DR.  MICHAEL MOSLEY: I’m addicted to sugary fast food – and this is how I deal with it

DR. MICHAEL MOSLEY: I’m addicted to sugary fast food – and this is how I deal with it

DR. MICHAEL MOSLEY: I’m addicted to sugary fast food – and this is how I deal with it

Despite everything I know and say about the health effects of junk food, there are certain foods that once I start eating, I just can’t stop—chips, chocolate, and biscuits.

If there is a pack of biscuits in the house, then I won’t just eat one or two but scoff a lot.

And as for the milk chocolate, well, there are times when I’ve broken off an entire bar and thrown it in the bin so I wouldn’t eat it — only to find myself digging around for it minutes later.

A particularly bad point was when I ate my then six-year-old daughter’s Easter egg. Now she is 23 years old, but she still hasn’t forgiven me.

The idea that you can be ‘addicted’ to food has been controversial – with arguments against it including that food doesn’t change how the brain works the way alcohol or drugs do.

But a team from the University of Michigan in the US recently argued in the journal Addiction that highly processed sugary foods such as ice cream, chocolate, donuts and biscuits should be considered addictive in the same way that tobacco is.

And that’s because, like cigarettes, some foods trigger intense urges and cravings to the point that you’ll keep eating them even though you know that doing so increases your risk of life-threatening diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

DR.  MICHAEL MOSLEY: I’m addicted to sugary fast food – and this is how I deal with it

The idea that you can be ‘addicted’ to food has been controversial – with arguments against it including that food doesn’t change how the brain works the way alcohol or drugs do

Researchers also point out that highly processed foods can cause changes in the brain that are similar in magnitude to nicotine.

Something like this happened to my friend, Dr. Chris van Tulleken, when he went on a 80 percent ultra-processed diet for a month for a BBC documentary.

His diet included items like cocoa-flavored breakfast cereal, chicken nuggets, and microwave lasagna.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he gained 6.5kg (more than a stone), but he also craved more and more junk food.

And the scans showed that in that short time, eating all that junk had literally rewired his brain — there were many new neural pathways, many of which connect the reward centers and the cerebellum, the area that controls automatic behavior.

His new diet seems to have reprogrammed him to seek out and eat even more of that junk food on autopilot. Which is good news if you’re a food producer, but not so good news for the rest of us.

If you accept that some foods are addictive, then what are the worst offenders?

In 2015, in another University of Michigan study, 120 college students were asked to complete the Yale Food Addiction Scale (a measure of how addictive certain foods are to you) and rank 35 foods according to how addictive each one was to them.

Unsurprisingly, chocolate topped the list of ‘most addictive foods’, followed by ice cream, fries, pizza, biscuits, chips, cake, buttered popcorn and cheeseburgers.

Somewhere in the middle are cheese, bacon and nuts, while at the bottom are salmon, brown rice, cucumber and broccoli.

So what do addictive foods have in common?

Well, for one thing, they’re highly processed, designed to be absorbed quickly, and give your brain an almost instant rush of dopamine (a brain chemical associated with reward). They are also a mixture of fat and carbohydrates.

And not just any old mixture. Generally speaking, whether it’s chocolate or chips, a cake or a cheeseburger, they all consist of roughly 1g of fat to 2g of carbs.

It seems to be a ratio that we humans find particularly overwhelming.

At the top of the 'most addictive food' list was chocolate, followed by ice cream, French fries, pizza, biscuits (photo), chips, cake, buttered popcorn and cheeseburgers

At the top of the ‘most addictive food’ list was chocolate, followed by ice cream, French fries, pizza, biscuits (photo), chips, cake, buttered popcorn and cheeseburgers

To see if you’re ‘addicted’ to a particular food, try my quiz (right), adapted from the Yale Food Addiction Scale.

So what can you do if you’re addicted to sugary fast food?

First, make sure you don’t keep it in the house or you’ll eat it.

Next, look for alternatives that might, at least partially, satisfy your cravings; I have found that switching from milk to dark chocolate helps a bit as I still get the chocolate hit but with less sugar and therefore less delicious.

I also find that eating an apple or pear can sometimes satisfy that sweet craving.

