It’s been studied and here it is, “Junk food is twice as distracting as healthy food.” According to a study at John Hopkins University, researches found when food is irrelevant or not even a part of the person’s task, and even when people are focused on their work, food can still sneak in and grab that person’s attention, distracting them. The study also shows that after a few bites of candy or chips, junk food is no more interesting than cabbage.1 It also goes to prove that food shopping while hungry can cause you to pick out less healthy options than if you’d eaten, even a little snack, beforehand.
First Geth and lead author Corbin A. Cunningham, Distinguished Science of Learning Fellow in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, created the study and shows that after divulging in junk food, those cravings aren’t always satisfied, leaving behind the guild feeling of having done something you shouldn’t have.
Cunningham states, “While it is hard to tell, I think some of the rewarding nature of high calorie foods might be that we know we should only occasionally indulge in them. Thus, they become more “rewarding” than foods that we could eat as much as we want.”
When foods are consumed in their natural and unprocessed form, it promotes healthy responses, supports digestive and immune systems, and minimizes inflammation of organs, capillaries and joints. When we eat processed foods, the taste hijacks our neurotransmitters and causes us to be unable to judge when we have consumed sufficient calories and nutrients, thus leading to overeat.2
Our body, brain, tongue and palate have formed an identification for these foods found in its natural form. Due to this, we have hardwired our brain to identify 3 different tastes from our food: fatty (a dense source of energy), sweet (a quick source of energy), and salty (facilitates conservation of body fluids).
It’s important to identify these food items that trick our brains into overeating and minimize them, if not to stop eating them altogether.
So, what is “junk food”? When you hear the words “junk food,” you might think of candy, chips, cookies, cake, sugary drinks, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, ice cream, and most items served at fast-food restaurants. “Junk food” are foods that are high in calories (or empty calories) with little to no nutritional value.
A study done by Joseph Schroeder, associate professor of psychology and director of the behavioral neuroscience program at Connecticut College, found that their theory of high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do by doing an experiment with rats that formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment. They also found that eating cookies activated more neurons in the brain’s “pleasure center” than exposure to drugs of abuse.3 “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods,” Schroeder said, “despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”
Over the years, healthier food choices, such as fruits and vegetables, have gotten a reputation of being more expensive, though the USDA says this is not always the case.4 Arguably, it can be said that “junk food” can end up being more expensive due to the negative impact on general health.
When you feel or think of the need to eat “junk food,” just for the pleasure of eating, remind yourself that you eat for nutritional purposes. Find ways to form new habits. When “Head Hunger” hits you, develop a strategy to avoid this behavior. The best way to help this is simply to drink more water.
If you have any food questions or concerns, please call our office at (801) 268-3800, or the Weight Treatment Center at St. Mark’s hospital (who we work with closely) at (801) 268-7479. If you need help with nutrition or help with overcoming old habits, don’t feel ashamed to ask for help. We can give you referrals to dieticians and psychologists who can help!
- https://hub.jhu.edu/2017/10/26/junk-food-twice-as-distracting/#:~:text=Even%20when%20people%20are%20hard,new%20Johns%20Hopkins%20University%20study (John Hopkins University)
- https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-017-1375-8 (Psychonomic Bulletin and Review)
- https://www.conncoll.edu/news/news-archive/2013/student-faculty-research-suggests-oreos-can-be-compared-to-drugs-of-abuse-in-lab-rats.html#.Yw_DC3bMKUn (Connecticut College)
- https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/05/16/healthy-foods-not-necessarily-more-expensive-less-healthy-ones (U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA))