Is junk food withdrawal a thing?
Sugary treats and pre-packaged meals may be tempting, but be careful about how much you consume. A new study published in the journal Appetite found that junk food can actually have addictive qualities.
In the study of 200 people, participants were asked to follow a junk-free diet and then fill out a withdrawal assessment questionnaire. Researchers found that those who reduced their consumption of highly processed foods also experienced symptoms of withdrawal, similar to those of someone who quit smoking.
Researchers used a scale called the “The Highly Processed Food Withdrawal Scale” to measure participants’ symptoms. They found that withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, headaches and anxiety were most intense two to five days after cutting out junk.
Examples of highly processed foods include potato chips, candy, cookies, frozen dinners and soda. These foods have become staples in the American diet due to their good taste and convenience.
Moriah Gramm, a clinical dietitian at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., says junk food, which she defines as food high in calories, sugar and fat with little to no nutritional value, represses the brain’s reward center and creates a vicious cycle of craving more. “If you choose to eat junk food, do so in moderation and be mindful of your portions,” she says.
Study leader Erica Schulte says the findings provide a good basis for other food addiction studies. This study, however, does not mean junk food eaters are doomed. People looking to break their junk food addictions can be successful with the proper strategies.
Gramm says abstaining from large consumption of junk food is the key to avoiding its addictive qualities. “Rather than stocking your pantry with junk food, keep healthy snacks around the house such as fruit, vegetables and nuts to encourage healthy eating habits. When we choose nutritious foods and eat mindfully, we are not only receiving better nutrition, but also will feel our best,” she says.
About the Author
Lauryn Oleson is a public affairs intern at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. She studies public relations with a focus in psychology at Illinois State University. As a Bloomington native, Lauryn grew to love health and wellness by learning from her mom, Carolyn, who is a registered nurse at BroMenn. Lauryn enjoys playing sports, spending time with friends and volunteering for Young Hearts for Life. She hopes to continue her career in PR and health care in the future.