Take your finger off the trigger foods!
Are you a junk food junkie? Do you find yourself craving a cheeseburger, or that delicious sugary donut? Food addiction is a real thing and there is some serious science behind it!
In this article, we explore the ‘why’s’ and the ‘what’s’ around trigger foods and how to avoid them.
“In the same way that some drugs pave the way for even harder ones, a weakness for a certain food can open the door to an avalanche of bad eating choices”, says Gary Wenk, Ph.D., author of Your Brain on Food. “Some foods are like gateway drugs," he says. "From your brain's viewpoint, there is no difference."
Whether you already have an addiction or you are starting to recognise your triggers, we are here to help!
What exactly is a trigger food?
Simply, trigger foods are a type of food that sets you off on a path of indulgence or overeating. These foods are usually mouth-watering, delicious things that are packed full of calories, sugar, fat and salt. Do not confuse these foods with your favourite meal or comfort food, which are often associated with positive emotions. Trigger foods cause a chemical reaction in your brain, which is why we have cravings and tend to want more and more.
Why do these foods trigger us?
"The brain responds to both sugar and fat by releasing endorphins," says Wenk. “Chemically, those feel-good compounds are similar to morphine and can have a biological impact similar to a shot of heroin—including causing you to crave another fix when the initial euphoria begins to fade.”
Not only does your brain and body become addicted to these feel-good feelings, but physiologically, tasting this type of food engages all your senses, your nervous system secretes insulin and your stomach muscles relax, meaning you have to eat more of them to feel satisfied.
This effect tends to happen almost exclusively with fatty and sugary foods because saturated fats in foods like bacon and cheese impair your brain's normal ability to regulate appetite and cravings, so you don't realize you're full until you're feeling over-full and a little sick. What's more, that effect on your appetite can last for up to three days, as it takes this long to flush those fats from your system.
How do I recognise trigger foods?
You might have a sweet-tooth or love your savoury snacks, but regardless of your personal favourite, our best advice is to avoid typical trigger foods entirely as a new addiction can creep up at any time.
These foods are public enemy number 1!
Any treat that is high in refined sugar like candy and chocolate is going to get you hooked as your body craves the sugar rush you get when consuming it.
Salty Snacks are usually always heavily processed and packed with carbs. Have you ever managed to only eat 2 or 3 chips from the bag?
Sodas and energy drinks are packed with high fructose corn syrup and loads of sugar. The brief energy boosts you receive from these drinks might be effective at the time, but it’s doing your body no favours and the high is short lived so expect the inevitable energy crash.
The texture and taste of fried food makes it a firm favourite amongst most people and it's one of the hardest foods to avoid. Everyone loves a big juicy burger after a night out, because of the effect it has on our body and the craving we have to feel full and satisfied.
Baked delights are really hard to avoid, especially after a hearty meal. Packed with carbs and sugar, these foods might make you feel satisfied at the time, but they will only have negative effects on your body in the long run.
What can I eat instead?
There are many nutritionally superior alternatives that you can eat to achieve that feel-good feeling we all crave. By swapping out the brief high for a longer lasting effect, you will see your overall health improve, your weight balance out and your general demeanor become less erratic.
Consider the following:
Swap the candy for dried fruit or a protein bar.
You can still chow down on a packet of crisps, but choose those made from kale or sweet potatoes. Tasty and healthy!
Instead of reaching for the red bull, try naturally flavouring some sparkling water. Innovative water bottles like the Flavour Bottle or The SmartLife Bottle allow you to choose your flavours and have a delicious refreshment, the healthy way!
Instead of frying your food in oil, consider investing in an air fryer or using virgin olive oil and sweet potato for that chip craving. Baking your favourite foods also offers you less calories!
You don’t need to avoid the baked goodies entirely, just be cognisant of what ingredients you are using. Swap out normal flour for almond flour, instead of using processed sugar, use stevia instead. These simple substitutions will lower the carbs and calories and make your treats less addictive.
Very simply, if you don’t eat junk food you won’t crave junk food. By understanding the science behind WHY you think you need these foods, you can begin to replace the narrative of you “denying yourself” and start practising healthier alternatives.
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