Why Are Snacks and Junk Food so Addictive and Hard to Stop Eating?
Snacks are delicious. Whether they’re sweet, spicy, deep-fried, glazed, sugar-coated, or straight up dipped in chocolate, they’re extremely convenient and nearly impossible to put down.
I’ve seen the toughest nutritionists and fitness enthusiasts I’ve known succumb to temptation.
And there’s no shame in it. Let’s get this clear. You aren’t weak for indulging in your cravings. But that said, you SHOULD understand why snacks are so addictive and why their place in your eating plan has to be limited.
It’s simple. Let’s get into it.
Snacks concentrate our favourite flavours(sweet, spicy, and salty) into unnaturally high amounts and deliver a sensory overload of taste. An overwhelming dose of most rewarding sensations, like pleasure, is addictive. The human body quickly grows used to it, and develops a tolerance to the same. Ask anyone who has tried cigarettes or heroin.
The large amounts of sugar or spice in these foods is well beyond anything found in most natural foods. Most naturally available foods contain sugars and spices in smaller amounts.
These stimulate your tastes well beyond what they’ve evolved to handle. It literally creates an explosion of flavour in your mouth. The human brain is wired to handle a certain amount of sugar, a certain amount of spice, and a certain amount of other flavours. When this stimulus goes beyond what the body needs or is available in most natural sources, it can be called superstimulus.
When your palate is overwhelmed with a sudden, large dose of sugar or salt, it’s stimulated well beyond what it’s naturally used to.
Add to this, the fact that most sweet snacks result in a spike in your blood sugar levels (because they have an unnatural amount of sugar). This results in an insulin release, and a fall in blood sugar soon after, which leads to you feeling sleepy/tired and craving more sugar.
Most snacks are designed to be cheap to produce, easy to store, have a long shelf life, and have high quantities of specific flavours (usually sweet or spicy). Nutritious food is expensive. Protein is expensive. So, to replace protein(which is a very satiating nutrient), the foods are loaded with cheaper, easy-to-produce nutrients.
But food is food at the end of the day, isn’t it? You should feel full and unable to eat more after you have had enough, right?
Well, yes. If you’re eating FOOD, and you understand that food is what is, often, naturally available, and not what you’ve been TOLD is food.
If you eat a meal that’s high in natural protein and fat, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll feel real hunger a few hours later.
However, when you eat something that overwhelms your taste buds with sensation, has instant-release or simple carbohydrates, addictive flavours like sugar, while having little nutrition, you’re not giving your body real food and real nutrition, but rather, a SIMULATION of food, and since your body isn’t getting much actual nutrition, it gets hungry a few hours later, because in reality, you’ve fed your body little to nothing in the way of the nutrients it requires.
So the cycle is this: We get hungry>>We eat snacks/junk food>>We feel good, and often, satisfied because of the flavour and the taste profile of the snack>>We continue with our lives>>A few hours later we’re hungry again, usually for more snacks or something that similarly stimulates our tastes in a strong way.
In a nutshell: Snacks will satisfy your cravings, not your hunger.
Don’t blame yourself for snacking. Don’t blame your willpower. It has LITTLE to do with snacking. Your brain is what’s being fooled. Not your body.
Snacks are extremely convenient and easily accessible. Like cigarettes or alcohol, snacks are everywhere. If you live near civilization, you live near snacks. And like with any addictive substance, the easier it is to access, the harder it is to kick the habit.
Why do so many people who quit smoking have such a hard time staying off cigarettes? It isn’t like they don’t have the willpower to not smoke(remember, once again, addiction has little to do with willpower).
The problem is that there are too many easy ways to access cigarettes. They’re everywhere. And usually there are advertisements and people around that serve as constant reminders.
Finally, why do snacks come in such a large assortment of colourful, bright packaging? It’s the same reason branding exists for any homogeneous product, like shoes, clothes, etc., that it differentiates the product, AND additionally, it makes the product appear more appealing and attractive.
When you think about it, snacks or other types of junk food are usually restricted to a few uniform flavours, AKA sweet, spicy, or salty and a few textures AKA crunchy, crispy, creamy, or something similar.
So, the need to make them different and appealing, is important to the manufacturers. Good for them. But it doesn’t serve you much, except to mislead you from the fact that you’re eating a nutritionally void substance that’s designed to get you hooked and be hard to resist.
With this, you hopefully have a better, renewed understanding of snacks and why they’re so addictive.