The alarming science of fast food addiction, why we crave the junk.

Food substance abuce

Addictive behaviours come in all shapes and sizes and across a wide range of substances, not least of which but perhaps the most benign, is  food addiction.

Food addictions, the way they evolve and the subsequent weight gain is a disturbing aspect of modern daily living.


I have discovered that I am totally addicted to grainwaves.  I have other ‘go to’ foods, but grainwaves give me chills.


Right now, I am salivating just thinking about them.


I can find myself in quite a fluster if I walk into the service station with every intention of walking out with my mandatory pack of grainwaves, only to find the shelf empty.  


My pulse quickens and I feel a wave of anxiety rising up from my knees to engulf me.


I get frustrated, frantically looking along the shelf and around the store (in case they have been moved), only to become angry when I cannot find them.  


Of course, I have the ability to talk myself down and after a few tense moments, I move to the pringles.


Yes, it is that bad.

Yes, it is completely stupid.  But, it is a reality.   Sad, I know. 🙂


I have made light of this, but food addiction is a real and debilitating problem in modern society and we really should take it seriously.  

Addiction can elicit a range of irrational emotions and after experiencing my grainwave moment of insanity, I can not even begin to imagine how it must feel to be slowly killing yourself due to your eating disorder or to be strung out from some of the terrible illicit drugs that many people are enslaved to.


Sometimes I feel as though, if given a choice between a pack of grainwaves or a date with Johnny Depp; I would choose grainwaves.


In reality, of course,  I would choose Johnny (probably) but it would not be an easy choice.


Causes of Craving


So why do we find ourselves craving these horrid danger foods?  Why don’t we crave an apple or a cucumber?  


I have craved cucumber in the past, but that is totally another story altogether. 😉


Science has revealed a number of interesting facts about our brain activity and what happens to us when we indulge in our junk food fetish.  


Basically the more junk we eat the less our brain naturally craves good varied foods and the more it craves only the junk foods.


So, if you eat a regularly diverse diet and occasionally indulge in ice-cream you’re fine.


But, if you start to eat ice-cream, for example, everyday or more than once every day, your brain waves start to alter and your good craving instincts get all messed up.

You start to only crave ice-cream.

And you start to become addicted to the junk.


If you think about our children and look at all the bad foods they are eating, even as toddlers (gross generalisation here), it is easy to see that we are loading them up in early life with dysfunctional brain activity.  They don’t stand a ‘fat’ chance.


Recently BBCTV previewed a documentary aimed at investigating the the biological triggers behind our obesity issues in Western Culture,  and what it is about certain foods that make them irresistible to us.



It turns out that the obvious culprits; Salt, Sugar, Fat, are not individually responsible.  Rather, it is the intricate combination of both that is the issue.  


More precisely it is the particular ratio of each that hold the key to our attraction to a particular food type.


The study used twin brothers, both Dr’s, to explore the effects of sugars and fats on their physiology.  


After a health baseline was established, both were given specific diets to follow and underwent exactly the same physical activity.  


Fats and sugars unite to break your will power


Now there was a whole lot of sciency testing done and some very interesting and slightly surprising results, like the way the higher sugar guy actually lost weight and the high fat guy almost got diabetes.


I have always assumed diabetes was related to too high a sugar diet.  Shows you what I know.


Of course at the end, neither was terribly healthy even if there was weight loss.


So don’t go on a high sugar diet thinking it will help you lose weight.


But this great and intriguing information doesn’t really explain why we are drawn to specific food types, in particular fast food.


Well, during the program they looked at the sugar/fat ratio and, I personally, found the results very interesting.


If you have higher fat or higher sugar ratios in the food substance you won’t necessarily crave that food type.  


It’s more about the ratio.


It is the 50:50 or 1:1 ration of fat:sugar that was the perfect ratio for choosing/craving a particular food type.


There were a team of rats who willingly volunteered their time and bodies to be tested in lab conditions.  They were tasked to eat a variety of food types with varied sugar;fat ratios.  Which they did to their best abilities.


It turns out that the rats that got ultra fat where those fed on cheesecake.


That’s right cheesecake has THE perfect ratio of fat:sugar to make it irresistible and ultra fattening.  Damn it.


The twin Dr’s also experimented with krispy kreme doughnuts, by offering a mixed box of treats to passers by on the street.


The vast majority chose the plain glazed doughnut over any of the fancier forms.  As it turns out, this particular doughnut contains the perfect fat:sugar ratio for desirability.


Salts also play a big part in food addiction.  We naturally crave salts.  


And, with the majority of fast foods having a high salt content we cannot resist and become easily addicted to the delicious tastes and aromas.


The book Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss gives us a great insight into how the food industry is helping us get hooked on junk.  You can check it out here:


We eat with our eyes, so the gun chefs of the world would lead us to believe.  And sure, if it looks good we are more likely to want to try it.  (of course I usually eat with my mouth, but I’m no expert).


We also eat with our sense of smell and equally, our taste buds play a big role.  


So if we try a food that looks amazing and totally sends our sense of smell and our taste buds into an orgasmic frenzy, we are likely to want to try that food again.  And again…and again…you get the drift.


Combine the sexiness of those smells and flavours with the perfect fat:sugar:salt ratios and you have a recipe for addiction.  Lusty, salivation inducing addiction.


And it can be as hard to beat as smoking.  


Until next time,

Stay safe.

Robyn Williams