Another trick I use is ‘surfing on impulse’, which helps the cravings pass. Surfing the urge means that instead of trying to fight it, I try to deal with it by drinking a big glass of water, practicing deep breathing, and trying to focus on other things. It usually takes about 30 minutes before I regain control.

Seek support from family and friends. I’m lucky that my wife Clare doesn’t have a sweet tooth, so if we get a box of chocolates as a gift, she either gives it as a gift or distributes the boxes in small quantities.

After all, when I’m sleep-deprived, I crave sugary carbs, and a lot of them.

In a study published earlier this year in the journal Sleep, nearly 100 teenagers were asked to reduce their sleep to 6.5 hours a night for a week. During that week, they ate much more sugary, high-carbohydrate foods than usual, perhaps because they were unconsciously looking for a quick burst of energy to keep them going.

So, once again, the message is to make sure you get enough sleep.

ARE YOU ADDICTED TO CERTAIN FOODS?

Answer the following questions. More than three ‘yes’ answers and you could be in trouble.

1. Once I start eating these foods, I can’t stop and end up eating a lot more than I intended.

2. I continue to eat this food even when I am no longer hungry.

3. I find myself craving these foods when I’m stressed.

4. If it is not in the house, I will go to the nearest store that sells it.

5. I hide this food so that even my relatives do not know how much I eat.

6. Eating causes anxiety and feelings of self-loathing and guilt.

7. Even though I no longer enjoy eating it, I continue to do so.

8. I tried to give up this food, but I couldn’t.

Listening to the sounds of birds can lift your mood

As it gets colder, wetter and darker, I make a special effort to go for a walk in the morning. It helps that we have a dog, Tari, who gets excited when I walk towards the front door.

Walking, especially in green areas, is really good for your mental and physical health.

In Japan, where I recently filmed, they have the concept of ‘shinrin-yoku’, or forest bathing — spending time in forests and woodlands, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells to reduce stress.

Where I live there are lots of magnificent red kites (pictured) flying through the sky, with their distinctive meow

Where I live there are lots of magnificent red kites (pictured) flying through the sky, with their distinctive meow

You also have the benefit of inhaling phytoncides, essential oils produced by trees that strengthen our immune system.

Another advantage is seeing and hearing birds.

Where I live there are many magnificent red kites flying through the sky with their distinctive meow.

When I see them, my heart soars and it seems I’m not alone. More than 1,200 people participated in a recent study of the effects of birds on mental health.

Using an app designed by researchers at King’s College London, volunteers reported whether they could see or hear birds and answered questions about their mental state.

A study has shown that bird life can affect how we feel, especially in those who suffer from depression.

Another good reason to put on your jackets and explore nature.

Nits are an age-old problem

Our children have grown up and left home and I miss them.

What I don’t miss are the little friends they brought from elementary school. I’m talking about ears.

I was reminded of this by recent research by archaeologists in Israel who discovered that an ivory comb more than 3,000 years ago was inscribed with these immortal verses: ‘May this tusk root out the lice from the hair and beard.’

The oldest known sentence, written in the world’s first alphabet, turns out to be a guide to getting rid of lice.

The oldest known sentence, written in the world's first alphabet, turns out to be a guide to getting rid of lice (photo)

The oldest known sentence, written in the world’s first alphabet, turns out to be a guide to getting rid of lice (photo)

Archaeologists know that the comb was actually used for this purpose because there were nits between its teeth.

There are many special potions to get rid of lice, but a study by researchers at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium found that regular conditioner, a comb and patience are your best weapons.

If you’re worried that robots will one day take over the world, you might be encouraged by the fact that even the most advanced artificial intelligence (AI) systems sometimes need a nap.

We humans need sleep to consolidate our memories – but it turns out that a new type of artificial intelligence, called spiking neural networks, which closely mimics the workings of the human brain, also needs downtime if it wants to learn and remember what it’s learned.

In the picture: the robot Walker UBTech Robotics Inc.  plays Chinese chess during the 2021 World Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Shanghai

In the picture: the robot Walker UBTech Robotics Inc. plays Chinese chess during the 2021 World Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Shanghai

Researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US have shown that if they don’t get the equivalent of a good night’s sleep, they become unstable.

Researchers suspect the same will be true for androids and other AI machines created in the future.

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