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You've probably had cravings for French fries or pizza before, while you just don't think about apples or zucchini in the same way. Science can explain that.

"Addiction" is a bit of a funny term — the clinical definition is really quite different to the way in which it's used colloquially, and phrases like "he's addicted to heroin" and "oh yeah, she's totally addicted to that Pilates class" don't even begin to share the same meaning. In TLC's My Strange Addiction, almost anything can pass as an addiction, from eating deodorant or bricks (actually a disorder called Pica in which people consume non-food items) to carrying around stuffed animals all the time or drinking blood. 

"Food addiction" might seem, at first hand, to be another such "totally rubbish and not really real" addiction. We all have to eat, after all, if we want to keep living. Scientists are still arguing over whether food can really become addictive, but one study reminded us that "food" is too broad of a category for the term "food addiction" to hold much meaning. The authors wanted to uncover which foods people develop "addiction-like" relationships with. 

What makes foods addictive?

The study, titled Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content, and Glycemic Load, had two parts. The first sought to determine what attributes may make foods addictive, or, as the authors said, induce "addictive-like eating behaviors". They unsurprisingly uncovered that refined carbs, processed fats, and foods high in added sugars have the largest potential in this area. 

They go on to compare it to substance abuse. Water isn't going to be addictive. Beer, which contains five percent alcohol, may become a problem, but it's less likely to pose an issue than hard liquor, which may have an alcohol content of up to 75 percent. It's similar with food. The more unnatural fats, refined carbs, and added sugars a food contains, the more problematic it can become. 

How fast food is absorbed also matters. Here, the authors make a comparison with cocaine — chewing coca leaves isn't likely to lead to an addiction, but highly refined cocaine, as a street drug that kicks in fast, is. The more processed a food is, the more artificial fats, refined carbs, and artificial sugars it contains and the more nutrients have been lost in the process, the more dangerous it becomes. 

What foods are most addictive?

Here's the big list of bad boys you're gonna want to stay away from if you've got a problem with overeating:

  • Chocolate
  • Ice cream
  • French fries
  • Pizza
  • Cookies
  • Chips (that'd be "crisps" for our UK readers)
  • Cake
  • Buttered popcorn
  • Cheeseburgers
  • Muffins
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Gummy candy
  • Fried chicken
  • Soda
  • "Rolls" (presumably bread)

Some foods not considered to be highly processed also made the list. Among them are cheese, bacon, nuts, steak, eggs, and strawberries. 

Overall, however, the second part of the study, which looked at the foods a diverse group of people had most problems with, came up with its "recipe for disaster" that confirmed previous findings. The most addictive foods are those that are highly processed, and mess with the brain's reward system by adding refined carbs, fats, and sugars.

Are these addictive foods holding you hostage? How to fix your 'addiction-like behavior'

It's easy to get cravings for these foods, to start eating, and to not stop until you've had way more than you wanted to — causing guilt and physical discomfort along the way. However, there are ways to keep your cravings for unhealthy and sugary foods under control, and to break out of an unhealthy cycle in which addictive foods hold you hostage.

Increase your protein intake

Increasing the protein in your diet may help you with your cravings for processed foods, as it makes you feel full for longer. If you're having trouble with getting enough protein, you could try to have a protein shake every day. It's important to get some natural protein in your diet too, and good protein-rich foods include eggs, cheese, milk, tuna, salmon, and steak. 

Plan your meals in advance

You could try to plan what you're going to eat for the next few days. This way you know what meals you are going to have, and this will help your cravings go away. So, make a meal plan for the next week or so and stick to it. If your pre-panned meals satisfy you, you might not eat those unhealthy foods you've been craving.

Drink more water

When you feel thirsty, it's easy for you to confuse it for hunger. Once you get a craving for a certain food, drink a large glass of water, wait a good 10 minutes, and see if you are still hungry. The cravings might go away, since your body may not have been hungry in the first place. Drinking enough water is always good.

Think about something else, not the cravings

It's hard to think about other things when you're just thinking about that delicious but terrible processed food. Try taking a walk or reading a book. Try to not focus on the cravings and set your mind on other activities. 

Make sure you're getting enough sleep

If you aren't sleeping enough, that can lead to strong cravings. Studies have proven that people who don't get enough sleep are more likely to pile on the pounds compared to those who had their eight hours. How much sleep are you getting?