The Junk Food Hangover
Do you wake up feeling terrible? This could be caused by a number of factors, but the first thing to look at should be the food you eat. You might be experiencing a “junk-food hangover,” a compelling reminder that we are what we eat.
Junk food is available everywhere, from convenience stores to drive-throughs to restaurants to supermarkets. Once you let your appetite override your discipline and bring these salty, sickly sweet, rancid trans fats-loaded products to your car, table or home, it’s only a matter of time before you consume them and experience their definite effects.
Digestive discomfort, cramping, gas and constipation are forceful signals that foods infused with artificial flavors and chemicals are never a good idea. Excess unhealthy fats pose several problems to the human body. The sheer amount of artificial trans fats and saturated fats added to many junk foods, sometimes more than 100 grams in one meal, can delay gastric emptying by 12 hours. Having food stick around the intestines for so long causes that bloated, gassy feeling that leads to indigestion or heartburn the next day (bonappetit.com).
The excessive amounts of salt also dehydrate your body. Your brain is 73 percent water, so dehydration causes brain tissue to shrink and pull away from the skull, causing pain. Dehydration also causes blood volume to drop, lowering oxygen flow and blood to the brain. In response, blood vessels dilate, leading to inflammation, swelling and more pain (Adapted-Nutrition.com).
Sugar and refined carbohydrates worsen the hangover misery. White breads, pastas, cereals and sugary drinks give you a surge of initial energy, but your blood sugar then drops, making you cranky, irritable and tired. Studies have even linked high-sugar diets with depression and cognitive impairment.
Permeating these salts, sugars and trans fats are numerous chemicals, either leeching from their polypropylene packaging or injected into the actual product during manufacturing. These chemicals exist to arrest and alter the natural processes of the food content. A recent study of people’s bodies found a shocking 55 chemicals circulating inside that could be identified—and 42 more that could not be identified (healthing.ca). Several studies find causal links between perfluorooctanoic acid substances, sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals,” and liver damage, endocrine disruption, immune disorders and cancer.
We know it’s bad for us. We call it “junk food.” But we keep eating it. Why? The bliss point. This is the term used by food manufacturing industrialists to refer to the cravings you get when you bite into a handful of chips, candy, fries or even a heavily processed entrée and taste just the right formula of salt, sugar and fat.
Researchers are also looking into the possibility that junk food may be even more than a craving. Some scientific studies have found that the chemical effects of these foods have addictive properties remarkably similar to those of hard drugs. They overstimulate the brain, causing it to release dopamine, a natural molecule, in unnatural amounts. This brings a sense of pleasure—and often an addiction.
As with narcotics and other drugs, in order to achieve the same pleasure that you did before, you need more junk food. This is called tolerance. If you’ve been eating junk food regularly and stop for awhile, you feel bad without your “fix.” This is called withdrawal. Tolerance and withdrawal are well-known effects of drug abuse, but such addictive disorders have also been associated with junk food. Junk food addiction is obviously different from drug addiction in many ways, but both harm quality of life and both increase your risk of premature death (Healthline.com).
A 2020 Royal Society Open Science study postulates that appetites change, cravings increase (even when you are not hungry), and moods are altered after only seven days of eating high-sugar and high-fat meals and snacks. In the longer term, too much junk food can have life-changing effects (ScienceDirect.com).
If you are the average person living in North America, ultraprocessed junk foods account for 60 percent of what you eat. This is why so many suffer junk-food hangovers, worsening overall health, reduced quality of life, lowered intelligence, decreased fertility and increased risk of death.
So how do you break the habit?
Treat junk food like the addictive substance that it is. Every time you eat, remember that you are not just satiating an appetite or killing a craving so that you can move on to other things: You are investing in your short-term and long-term health. Understanding the importance and effects of your food choices helps give you the motivation to deny yourself that sweet-salty-fatty “bliss point” and even to go through some withdrawal symptoms: lethargy, irritability, headaches, etc.
You might think, Withdrawal feels about the same as a junk-food hangover! But stick with it! Every time you resist the urge is a victory for strengthening your body, not to mention strengthening your discipline and character. It is worth it! The withdrawal symptoms will subside, and your energy, body weight and freedom from minor sicknesses and major diseases will improve.
If it’s too hard to abstain from eating junk food all at once, start with a definite, smaller first step. Depending on your situation, target cereals, cookies, candies, white bread, unhealthy salad dressings, soft drinks or drive-through food as your first objective. Cut them out completely, and replace them with healthier options like brown rice, steel-cut oatmeal, unprocessed meat cuts, vegetables, fruits, spring water, etc.
Let’s take chips and other crunchy junk food as an example. Start today by throwing any in your possession, even if it’s $10 or $20 worth, into the garbage. And from here on out, stop buying chips, permanently. This is a strong, definite move. That craving will come, so plan ahead what you will buy and where you will keep it so that it is handy. Plan your meals so that your mind, and not your appetite, decides what you will be eating. Use the money you used to spend on chips, and perhaps even a little extra, to buy your favorite variety of unsalted, unsweetened nuts or sliced vegetables or fruits.
Snacking on these substitutes might seem unsatisfying at first, but stick with it! Within a month or two, your taste buds will probably prefer these healthy options. Your body certainly will, from day one. With this habit started, you will be able to move on to the next objective. You will identify patterns and cravings. You will be able to pay attention to how healthy foods make you feel during and after a meal, and contrast them with how junk foods made you feel.
There is a cacophony of nutritional advice out there, and a lot of it is contradictory and confusing. But the main thing to keep in mind, whether you are starting out or you are continuing to improve your diet, is a basic axiom that Herbert W. Armstrong phrased as, “Eat only those natural foods that will spoil, and eat them before they do.” Even after you’ve overcome one junk food habit, then the next, then the next, you’ll still find this simple sentence to be one of the most effective rules of nutrition you’ll ever encounter. It will save you from many a junk-food hangover.