It’s a sad–and timeless- truth: junk foods, while delicious, are the leading cause of the rising percentages of obesity in the US. But there’s more to it than what meets the eye. Because while junk food certainly tastes good, that reward to your sense of taste is rewiring your brain. In essence, it’s hijacking your taste buds at the expense of your health!
Junk Food Hijacking: The Way of High-fat Food Addiction
Generally, the body regulates food association with nutritional value to define the worth of food to make adaptive choices. But in eating high-fat foods, the brain changes the process of food regulation and association. Instead of seeing food as necessary for survival and nourishment, your mind relates them with rewards.
Recent studies show that consuming unhealthy foods hijacks the brain, similar to how addictive drugs do. Once people start eating them, the brain changes some of its functions that prevent people from stopping.
Junk food hijacking begins with the food industry’s manipulation of food quality. Many businesses maximize the desirability of unhealthy foods. The frequency of consuming them makes it easier for the brain to create biological demands akin to addictive processes.
(Both diet and exercise are needed to safeguard your health–read why in this Project Bold Life story!)
Food makers in the industry understand the appeal of fatty, salty, and super-sweet foods. Consuming high amounts of either diet is fixable and won’t rewire your brain, but with the right combination of the three, food can become an indulgent product, i.e., one high in “hedonic” value. When you eat a meal overloaded with these three things, they light up your dopamine pathway. High-fat food activates your brain’s pleasure center and reacts similarly to alcohol or drugs. Once you have chronic exposure to these food changes, your mind seeks continued stimulation and activates a powerful drive to overeat.
“The high-fat diet itself is acting on the brain to change it and promote overconsumption. A high-fat diet can activate epigenetic machinery to make these changes last very long and be more difficult to reverse.” – Jesse L. Carlin, Clinical Project Leader, VANDA Pharmaceuticals
Food Experience and High-Fat Foods Hijacking
High-fat food hijacking isn’t only through food. One of the factors making them more addicting is the experience you have with them. Today’s food industry uses fat, sugar, and salt in everything while making them available throughout the day. Doing this creates the idea that consuming them at any time is socially acceptable.
In addition, many businesses market junk foods with an emotional gloss. Instead of becoming a source of nourishment, they have more entertainment value. One of the best examples is the food’s presentation and packaging. Business owners focus on the designs of their wrappers with pop culture and other emerging trends. The changes in food association in the environment have a massive impact on how high-fat foods hijack the brain.
Another factor that adds to the brain’s changes is the current eating pattern of many people. Due to their busy and active schedules, most working adults overeat in the evening. They wake up, skip breakfast, and eat little throughout the day. Once their body reaches their limit, they seek out junk food due to its convenience and the immediate satisfaction rush it brings.
“Food marketing research shows that child-directed marketing cues have pronounced effects on food preferences and consumption, but are most often placed on products with low nutritional quality.” -Bernd Weber, Professor, Center for Economics and Neuroscience, University of Bonn
The Science Behind Overeating and Modern Foods Hijacking
Overeating in the evening means consuming a day’s worth of calories in one meal or a few hours. The body makes short-term regulations on calorie intake with astrocytes. Studies show that brief exposures to high-fat diets can affect these specialized cells. When you consume these foods daily, your astrocytes are bound to desensitize due to the amount of fat present. They will fail to react, which affects the brain’s ability to regulate calorie intake. Due to this, the normal signaling pathway to the stomach disrupts and delays how it empties.
Astrocyte activation releases a chemical called gliotransmitters. It excites the nerve cells and starts signaling pathways that incite neurons in charge of stomach function. When they desensitize or weaken, digestion becomes slower, and the stomach no longer fills and empties properly.
“Clearly, astrocytes are critically important for plasticity within glutamatergic signaling in the brainstem in response to a dietary challenge. Understanding these complex central mechanisms responsible for autonomic homeostasis will be fundamental to understanding and developing novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of obesity.” – Courtney Clyburn, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Oregon Health and Sciences University
Say “No” with Your Brain and Body
Learning how high-fat foods hijack your brain can help you better understand why you’re unable to stop consuming them. Eating junk foods alter and rewires your mind’s normal functions about food. The longer you expose yourself to this diet, the harder it is to stay no. Separating yourself from these indulgent products is a difficult but fruitful endeavor. You’ll achieve it as long as you keep patient and control the deprogramming of your brain and body from needing these foods daily.
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