Keep your broccoli. You’re not going to rehab for that one “guilty” pleasure – at least for now. But we can’t say the same about other kinds of food you enjoy. That craving you have for pizza and, yes, bacon can actually be due to some form of addiction.

That means your brain is wired to consume these foods without control. Even if you know there are negative consequences to doing so, you don’t cut down. Your brain is a powerful thing, so when you expose it to these foods, it wants more.

But what are they? What are you eating that could possibly be addictive? Well, the list is larger than you might expect. But before we mention it, let’s talk about how your brain interacts with addictive foods so you know what happens when you indulge in that sensual medium-rare steak.

Weight and food addiction

Before we get down and dirty, it must be noted that weight is still very contentious in terms of its relation to food addiction. But what is known is that everyone (small and big) is prone to food addiction, and those who are considered over-weight aren’t necessarily addicted to food. The study below found no conclusive evidence of a causal effect between weight and food addiction, only that food addiction can lead to obesity.

Food, we just need it!

A study in PLOS ONE by researchers from the University of Michigan supposed that food containing or made using fat, refined carbohydrates, especially those that are absorbed really fast into the system, share the same pharmacokinetic properties addictive drugs.

Basically these are foods that contain a concentrated dose of the aforementioned nutrients and are absorbed really fast into the system – just like drugs. Processed foods are especially culprits, but there are plenty others that aren’t processed.

What’s up brain?

Your brain just wants to have fun. So when we eat addictive foods, or any food, it releases dopamine. This is its own way of interpreting pleasure. The more rich the food is with fats and refined carbs with a considerable glycaemic load (which is basically the concentration of carbs multiplied by how fast it is converted into sugar), the more likely the brain is to fire off dopamine. So when you’re biting down on that food you were craving earlier, the brain is basically rewarding you for doing so, which then makes you want to take more.

Bad brain, but not really

It’s not really your brain’s reward system that makes you addicted, but how it deals with the overload of dopamine. When you start overeating addictive foods, your dopamine receptors start to down regulate. Simply put, the brain is removing the receptors in order to balance out the dopamine’s sensation overload.

Sadly for you, the process can make you feel rather down – Mondays. And now that you know what makes you happy (food), you eat more so that you can get “high” on dopamine at the expense of a few receptors. Because, simply put, at that moment you feel like it’s the only solution to feeling great.

But this doesn’t work in our favour. The more we consume, the more the receptors down regulate. As a result, you’ll want to eat more, because you feel sadder. Now, if you add all of the other factors you will encounter that can make you sad such as gaining weight, and having to deal with pressures at work, and in your personal life, addiction becomes something that can happen to you.

Cut to the chase!

Food addiction is more prevalent than you think. Anyone can fall victim to it, especially those who experience a high level of stress in their day to day lives. While biting down on that slice of pizza is good, you need to have limits for your own wellbeing. If you feel you're too reliant on food to feel happy, speak to a friend or professional, or try exercisemeditating or even sex - science say all of this is sustainably better for your brain's happiness. 

Sources:

PlOS ONE, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0117959#pone-0117959-t003

Authority Nutrition, https://authoritynutrition.com/how-food-addiction-works/