Food addiction remains a controversial subject amongst scientist. After all, how can we be addicted to something essential to our survival. Some research does show it is possible for some of us to become addicted to food. This is most likely possible because the food we eat today is highly processed and packed with sugar or fat in amounts we could not consume when our body evolved. However most of us don’t become addicted to food, we do crave calorie dense products because those items used to be hard to come by.
The neuroscientist Stephan J Guyenet Ph.D. in his book The Hungry Brain explains how decisions in regards to food are done nonconsciously via reward circuits in our brain. When our body evolved, one of our biggest threat was starvation therefor we are programed to seek out calorie dense foods such as high sugar or high fat. When we do find and eat those items we get highly rewarded, it makes us feel good. That reward is what makes us go back to those items even when we know they are bad for our health. We also don’t get rewarded for eating nutrient dense foods like broccoli. Our ancestors had a diverse diet and nutrient deficiencies were not a common occurrence. There wasn’t a need to reward nutrient intake. The decision to seek out food starts nonconsciously, we get hungry, we need to eat. Via reward circuits our brain has to decide what is the best course of action to satisfy the hunger. Yes the balanced home made meal would be better for our health but our nonconscious circuits doesn’t think rationally. They respond to reward and the calorie dense meal will offer the best reward so our brain pushes us to make that decision.
Most of you have experienced the fight with yourself described above. You want to make home made meals but there are too many steps to get there. You would have to go do groceries, prepare everything and then cook it. When you fight against hunger and your cravings, you’re fighting the evolution process not yourself personally. There’s no cure for cravings or hunger, but being aware of the process our brain goes through can help us understand them better. When we get intense cravings it’s usually because we let ourselves get too hungry, maybe by cutting back on our calories too drastically or skipping out on a meal. This is why a little planning can go a long way. Make sure the right foods are easily available and ready when you need them so your brain doesn’t think the restaurant down the street is the best option. Try not to skip meals so you don’t get overly hungry. Avoid triggers like smells, when taking a walk try to avoid passing bakeries or any other favorite restaurant of yours. All in all, when you do feel intense cravings, don’t blame yourself. Enjoy your meal and when you’re done think about how you can avoid having those intense cravings tomorrow.