CheetosHave you ever felt out of control with your eating?  Like you just couldn’t stop even though you wanted to and knew you should?

If so, you probably felt a certain amount of guilt, or even shame, about how much you eventually did eat.  That guilt made you feel bad about your own ability for self-control, and that, coupled with a food-hangover, made you feel pretty terrible in general.  Physically and emotionally.  You wouldn’t be alone if this turned into a destructive cycle that brought you back again and again for that very same food, followed by guilt and depression.  Perhaps this even happened with seemingly healthy or “diet” foods.  Even worse!

A fascinating article came out recently in the New York Times Magazine called The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food that explains why it’s so hard to put down the snack bag – and it’s NOT your lack of willpower.  I just want to say that again, and in obnoxious all-caps: IT’S NOT YOUR LACK OF WILLPOWER.

It’s been known for quite a while that sugar and fat are addictive – this article in Scientific American describes how rats, given access to high-fat foods, “showed some of the same characteristics as animals hooked on cocaine or heroin–and found it hard to quit even when given electric shocks”.  In non-technical terms, when you eat high-fat and high-sugar foods, your brain releases chemicals (neurotransmitters) that make you happy.  This makes you more likely to eat that food again.  After a few times you become desensitized to that food “high” and need more to get the same level of satisfaction.  Therefore you eat more and more.  It works just like drugs, with [...]