Why Can’t My Child Stop Eating Junk Food?

Have you ever wondered why there are some foods that your children or even you cannot help but eat regardless of how much you’ve already eaten and how full you already are? Do you know that some foods are so satisfying that they become addictive to those eating them. Rather like the person who has had one glass of wine so cannot say no to the second but for very different reasons. The reason for this addiction is actually quite complex but has a very simple name to describe it. There is in fact an exact combination of ingredients that hit your pleasure zones in such a way that you simply don’t get the signal that you have had enough.  The name of this problem (because that’s how I see it) is the “Bliss Point”. The reason I see it as a problem is that there are no foods in nature ie real foods with their own bliss point. The bliss point of a food is a manufactured and processed thing.

The bliss point of a particular food is derived by combining three nutrients that the human body is programmed to like i.e. fat, salt and sugar (because they were key to our survival in prehistoric times) in such a way as to make a food highly palatable. When we eat food that has been manufactured this way our taste bud receptors that link to the brain’s pleasure zone tell us how great this food tastes and tell us that we need more of it.  Think how moreish some crisps are or how delicious certain manufactured ice-creams taste.  It’s the combination of two or three of these nutrients together that’s the problem, not any one of them on their own.

The further issue is that those with the largest research budgets to look into these issues are not the farmers, the market stall owners, the restauranteurs and café owners who make all their own produce. The biggest budgets are with those companies making the most profit i.e. the large food manufacturers. The very same people who make junk food.

Food manufacturers spend a lot of money on making sure that their food products contain combinations of the three nutrients, fat, salt and sugar at the bliss point. Of course the outcome for food companies is that people will consume more and then buy more and they make a bigger profit.

From research we know that mice, for example, will work as hard to get to a meal of corn oil and sugar as they will to get to cocaine.  Whilst this experiment was carried out on mice we know that the human endorphins that are released when we eat ‘bliss point foods’ are those same chemicals released when we take opiates. The neurotransmitter dopamine then makes sure that we remember to repeat the endorphin-releasing behaviour because in that instant it made us feel good. This is why processed food companies place foods in obvious places such as supermarket or newsagent check-out’s, vending machines in sports centres and colleges. They know we will remember how ‘good’ we felt last time we ate that food, see it again and want to purchase and consume it asap.

This is what we need to be aware of when it comes to overeating or optimising processed foods over real foods and certainly it is something our children should be aware of too. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than explaining the tricks used by food manufacturers to encourage repeat consumption. It’s important to communicate that there may be no stop button where processed foods are concerned.


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