Thursday, November 3, 2011 Post By: Grayne Wetzky

Why you can't stop eating pizza

Everybody knows that junk food is not the best food choice they can make. Much effort is put into educating the public about the benefits of eating healthier, but that seems to have very little effect on people's food habits. This of course is because people don't eat pizza and drink soda thinking it is going to make them fit, they eat it because it tastes good and makes them feel good. At least temporarily.

The paradox is that if you ask people, they don't want to be unhealthy. Most people want to eat better, but still have a hard time dropping the junk from their diet. Even if there are tons of healthy alternatives that taste great and makes us feel much better, people still can't seem to kick the fast food habit.

I used to blame this in myself on a lack of self discipline. I would get down on myself for not having better self control and always struggling to stay away from foods I knew I shouldn't be eating. As it turns out, self discipline might have less to do with this than I thought. The real culprit is more likely in the composition of fast food.
There is growing scientific evidence that sugar and fatty foods are addictive. High intake of sugar cause a similar response in the brain as seen in drug users. The research also shows how cutting out sugar causes opiate-like withdrawal symptoms. No wonder it is difficult to cut sugar from your diet!

Sugar addiction is real. The effects are not as powerful as a drug addiction, but the mechanisms are very similar. Fatty food can also cause the same addiction response, and the effects are even stronger than for sugar. Animal testing indicates that cravings for fatty food is even slightly stronger than for sugars.

The real kicker though is that when researchers feed mice food that combines fat and sugar, they develop addictions that are much more severe. In fact, they show cravings that are almost as powerful as for mice addicted to cocaine and alcohol. Separate research also shows that mice who have been fed high sugar foods will binge on more sugary foods even if they have unlimited access to more nutritious alternatives.

Results from animal testing is of course not immediately applicable to humans, but these finding serve as a stark eye-opener for me. That sugar and fatty foods create drug like cravings goes a long way towards explaining why it is so difficult to drop unhealthy food even when we know that eating differently would make us feel better.

Food companies wants you to buy their food as often as possible. What better way to achieve this than to have their customers literally addicted to their food? I am not saying that food companies knowingly create products that cause addiction, but they do spend millions of dollars on product research to find out what sells best. If high levels of fat and sugar can cause food addiction, it is reasonable to think that food products like these will sell more. The result is a population that is rapidly declining in health while eating counter to all advice and reason.

So, if you are having a hard time imagining a life without pizza, consider what a pizza is made of. It has a white flour crust loaded with fast carbohydrates, while being covered with high fat foods like pepperoni, cheese and bacon. The perfect combination to trigger a food addiction. So if you have ever cursed your self for your lack of self control when eating a whole pizza or a tub of ice cream, consider that thee might be other factors involved. You just might have a powerful addiction without even realizing it, and the food you are sold is basically engineered to keep you addicted.

I find this information liberating and motivational at the same time. I don't want to be addicted to anything, so that motivates me to eat less sugar and processed foods. I also find it liberating to realize that what I eat is not just a simple matter of what I chose to eat or not. Knowing that food can cause powerful addictions and withdrawals makes it easier to understand why certain foods can be so very tempting.

Fighting an addiction is though and takes a lot of courage, the good news is that it can be done. Just knowing that cravings for fat and sugar could be caused by an addiction can be a help in fighting it. Other than that there really isn't any better way to beat an addiction than to stay away from the things you crave. If you are addicted to certain foods, don't give a corporation control over what you eat. Make your food yourself so you are the one controlling what you eat. Stay away from situations where you typically end up eating junk food, and realize that just like other addictions you can't say "Just this once" or "Once piece won't hurt".

  1. You just blew my mind open. Thank you.

  1. I'm completely with you on this in general, but I'm not sure I agree that you can't say "just this once."

    I do think you're right that junk food "effects are not as powerful as a drug addiction" and to me, what that means is that eating a cookie is NOT like taking a hit of cocaine or heroin.

    A commenter on my site talked about needing to exert "intellectual control" over hyperpalatable foods and I think that's right. And I suspect that for many people that's a more moderate approach to junk food that abstaining forever.

    How this works for individual people is likely to vary. The way I've implemented this is that I only eat this kind of food once a week (the other 6 1/2 days I'm following essentially the Jaminets' Perfect Health Diet).

    No one needs junk food, but it's nice to have the flexibility to occasionally include these kinds of foods for variety, sociability, and just because they often taste good!

  1. Beth, if you can say "just this once" and not want it again, you just "aint an addict". Not everyone is, but for those of us who are, the withdrawal just does not make that once worthwhile.

  1. Anonymous


  1. It isn't that sugar is addictive. It is that people who overindulge in it are weak, lazy and lacking inner strength and motivation. People need to develop stronger minds and bodies, not avoid sugar.

    I got in shape and lost 100 lbs, maintaining a high standard of health and gaining strength all while eating cookies, candy and donuts in moderation. If sugar were as addictive as heroin, moderate consumption would be impossible, eating sugar would lead to binges and I would have never lost weight.

    I remember days when I made room for a single candy bar and that would be my treat for the day, and everything else was healthy eating. Why? Proper discipline, emotional strength, intense motivation and maturity. The addictive nature of sugar does not excuse poor discipline, lack of motivation and the emotional weakness that leads to overeating and lack of exercise.

    Being able to eat whatever you want and still stick to your dietary goals is a mark of emotional health, maturity and self discipline.

  1. As a trainer, I approach diet by strengthening peoples will power instead of teaching them avoidance.


  1. Anonymous

    I have struggled with this issue for a long time. And I took nutrition courses as well as read many great books in order to inform myself about my problem. And you're absolutely right, foods high in carbs and fats do trigger addiction-like feeling states. I tested it myself. I have always loved foods like pizza, pasta and ice cream. The more I ate them, even once a week, the more I would have random cravings during the week. Once I stopped eating it altogether for several weeks and the cravings disappeared. In fact, I could be around people eating a slice of pizza and it would do nothing for me. Plus, I felt more energetic, I lost weight and I felt happier. The thing about it is that people aren't educated about the issue that dairy, refined carbs and fats from dairy products as well as foods with high contents of sugar are actually a threat to their health. At the end of the day, all you can do is spread the word. Thank you for the post. :)

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