Sunday, September 10, 2006

Junk Food Addiction?

"Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town." ~ George Carlin

Caramel Cashew Toffee Crunch ice cream, SunChips, Smartfood Popcorn, Strawberry Rhubarb pie, date squares, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups...these are some of my favorite and most tempting treats.

What bursts your bubble? Sweet chocolate treats, salty chips, greasy burgers, sugar candy (pictured left)?

A recent broadcast on CBC's Marketplace asks the question "Can We Be Addicted to Junk Food?". Of course we have all joked at one time or another about being 'a junk food addict', but now a growing number of scientists say there might actually be something to that.

"On Long Island, New York, psychiatrist Dr. Nora Volkow scanned the brains of several of her patients — all big overeaters. She wanted to try and figure out why they eat so much.

Volkow suspected addiction played a part. She found the brains of the obese look a lot like the brains of drug addicts. It all has to do with dopamine — a brain chemical that controls pleasure."

- CBC Marketplace

Personally I don't find the possibility of junk food addiction far fetched or even surprising. As consumers where bombard by advertising, and we have almost unlimited access to inexpensive, unhealthy, food products from snacks to fast food...its everywhere.

The broadcast mentioned an obese 13 year old from Mississauga, Ontario that had 92 fast food outlets with-in a 3km (1.86 miles) radius of his home.
"The food industry, of course, wants to sell, so they optimize the taste and composition of food, so to maximize the likelihood that will generate the compulsive urge to eat more. And we know that because we’ve all had it.”

- CBC Marketplace (Dr. Nora Volkow)
Ultimately, addiction or not, we have a very serious problem on our hands. Personally I believe this problem is a direct result of one very important fact:
  • Food is no longer about survival,it's about convenience and pleasure. And due to this fact, we are now dealing with issues that in the past we never need worry about:
  1. Modern society has seen a steady decline in physical activity.
  2. Sugar consumption is out of control and has been for far too long.
  3. Corporations are not ethically responsible and their only accountability is to their share holders -- or more importantly the money the corporation makes them.
  4. Government agencies are too easily influenced by multinational corporations and their needs/wants, at the expense of public health/interest (see #3).
  5. We are inundated with advertising. Especially advertising aimed at our youth (see #3).
These 5 points by no means represent a complete list...I'm sure you have already thought of a few more that could easily be added, and/or have thought of reasons to remove/edit the five I posted. The point is that I believe regardless of how long/complete this list is, the real problem is that food is no longer about survival, it's about convenience and pleasure.

Sure we need to eat to survive. You can survive (for at least awhile) eating nothing but Oreo cookies, but why is it that some people don't just settle for survival? You know who I'm talking about...those people that are out there jogging come rain or shine. The people that 9 times out of 10 skip desert or chose a side salad as a substitute for french fries when they eat out. Why is it that they eat properly and exercise successfully seemingly without struggling?

First off I think that last comment is a common misconception... or at least I think it is since I can't include myself as part of their group. I think that even fit, healthy people, who watch what they eat and exercise regularly still struggle from time to time... everyone does.

My main concern is how do I become one of these healthy people, as I so desperately want to? Why do I find it so hard to break free of my old patterns? Why can't I seem to form the healthy patterns required to be part of their group long enough for them to become habit forming?

The answer...I don't know, but I'm trying.

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