Breaking The Junk Food Addiction

4. Breaking The Junk Food Addiction

4.1 The Psychological Appeal of Junk Food

We cannot blame the entire junk food problem on the manufacturers and advertisers of these products. After all, if people did not eat such foods, they would never be kept in the marketplace. But people do eat junk foods. And they eat them almost compulsively, without regard to their health or to the innate harmfulness of these foods.

Why do junk foods exercise such a stranglehold on America’s nutritional well-being? Primarily because such foods are psychologically addictive. A habitual use of junk food occurs not because the food is fulfilling any physiological need, but because they answer some psychological need. People eat non-nutritious, worthless foods purely for emotional and psychological reasons.

Psychological studies have shown that food is the single most powerful emotional stimulus in our lives. We use foods as much to cheer us up, to fight depression, to reward ourselves, to indulge ourselves as we do to satisfy any hunger, real or imagined. And because we often eat for emotional reasons, we often choose foods that are associated with specific emotional experiences. Unfortunately, such foods are often “pleasure” foods or junk foods.

“Most people do not eat foods because they are good for them,” says Dr. Robert S. Harris, a professor of nutritional biochemistry at MIT, “But because the foods appeal to their appetite, to their emotions, to their soul.”

Junk foods have a strong appeal to the primitive and infantile emotions. They are usually very sweet, very rich, and very filling. They remind us of our first rich and sweet food, mother’s milk. They take the place of the natural sweets, like fruits, that our sweet tooth craves.

Junk foods are often the foods that our parents gave us for being “good”—ice cream, candy, cookies. Consequently, when we have been “good,” we still reward ourselves with these foods. It is an early conditioning that persists long into adulthood.

It is interesting to observe that junk food is the single largest class of pollutants that modern man inflicts upon himself. Forget about air pollution, cigarette smoke, contaminated water, radiation, or so on. It is the junk food eaten everyday by almost every person in this country that is the biggest source of internal pollutions. Now psychologically, this is an interesting situation.

Junk foods, besides being a way to reward ourselves, now also become a way to punish ourselves. People who are depressed and who have a low self-esteem often eat health-destroying foods in an effort to punish themselves for being unworthy or for having committed imagined wrongs. Junk food becomes for these people a socially-sanctioned form of suicide.

A successful avoidance and elimination of junk food from the diet requires efforts from two sides. First, a barrage of nutritional information and hard facts about the destructiveness of these foods must be obtained. Second, the person’s psychological state must be evaluated and improved so that this addiction can be exposed and eliminated forever.

4.2 The Economic Benefits of Avoiding Junk Food

Nutritional arguments for the elimination of junk food may not be effective enough to wean people away from a poor diet. Almost everyone, however, understands the benefits of saving money. Eliminating junk food not only results in better health, but it means a real savings in the amount of money spent every day.

Let’s look at the typical costs for a junk food habit for the average person. During a week, every person in this country is calculated to consume, on the average; the following amounts of junk food:

One Week of Junk Food And Us Cost

  • 7 bottles of soda
  • 1 package of gum
  • 2 quarts of ice cream
  • 2 ounces of snack chips
  • 1 dozen doughnuts
  • 1 pound of cookies or sweets
  • 6 ounces of candy

1982 costs for such foods: $16

Notice that the above does not take into consideration any fast food eaten out or convenience foods prepared (such as frozen desserts, sugared cereals, etc.) The average spent on such foods per week varies greatly, but a conservative estimate of the costs of such foods per week is around $18.

Not only do these junk foods and fast foods cost money to eat, but the after-effects of consuming such foods often results in additional money being spent. Indigestion, headaches, colds, hemorrhoids, colitis, and many other ailments may be traced to junk food consumption. The average person may spend another $5 per week just on “medicine cabinet” remedies or over-the-counter drugs for these illnesses that result from such foods.

A year of junk food eating also typically results in about six new cavities and a tooth needing capping or pulling, according to figures from Army dentists. This translates into an average $10 per week for dental care.

