Vitacost asked Dr. Kantor– What recommendations do you have for someone who’s trying to kick their junk-food habit?

By: Dr. Keith Kantor

It is important to realize that junk food is addicting.  Yes, food especially foods that contain potent amounts of sugar, sodium and processed fats can be addicting- these foods stimulate the opiate receptors .Once the opiate receptors are stimulated they release chemicals that go to the frontal cortex in the brain and cause dopamine to be released. This is the same mechanism that is used by drugs and alcohol. Aside from the physical addiction to food, there is the emotional connection to food that is also addicting, people use food for coping, soothing, relaxation and even simple routines that they enjoy. Examples of these routines include doughnuts on Saturday mornings with the kids, beer and pizza date nights, ice cream after practice, etc.

Food originally was not processed and contained only natural occurring fats, sugars and sodium that the body was made to use for metabolism and for optimal energy. Modern technology has processed foods so much with potent amounts of sugar in the form of syrups, fats in the form of hydrogenated oils and sodium that when we taste these processed foods our body has a “high” like euphoric feeling since it stimulates the opiate receptors which causes dopamine to be released similar to a drug abusers response.

The first step to overcoming a food addiction is becoming self-aware and realizing that food may play a negative role in your life. If you find yourself binge eating or eating food when you’re not hungry you may have a food addiction.

Some simple steps are to replace your unhealthy food choices with healthy unprocessed options like fruit instead of candy, nuts instead of chips, or 70% dark chocolate instead of processed candy bars. Ensure that you are eating a balanced diet rich in healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, quality protein and whole unprocessed carbohydrates. If your diet is packed with optimal nutrients, your cravings will reduce simply because your opiate receptors will not be stimulated and hormones like insulin levels will be in optimal range.

In addition to awareness and healthy food swaps reach out to a qualified counselor or health professional that specializes in behavior modification if you feel like your efforts are not working.

  •  Develop a meal and snack schedule and adhere to the routine daily. This will reduce cravings while keeping the body in a state of balance.
  • Aim to eat 9-11 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Preferably a ratio of one fruit to three vegetables. This keeps fiber intake at optimal levels, and provides vitamins and minerals in their most raw form.
  • Drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of stable alkaline water (Aqua OH-) daily. This will promote optimal organ function, electrolyte balance, reduce inflammation and reduce cravings.
  • Include a high quality source of protein, a heart healthy fat and fibrous carbohydrate at each meal.
  • A high quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, B-complex, vitamin D, omega 3 fish oil, and a probiotic are all recommended to take daily with meals for optimal absorption. More specific supplements and herbs can be recommended individually based on assessment and laboratory values.
  • Get regular exercise, at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
  • Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night.