Every day we are overwhelmed with various weight loss strategies and every day many of them hit home because, honestly, most Americans could stand to be a lot more healthier than they are.
Programs such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, VLCD (very low calorie diet), and Atkins work for some, but also either cost more money, are too complex, or leave you going to bed hungry.
When it comes down to it, the biggest problem in our society is the consumption of junk food. Items like candy bars, ice cream, potato chips, pizza, and fast food provide very little nutritional value and are high in fat and carbs. The funny thing is, most of us know that. Yet we continue to chow down because they taste good and we have trained our minds and bodies to think that we need them or that we deserve them.
A few years ago, researchers used rats in a junk food study. They fed the rats unlimited high-calorie foods such as cheesecake, chocolate, and sausage and the rats gained lots of weight, quickly becoming obese. Eventually it became an addiction. Even when the rats knew they would receive an electric shock to their foot if they kept eating (they were warned by a flash of light), they continued to do so. Eating the junk food was worth more than the unpleasant consequence they would receive.
At the same time, another set of rats was fed a healthy well-balanced diet with only small amounts of junk food. Their weight gain was minimal and when they were warned the shock was coming, they knew to stop eating.
As if this wasn't enough evidence, when the overweight rats were denied their beloved junk food and were given healthier foods (like the second group of rats), they stopped eating almost everything for weeks.
"They went into voluntary starvation," said Paul Kenny, author of "Is Obesity an Addiction?"
Of course, humans aren't rats, but researchers say that a diet heavy in highly processed foods could cause changes in the brain. This mirrors other studies done on rats who were given drugs such as cocaine.
"A hallmark of drug addiction is that it leads to changes in how the brain's reward system works," Kenny said. "Addiction is a loaded term, but in this case, there is evidence of addiction-like adaptations."
Much of this has to do with the dopamine D2 receptors in the brain.
"What we think is happening is that, as you become obese over a period of time, the D2 receptors go down, which plays a major role in becoming a compulsive eater," Kenny said.
Other studies have tested rats who were given a regular diet for five days and then switched them to a chocolate-flavored diet high in sugar. When the sugary food was taken away, the rats showed signs of high anxiety.
Of course, there are other factors that come into play, but cutting back on junk food intake is never a bad idea considering the fact that these foods, because of their ingredients, not only cause obesity but can lead to heart problems, cancer, and weakened immune system, and a lower sex drive.
Though it's not necessary, in most cases, to eliminate all junk foods completely from your diet, reducing the amount of junk food consumed can also lead to weight loss and a healthier, more fitness-aware, lifestyle.
Image via Thinkstock