Quitting junk food causes withdrawals like drug addiction, research says

A recent study has found that when people cut junk food from their diets, they can experience withdrawals similar to drug addiction.

Junk food is a disapproving term used for food having a large number of calories from sugar or fat with minute protein, fiber, vitamins or minerals. This term can also refer to food which contains high protein content like meat prepared with saturated fat.

Foods usually considered junk foods include gum, salted snack foods, sweet desserts, candy, fried fast food, and sugary carbonated drinks. Many foods like tacos, hamburgers, and pizza, can be either junk or healthy food. It all depends on their ingredients and method of preparation.

Many of the people have some guilty-pleasure junk foods such as French fries, sweets, pizza.
Sometimes, it could be difficult to remove these unhealthy delights from our diets. And now, recent research from the University of Michigan might propose why that is the case. Quitting highly processed junk food can result in withdrawal symptom a lot similar to those practiced by people addicted to drugs.

The research appears in the present matter of the journal Appetite. It is usually considered to be the first study of this kind. As it observes the withdrawal symptoms people may experience when they stop using these foods as a part of their regular diet.

“One of the recurrent disapprovals was that there were no studies in humans to observe whether withdrawal can occur when individuals abstain from junk diet. The research group showed interest to assess the withdrawal symptoms regarding junk foods in order to chip away at this gap in the works,” the study’s lead author Erica Schulte, a psychology doctoral contestant at the University of Michigan.

The research team considered that the results do bring primary support relevant to withdrawal when cutting down on vastly processed junk foods. This provides further support to the plausibility of a ‘food addiction’ for some persons. Nonetheless, she also noted that “The idea which some people might practice addictive-like reactions to extremely processed junk food remains a controversial idea.”

Struggling with junk food withdrawal

The research workers requested 231 adult members to report any psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms they have experienced after having cut down on junk foods over the past year. If they had several efforts to abandon, they were inquired to describe their recent one. Then they were asked to describe if they showed any kinds of withdrawal symptoms which a person has when they try to abstain from nicotine and cannabis.

Further then, they were asked if their efforts to remove or cut down on the foods from their diets were fruitful. And how they determined what that “success” was. These persons stated that they experienced tiredness, sadness, cravings, and bigger irritability in the first 2 to 5 days after abandoning junk food. But, these symptoms ultimately cooled off after those early few days.

This resembles with the understanding of how drug withdrawals work. The period of drug withdrawal symptoms actually varies from drug to drug. It normally depends on the length of the addiction. But, usually that first week after cutting out drug consumption will yield clear withdrawal symptoms.

Beyond being astonished by how these junk food withdrawals associated with symptoms of drug withdrawal. The research concluded that the more strong the withdrawal symptom, the less likely the diet effort was found to be a success. This proves that withdrawal may be a related contributor for why persons have such a tough time cutting down on junk food.

What junk food does to your brain

Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, assistant professor of medicine in the division of human nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), told that many processed items we think of that fall under “junk food” are generally high in four addictive things — fat, salt, sugar, and caffeine.

She said sugar, for example, produces a neurotransmitter called dopamine which carries messages to the brain. It means to think of dopamine is similar to handing your brain a reminder which it needs to repeat the enjoyable activity that just gave it a lift.

When you consume sugar, the sign sent by the dopamine tricks your brain into thinking which it requires to seek out the reason of pleasure. In this case, a sugary delicious treat over other healthier activities.

“You may start consuming more and more to acquire that same pleasurable feeling,” Surampudi explained. “Imagine soda, caffeine, and sugar, all can stimulate the rewards center of your brain. Thus, continuously telling you that you want more of these substances.”

Limitations of the research

This report did not look at these brain responses. It is a self-reported study. It requires members to remember what happened to them and did not measure these withdrawal effects in real time. Schulte recognized this, adding that one of the “limitations” of her study was that it concentrated on asking people to ponder back to their most recent attempt at removing these foods.

She said as a succeeding step in her research, she will administer the self-reporting tool on a daily basis to these people. While they are removing these junk foods out of their diets. “This will offer more understanding into which signs are most concerned and how their strength changes over time,” she said.

The researchers also consider that the clinical inferences for this work provide chances for more research. For example, it will be beneficial to observe whether the bigger experience of withdrawal when abstaining from junk foods is related to poorer treatment consequences, such as weight loss and dietary adherence.

Dr. Carol A. Bernstein, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at NYU Langone Health, told that she is constantly cautious when she comes across this kind of studies. She’s uncertain that the feeling you develop when you miss eating fries or popcorn is accurately the same as when you are facing withdrawal from something like heroin, for example.

“I think it is hard to stay away from heroin and cocaine than chocolate and potato chips,” she said. She further added that she fears that studies like this — might “tone down the seriousness of other addictions.”“It is proven scientifically that addiction to cocaine, opiates, heroin, and alcohol all have unsafe, serious health consequences,” Bernstein stressed. “These things can hijack your brain. I am not sure if that is the same as someone missing their chocolate.”

If you are worried about the attraction of unhealthy food choices in your supermarket and want to know how to cut them out from your life, consult your nutritionist and physician if you have one.



Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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