AustinPUG Health

AustinPUG Health

No matter why you’ve ended up here, it’s probably safe to say that you’ve got a love of junk food that you’d like to do away with. The good news is that you’ve arrived at the right place and with the right person – I’m something of a junk food junkie myself! Unfortunately, the bad news is that the process may be a little more intense than you’re expecting, though that can only serve to make your good results that much more rewarding.

Kicking your junk food habit means more than just choosing to swap out salty snacks and sweet treats for healthier options; it means completely rewiring your brain where eating is concerned!

Training Your Brain

Everything action that you commit, from breathing to driving, is a product of your brain, and every action that you commit has an effect on the brain. When an action is repeated over and over – becoming a habit – the brain compensates in any number of ways, becoming accustomed to the habit and learning to crave it – even need it.

This, of course, leads to more of the habitual activity, eventually allowing it to become an “addiction” – something your body needs on a regular basis in order to perform at a high level. If we were talking about a jogging addiction, this would be good news; unfortunately, though, we’re talking about junk food.

The good news is that you can rewire your brain to crave new foods and tastes. To accentuate this point, allow me to sidetrack into a short personal story.

The Simple Neurobiology of Taste

Growing up, I had a friend whose family practiced vegetarianism for religious reasons, and strictly. At 16 years old, after a lifetime of avoiding not only meat, but also junk food of any kind, save for the odd sweet as a weekend treat, my friend decided to join in with the rest of us in ordering a Big Mac. We made a big deal of this “coming of age,” encouraging him to join us in what we saw as a “normal” diet, and he eventually braved his way to the clerk and placed his order for a burger, looking over his shoulder the entire time, presumably fearful of his mother catching sight of it.

After sitting down and allowing us to egg him on a little more, he raised the burger to his mouth and took one large bite, chewing slowly as he inspected the taste and texture of the meat. After no longer than 10 seconds, he politely put a napkin to his face and relieved himself of the mouthful, looking quite disappointed as he explained to us that the sheer greasiness of the burger made him feel instantly ill, and that the taste was almost non-existent – I believe he called it “dull.”

As adults, my friend and I still chuckle about that afternoon from time to time, but the real value of the experience for me was in teaching me, and providing me with an example with which to teach others, that taste-response is learned and established over time. Just as my friend felt unable to make the jump from raw fruits and veggies and other healthy foods to a greasy, fried hamburger, junk food addicts feel similarly unable to forego treats in favor of more health-conscious options, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t impossible – it’s simply difficult, and you’ll need to let this difficulty be the antagonist that spurs your forward on your quest.

No Pain, No Gain

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, you’re not going to see results with any endeavor until you’ve felt a little misery, and kicking a junk food habit is no exception; in fact, the latest research shows that it is a great example of the rule.

A study conducted last year and published in the International Journal of Obesity looked at the dietary habits of adult male mice, measuring how their brains were affected by an unhealthy diet. Two groups of mice were separated, one being fed a junk food diet in which calories accounted for 58 percent of their overall fat intake, the other eating a more sensible diet where only 11 percent of calories consisted of fat. Each group ate their assigned diet for six weeks before it was replaced with their regular meals.

With their human-like diets behind them, the mice were next subjected to brain and behavior studies, and the results were very apparent: the mice who had enjoyed the high-fat diet suffered withdrawal symptoms akin to those seen in mice – and humans – who were kicking a hard drug habit. Changes in behavior included increased anxiety, a decrease in sociality, and hypersensitivity to stresses that they would otherwise handle with relative ease..

Sound familiar? Whether you’ve quit smoking, given up drinking alcohol, ended a drug habit, or denied yourself junk food, anyone with personal experience in ending an addiction can surely relate to what these poor mice were going through.

When Can I Expect Results?

Unfortunately, the complete answer to the question posed in the header above is a bit ambiguous, especially given just how varied junk food addictions can be. In the study detailed above, researchers found that most of the high-calorie-addicted mice were able to seemingly “reset” their way of thinking over about four weeks of healthy eating, but there were holdouts who continued to show signs of neurological trouble after that time, making the ability to predict the time when you will be “cured” impossible.

On the other hand, the short answer is much better: you can expect results immediately, so long as your expectations are reasonable! If you’re used to eating high-calorie junk food and give it up quickly, even cold turkey, the effects will be instantaneous on your health, giving you good reason to put up with the temporary symptoms of withdrawal as you experience a steady increase in health, including weight loss, improved mental well being, increased energy levels, and much more – all in the short term and continuing indefinitely.

With a more long-term view, you can expect major changes to nearly every aspect of your health and lifestyle, all of them positive. Assuming you’ve traded out your sweet tooth for a fruit and vegetable habit, the impact on your body will be quick and ever-evolving, improving the way you feel in subsequent stages that will help to keep you focused on your goals.

Whether you want to look better, feel better, or both, junk food doesn’t have to keep you from being the best you that you can be, but you’ll need to acknowledge the neurological impact of a junk food addiction and aid your brain in overcoming it.

In this case, as in many others, knowledge is power, and it can prove to be the tool that allows you to persevere on the tough road to better eating habits!

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