transforming my diet to primarily whole foods and a drastic reduction of preservatives, additives and sugars, I have created a strong base-line of healthiness. I can withstand a little bit of bad foods behavior. But I know, as for myself; I cannot eat junk food in moderation so I have to keep this in check.
There have been many health advocates: researchers, doctors, etc who feel compelled to categorize junk food, for what it really is--a pathogenic food. Tragically, at least for now, we the consumers, are not winning. Rather the Giants of Industry, driving this out of control bingeing with their million-dollar marketing campaigns--they are currently winning. We are left to combat the junk epidemic on our own.
The image of these bad foods is now being portrayed by food industries as harmless or a little naughty, rather than the poison that it really is. The health advocates are fully aware and know that what is happening here in the USA is not harmless; rather there is a full-fledged serious epidemic out there that is being ignored. It's astounding how we’ve become used to cancer, diabetes, and heart problems as a routine and expected part of our lives. It shouldn't be.
Hopefully we will look back on today’s fast food item menus advertised on prime television as absurd, and see these commercials in future years with the same in-credulousness as when we now look back at the cigarette ads used in commercials and on period-shows such as Mad Men. For the moment, people are somewhat inured.
Consumers rebelled against tobacco company and finally kicked the tobacco companies off the air. I am hopeful this will happen with junk food which is even more disease inducing than tobacco.
But tragically that won’t happen soon enough thanks to the ongoing multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns waged by the food industry and their lobbyists. How I see it, this means we are left to defy and deny the purposefully addictive and harmful foods, by ourselves.
Hence it all gets back to what's On The Training Table. Junk food makes you old; no getting around this. You look older and feel older. It's up to us to veer from the steady stream of junk coming at us 24-7 on billboards, television, magazines, on-line....I really had to awaken myself to the depth of pathology and disease that we in incur in our bodies from the pathogenic foods.
I propose to begin with:
- Be intentionally aware of what happens to your body as you eat junk food (reread the blog entry, it contains crucial info.)
- Cut back on junk foods or at the very least, begin replacing them with a healthier version.
- Stay conscious and ask yourself, "Is this on my Training Table?" "Is it a whole food or is it processed?
- Read the many blogs and health articles on-line frequently-- to remind you that you want to drive the Ferrari not the clunker.
- Don't try to be perfect, just increasingly do better- and don't worry about the setbacks- I can vouch for myself that mistakes and bad food choices are part of the anti-aging journey.
- Don't beat your self up. After a bad choice, just say, "oops" and get back on the whole foods path.
One of the best lessons I've learned about the psychology of breaking away from the junk foods is to think of what your are adding to your diet-- not what you are taking away. In other words, think of the fruit, vegetables, healthier snack you are adding to the diet- not about what you can't have. Self-denial is not at all what this blog is about.
If you can just add the healthier foods to your menus; this will be enough to get you in motion. Remember, whole foods will signal to your brain that "you're full"- you will unconsciously find yourself able to cut back on junk .
Count yourself in with other anti-agers and stick with the tenets and principals of The Training Table as much as possible and if you do, you will begin to work on an improved you.