Fast Food, Heroin, and Food Addiction, What’s the Connection?

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I’ve been writing about how addictive sugar is, and that it creates the same reaction in the brain that opioids (heroin, morphine, opium) do. I’ve also written about the very interesting food addiction pyramid, and offered you a quiz to determine if you are addicted to sugar. Throughout many of my other articles I have injected my thoughts that not only is sugar an addictive substance, but white flour, added salt/sodium, dairy, and unhealthy fats are also addictive.

So, imagine my excitement when I came across an article about a study done on lab rats that demonstrated food creating the same brain changes that opioids do! This study covered the effect that the combination of sugar, fat, and salt had on the brains of the lab rats. The brain reacted the same as it did to heroin or morphine.

Where do you find this combination of sugar, fat, and salt? In fast food of course! ;) You could argue that this study only looked at the brains of lab rats, but you tell me – can you eat just one fry, or just one burger, or do you end up craving more? Does the smell of the drive-through lure you in, do you keep going back for more, day after day, week after week?

One man, a self-proclaimed fast food addict who nearly died of congestive heart failure (he was only 41 when interviewed) stated that “I can’t just have one — I have to have two” when it came to his addiction to Wendy’s hamburgers and fries.

This article concludes with the information that Ann Kelley, professor at University of Wisconsin, hopes that her study will lead to medications (and programs) for people that have eating compulsions:

The over-consumption of this food leads to problems like obesity,” (Kelley) said. “Maybe we can develop treatments that will help us curb our appetite for these substances.”

Here’s my thought: while I certainly believe in physical/chemical food addiction, I don’t believe that people need medication to relieve their sugar, salt, and fat addiction. What is necessary is to stop eating those ingredients, do your own cooking with whole foods, and remember that the first 3 to 7 days you will go through withdrawals. My experience has been that once past that first week (at most), I no longer have physical cravings for the addictive ingredients, but emotional cravings do still come up. I documented this in my “Ban The Refined Sugar Experiment“, which is where I noted that I used journaling to get past the emotional cravings for food.

It’s also interesting to note that in my experiment I was focusing on the elimination of refined sugar, foods high in natural sugar, and sugar alcohols, and I also mentioned that I was not consuming added salt or unhealthy fats (or dairy), either. The reason I find this interesting is because the study done on the lab rats included the combination of sugar, fat, and salt.

Back to the topic of medication, I cannot say that there wouldn’t be some extreme cases in which people would need it to go through the withdrawal from addictive food ingredients, just like people who get off of heroin do, but for the most part I believe that you need to eliminate these foods from your diet, which involves a change in lifestyle. If all you do is take a medication to get off of fast food and lose weight, isn’t that still just a band-aid on the symptom?

If you do want to get off of those addictive foods and ingredients, but have never cooked for yourself and aren’t really sure how to go about that, the Six Week Body Makeover lifestyle outlines all of this for you, even though the plan is marketed for weight loss rather than food addiction. It just so happens that the program does eliminate those addictive ingredients from your diet: sugar, unhealthy fats, added salt, and dairy (also addictive – future article), while giving you the added benefit of weight loss. You would not be susceptible to the changes in brain chemistry brought on by either sugar or the combination of sugar, fat, and salt, and you could free yourself from those addictive foods and experience how peaceful life can be. :)

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  • http://www.cathlawson.com/blog CatherineL

    JoLynn – this is scary stuff. And while there is no doubt that heroin kills faster, people who are addicted to fast foods will die young if they keep on eating them.

    I’m lucky, we don’t eat a lot of fast food. But, I know you Americans have been exposed to an abundance of McDonald’s, Wendy’s etc for much longer than us. I didn’t have my first Wendy’s until I was 17 (in London) and McDonalds was even later than that.

    I suppose the medication may help deal with some of the side effects whilst the addict was trying to give up the addiction, and change their lifestyle.

    But, so many people just can’t cook at all – and they don’t seem to have the first clue about what is good for them that it’s terrifying.

    It’s a good thing that there are sites like this one to educate these people.

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  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Catherine!

    Ack, I knew that “heroine” was wrong and I posted this before verifying it — you helped me correct my spelling error when I read your comment, thanks!!

    I didn’t used to cook either until I came across the 6WBMO….it taught me how to cook whole foods and eat healthy (as well as many other benefits, weight loss and high energy included ;) ). You just have to make it a lifestyle, but it can be done. I believe that if I can do it, anyone can, and I’m someone that used to only buy frozen dinners for practically every meal (as well as eat fast food)!

  • Jeff

    If you want to take a look at some of the (disgusting) nutritional facts for fast food restaurants, check this out: Fast Food Nutritional Values

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Jeff,

    That’s such an oxymoron, isn’t it….fast food “nutrition” (LOL!). Thanks for the info! :)

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  • http://everyoneneedstherapy.blogspot.com therapydoc

    You’ll be linked to the 5th Carnival of All Substances tomorrow! See if you can link back to my blog somehow. Thanks.

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  • http://www.foodwithpassion.co.uk Slow Food Fan

    Changes to lifestyles and education systems dropping “domestic science” from the syllabus have all led to greater reliance upon fast, processed and supermarket ready-prepared food which all too often is a poor substitute for good quality home-prepared food.

    There is a generation of folks out there who just don’t know how to cook and that is scary.

    Noy having time to cook is often the argument when the truth is that it often takes longer to out to pick up an order from the take-away than to put a great meal on the table from scratch cooking….. with the added benefit that you know exactly what has gone into it…… no hidden agents in it.

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    “There is a generation of folks out there who just don’t know how to cook and that is scary.”…..right, and I used to be one of those people! I really didn’t know how to cook before I got my 6WBMO kit. I mainly ate processed foods, and fast food was my heroin of choice!

    I’ve gotta say though, that being off of the sugar, flour, all of that stuff that’s in the processed foods, that I sure do feel great. It’s hard to imagine but when you eat clean (eat whole, real foods), your body responds in a positive manner. ;)

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  • Ngangi

    I’m just curious, why are you off dairy (you mention you don’t eat dairy in other articles too). Isn’t dairy a ‘clean’ food?

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Ngangi,

    I used to eat a lot of dairy, was addicted to cheese for one thing, but when I started eating per the 6-Week Body Makeover in 2004 I got off of it because it doesn’t help you lose weight – it’s just a bunch of fat and it’s funny because human beings are the only mammals that continue to drink milk past weening.

    Then when I would have dairy after being off of it for so long I found that it made me cough – a LOT. I felt logy and gross putting dairy back into my diet and then the cheese cravings came back when I ate that.

    I’ve also learned that there is an addictive ingredient in cheese – I’ve been meaning to write a post about that.

    Let me know if you have any other questions about it. :)