The Psychology Behind Why We Crave Junk Food

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One of the first steps to improving our health & fitness is to decrease the amount of junk food we consume. Unhealthy snacks don’t just cause weight problems. They can lead to physical issues, such as cardiovascular disorders, and even mental issues, such as depression. However, it’s not as easy to avoid junk food as we would like because the cravings are so strong.

Understanding the psychology of junk food cravings can help us make more nutritious decisions.

Why one bite is never enough

Steven Witherly has studied the addiction of elements of the human diet for two decades. The two factors which he found led to strong food cravings are the following:

  1. Senses of taste, smell, and touch. The last of those senses may seem out of place. However, orosensation – what something feels like inside the mouth – is critical for the eating experience. Characteristics such as texture and crunchiness give us pleasure when they fall within certain parameters.
  2. Makeup of macronutrients. Weight loss can be difficult when you are up against the “perfect balance” of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins created by food companies. To increase customer loyalty, snack food firms mix ingredients to stimulate your brain and biochemistry from multiple angles.

Building cravings in consumers

Several components of typical junk food are designed to make the eating experience more enjoyable so that the food becomes a consistent part of your diet:

  1. Contrast – Junk foods often combine two different flavor and texture combinations. Typically the outside is crunchy, and the inside is soft and pliable. Examples include Oreos and Combos. Twix and Kit Kat offer the same combination, in the reverse.
  2. Salivation – Food makers also want to generate as much saliva in your mouth as possible. Saliva allows all taste buds access to the food. Salad dressing, butter, and sauces of all types help the food accomplish a broader reach in your mouth.
  3. Fast melting – The speed with which a food dissolves in your mouth can be a major challenge for health & fitness as well. When a food melts quickly in response to your saliva, your brain tends to miscalculate how much you are eating. According to Witherly, Cheetos exemplify this junk food trait.

Weight loss can be challenging because of cravings, especially when foods are specifically designed to keep us hooked. Our multifaceted medical program – drawing on nutritional, medical, and physical approaches – creates a broad plan to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.

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