Being hooked on chocolate, chips, ice cream, or burgers is a very common problem. You might not even be aware of but processed foods are as addictive as heroin or cocaine. The more processed the foods are the more addictive they are. They don’t act like food; they’re more like slow poison that undermines our health instead.
New discoveries in science prove that industrially processed foods containing trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, white flour, artificial colors and flavors, and additives–in other words, foods that have been stripped of fiber, most of their minerals and nutrients. – These can cause addictive behaviors on par with alcohol, tobacco and other serious drugs addictions like those to cocaine and heroin. You can also easily fall into patterns of compulsive eating.
Processed foods overload and crash the pleasure centers in the brain, prompting dopamine release, creating effects similar to cocaine or heroin. Just as coca leaves are purified in order to make them more addictive, foods like white bread and white sugar have been processed for addictive impact.
Dopamine is the chemical in your brain that makes you feel good. While the dopamine is released we experience temporary feelings of pleasure followed by a decrease of dopamine and a decrease of pleasure even less than before you ate. Over time dopamine becomes less effective and it’s harder to enjoy pleasure. In fact you are more inclined to be depressed and fatigued. Sound like something really familiar?
Studies show that overweight people and drug addicts have less dopamine stored in their brain because of how much has been released due to processed foods and drugs they have consumed.
We are addicted when:
- We continue to use a toxic substance or eat a certain food despite its negative effects on health and behavior (i.e., you can’t make dietary changes that would lead to your desired outcome).
- When repeated attempts to quit remains unsuccessful (just think of all the weight loss diets that fail).
The vicious cycle continue while people go from cravings to addiction and toxic symptoms that they try to relieve by eating more processed foods.
In an animal study at Princeton University in 2002, researchers found that after rats binged on sugar, they showed classic signs of withdrawal (such as “the shakes,” anxiety, and changes in brain chemistry) when the sweets were removed from their diet, strongly suggesting that sugar has addictive properties.
Processed foods are disease-building
Processed foods have been associated with all the diseases that are rampant in our affluent society: diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, arthritis, and also a myriad of other chronic symptoms from migraines to asthma. Processed foods are disease-building. Continuing to eat processed foods is like putting your head in the sand and pretending that nothing is happening. Sooner or later, you’ll see the effects on your health. Your body sends signals of discomfort, pain, and illness when not well nourished. We ignore those symptoms and instead go to the doctor for a diagnosis and quick fix.
Processed foods cause obesity
The main cause of obesity is empty calorie foods, which can be mainly due to beverages containing high fructose corn syrup. Because of their lack of fiber it is easy to consume more calories than we need as they take less space in the stomach and satiety is reached only when you have already overeaten. Foods cannot be properly metabolized without minerals and vitamins. The energy in empty calories food becomes unavailable and is stored as fat.
Is it possible to live without addiction?
Absolutely, yes! Living with addiction is like living a life in slavery. The pleasure is short, and the negative consequences are lasting. It just doesn’t let us live our life to the fullest.
Start by consuming lots of high nutrient foods which come straight from nature – whole plant foods like raw vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, sprouts, and beans which can help you release food addictions. As you learn to eat more genuinely nutritious, mineral-rich raw food, your body finally gets more nourishment and will start asking for more of this healthy fuel instead of processed junk. Your taste buds will change and you will find pleasure again in eating healthy foods. When you are so filled up with nutrient, fiber, and volume, you reach satiety and simply lose your food cravings.
Be kind and patient with yourself. You can expect to fall off the wagon occasionally as progress happens in stages, not in a straight lane. Eventually sooner rather than later you’ll get there, free of addictions to sugar, coffee, cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol… Remember that success is how quickly you can get back on track when you fall off.