We still do not know the costs of medical expenses that accumulate because junk food eaters go to their doctors, nor can we accurately figure in how many lost days of work result from such a diet. Even so, the total costs of eating junk food for a year are impressive. Consider these ‘figures:

Annual Costs of a Junk Food Diet

Junk foods $832
Fast foods $936
Drugs and Medication $260
Dental Bills $520
Medical Bills (estimate) $250
Days lost from work (estimate) $350
Total yearly loss of income from junk foods $3,148

By eliminating junk foods from the diet, a person would realize enough yearly savings to purchase a new car every three years. He or she would have more energy, a higher level of health and well-being, and literally extra years to enjoy such benefits. No one really knows how much junk foods shorten the lifespan, but it would probably not be unrealistic to use the same figures that are often quoted for cigarette smokers. Every cigarette smoked means a 15-minute decrease in your life. Junk foods, with all their poisons and additives, may be more harmful than smoking and it would not be unreasonable to assume for every bag of cookies or quart of ice cream, you’re knocking off hours, days, and weeks of your life.

Understand that these figures are speculative and have no sound basis in hard research simply because no one has had an opportunity to study the long-term effects of eating junk foods. We are the first generation of guinea pigs for the high-sugar, high-salt, high-fat and high-poison junk food diet.

Regardless, it is painfully obvious that people who consume junk foods not only steal money from themselves and their families, but also lay the foundation for expensive and painful suffering in the years to come. Can any type of food or sensual pleasure be worth these costs? Is a chocolate chip cookie or a scoop of ice cream or a diet soda worth $3000 plus a year?

The next time someone says to you, “I’m just dying for a piece of that cake or pie,” you should let them know that that is just precisely what they are doing, and they are also paying dearly for this “privilege.”

4.4 Kicking The Habit

As we have seen, the junk food problem is not simply one of nutrition. Good nutrition is easy to teach, but is only partially effective in getting people away from their junk food habits.

People must also be made aware of the economic and psychological aspects of eating junk food. This lesson should help you educate others who are ready to abandon the typical high junk food diet of most Americans.

First, teach the person the economic facts of life about junk foods.

  1. Junk foods are very expensive to eat in terms of the actual nutrition provided. Most junk foods have only about 10% of the food you are paying for. The rest is for pretty packaging, promotion, advertising and profits.
  2. Junk foods cost you twice. Once when you pay the overinflated prices for them and again when you pay the costs of ill health that they produce.
  3. A typical overfed American family can save anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a year if they eliminate all fast foods and convenience foods from their diets. This saving results from the actual costs of the junk food, the sick time lost because of them, and the incidental expenses of eating such foods.

Second, the person must be made aware of the psychological reasons for junk food addiction. He should be told that most eating patterns are based on emotional and not rational decisions. Foods as a reward or punishment should not be used—neither for children nor adults.

Negative eating habits and poor choices sometimes result from a lack of self-esteem or self-worth. A person addicted to junk food may have other serious problems connected with the personality or with social behavior. To eliminate junk foods from such a person’s diet, he or she must also embark upon an overall health program of improvement. They must view themselves in a different light, and consider themselves worthy of good health and sickness-free living.

Third, children are especially vulnerable to junk foods. Outside of rational explanations and setting a good example, you can wean children away from junk foods with healthy substitutes. Sweet dried fruits can replace candies. Fresh juices or blended fruits can take the place of sugary drinks. Realize that most children want the sweetness of junk foods because they have a natural sweet tooth and demand for high-carbohydrate foods that can supply them with energy. In this case, give them plenty of natural carbohydrates with fresh fruits, dried fruits and occassional nuts and seeds.

The way to fight junk food addiction is through education. Tell your friends, your family and your clients about the nutritional inadequacies of these foods. Let them see the economic harm that also comes from consuming such foods. An approach to this problem on several levels—nutritional, economic, and psychological—can help most people end their romance with junk food and give them years of healthy and illness-free living.

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