SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – One of the biggest challenges many of us face this time of year is eating healthy. It seems there’s no shortage of goodies that aren’t exactly good for you and can actually be addictive.
Back in the 1970s there was a hit record called “Junk Food Junkie”. It turns out that song title is more accurate than many of us may think. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller turned to a local nutrition expert for advice to overcome junk food addiction and withdrawal.
Call it the temptation section of the supermarket with no shortage of cookies and donuts by the dozen or bags and bags of chips, pretzels and other snacks. But whether it’s sweet or savory, they all share one thing in common. They’re processed foods which can give you a genuine junk food high that can become addictive. Kathy Alfieri, RD, LDN is a Clinical Nutrition Manager Morrison Healthcare at Commonwealth Health Moses Taylor Hospital and said, “When we eat something very high in sugar or very high in salt it causes us to crave more fatty, salty, sugary foods.”
More than just your taste buds are tantalized. A recent study in the journal “Appetite” finds junk food messes with your brain. Trying to give up the goodies can cause real withdrawal symptoms. “They’re the same as the symptoms of withdrawal from heroin or cocaine,” said Ms. Alfieri.
Those symptoms can trigger mood swings, anxiety, headaches and sleep disturbances. Ditching junk food can be difficult especially during the first few days. Ms. Alfieri said, “That’s your serious craving period, yes. So once you get past the five days.”
It takes more than willpower according who according to Ms. Alfieri says starts with a healthy food strategy. “You should have a snack about four hours after eating a meal so you don’t get to that point of being super hungry. So, something like sunflower seeds or walnuts or a fresh piece of fruit or even yogurt.” Even grazing on oat cereal which is high in fiber and low in added sugars can satisfy your appetite.
Ms. Alfieri also recommends drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep. “These are things that help combat the fatigue, the tired, the sad, the depression.”
Watch out for foods you may think are healthy but actually aren’t. Check the labels and avoid calorie dense, nutrient poor choices. Ms. Alfieri also recommends exercising, aroma therapy and doing things that make you happy or laugh to help break that junk food addiction.