After you’ve double-fisted Cheetos, you’re probably looking for an excuse to explain that empty bag. Unfortunately, you can’t equate those salty snacks with a compulsion: A review from the U.K concluded that the food you eat doesn’t have any addictive properties. However, you might be able to blame the way eating makes you feel.
According to the review, there is no sufficient evidence to support the idea that any particular food, nutrient, ingredient, or additive--with the possible exception of caffeine--can cause changes in the brain to trigger future consumption, as is the case with substances like drugs or alcohol. So there’s nothing chemical in sugar, fat, or salt that makes us need to come back for more.
But food does exert a pull on us. Tasty high-caloric options like candy or pizza can motivate us to eat even when we’re not hungry, said study author John Menzies. That’s because we find food rewarding, and we gain pleasure from the taste and feeling of fullness that eating provides. (Chow down on these Everyday Snacks to Add More Protein to your diet.)
What’s beyond doubt is that humans have a sweet tooth, but it’s the pleasure of eating, not the neurochemical activity of sugar, that drives this,” he said.
It’s just like other pleasurable activities that trigger addictive-like behavior, like sex or gambling. The brain associates positive feelings with eating, which drives the desire to chow down.
Do This To Control Your Overeating
The good news: Because the “addiction” is related to the act of eating, not something inside your favorite snacks, you have the ability to control its belt-busting implications. And the best way to do this is to work on modifying your behavior and your environment, said Sofia Rydin-Gray, the director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center. (Curb your appetite with these 4 Weird Ways to Beat Food Cravings.)
You don’t have to necessarily take yourself away from settings where you know you’re prone to stuffing your face--like sprawled on the couch in front of Sons of Anarchy--as long as you run some snack interference first, she says.
Try not to keep your trigger food readily available, because if you see it in front of you, you’re more likely to automatically grab it and start chowing down, she says. Instead, ask yourself what it is about that food that starts you salivating. Then, plan out a healthier snack that includes those same attributes. (Try munching one of The 20 Best Snacks for Men, to supplement vital nutrients in-between your regular meals.)
Let’s say your snack of choice is a big bag of chips. If it’s the saltiness you’re after, swap out that bottomless vat with a pre-portioned serving of salted nuts. It’ll help satisfy the same craving, and portioning it out beforehand means you won’t mindlessly eat more than you planned.
Don’t try to go from Doritos to celery sticks, though. Choosing something just because it’s “healthy”--especially if it’s not what you’re craving and you don’t even really like it--can make you feel frustrated and unsatisfied. This could trigger an emotional eating episode later on, said Rydin-Gray. (Check out these 7 Healthy Snacks That Suppress Your Appetite and help you get a hold on your hunger.)