I worked with a woman whom I will call her Mary. She couldn’t drive past the Dairy Queen branch in her town without stopping for her daily ice cream cone. After many months of doing so she gained weight and also was starting to have migraines and skin issues. She wanted to stop and needed help. She reached me and together worked on a healthy nutrition protocol. She started a sound nutrition program incorporating the food her body was in great need: greens and vegetables. As she was better nourished after several weeks of eating green smoothies with lots of veggies and homemade ice cream, and taking another route to go to work to curb temptations, her cravings went away eventually. She also did a cleanse on green juices which helped immensely. She has been dairy-free for more than a year now and is very happy with her health. She realized the power of addiction to sugar and fatty foods and the negative effects they had on her and resolved to live free of addictions. She now walks every day and is most happy with her new life, addiction-free.
Having a plan of action can help. With that in mind, here are 14 steps you can take to get back on track.
Steps for getting rid of your processed foods addiction:
- Gradually get rid of any sugar, white flour, and fried foods in your fridge, freezer, and pantry.
- Stop buying them. When you go to the grocery store, stay in the bulk and produce section. Don’t even look elsewhere.
- Always go shopping with a full stomach. You’ll have less temptation.
- Buy plenty of fruits and vegetables along with beans and grains. Stick to the whole foods that you like best.
- Buy a good vegan and raw recipe book to help you cook (or uncooked) whole foods.
- Try to avoid fast food restaurants by driving on back roads.
- Listen to motivational audio CDs or Mp3s while driving to inspire you to continue with healthy living.
- Enlist the help of a coach if you keep falling off the wagon. A health coach helps you be accountable and empowers you to reach your goals.
- If you’re addicted to processed foods, first admit that you are. There’s no point in pretending.
- Write down all of the reasons why you want to get rid of processed foods and what you want to achieve. Envision your life full of energy and what you’ll do with it.
- Plan your meals and allot enough time to prepare them.
- Write a list of things you like to do that feel rewarding, satisfying and comforting to you that isn’t food. When you have the temptation to eat forbidden foods do some pleasurable activities from your list instead.
- Learn to deal with your emotions. It’s likely that there would be an emotional element when making changes. It’s important to stop using food to cope with your feelings. This can mean getting better at tolerating sensations of sadness, anger, or boredom knowing that they don’t last for too long and they too will go by and be later on replaced with positive feelings.
- Last but not least, do a detox for one week, such as a juice fast or green smoothie fast, which helps reboot the “hard drive” in the brain.
How to increase your dopamine
There are many things that you can do to increase dopamine in the brain to regain a feeling of contentment. Here are a few steps to increase dopamine.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables help produce dopamine. Many fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants are helpful in producing and increasing dopamine in the brain.
- Nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, and walnuts help to increase dopamine.
- Grains and legumes are all protein-rich foods that will benefit dopamine levels.
- Exercise vigorously every day for at least 10-30 minutes every day. Exercise boosts dopamine level in the brain and raises the number of dopamine receptors. You will be able to feel the effects almost immediately.
- Sleep for at least 8 hours a night. Sleep allows the mind and body to rest and repair. If you do not receive enough sleep you will feel tired, rundown and your dopamine levels may drop. Both sleeping and dreaming aid in maintaining healthy levels of dopamine.
- Keep away from foods that can lower dopamine levels, which include foods that have a high sugar content, saturated fats, processed food, and alcohol.
A Final Word
Above all, remember that the spirit with which you enjoy your food affects everything. If you do give in to cravings, well, do it with extreme gratitude and appreciation for every bite. Make it a celebration and leave guilt at the door. Continue to choose the foods that nourish you the most and you’ll be well on your way to greater health and energy and lots of dopamine to feel good most of the time. Remember, the menu of life is abundant with positive possibilities, and my wish for you is that you enjoy your journey to the fullest.
And you are you addicted by processed foods? Please leave your comment below.
© 2012 Guylaine Lacerte
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It all started when I was twenty years old (37 years ago). My partner and I moved in the country in the spring and we spent the summer building our house, which was dome shaped.