• Dr Sally Norton


We all know that junk food is no good for us but it can be so difficult to resist.

It is all around us, ready to tempt us when we are hungry, tired or just plain fed-up.

Faced with the miserable prospect of trying to avoid temptation forever, many of us just resign ourselves to our ‘weak willpower’ and give in.

What if we don’t need to fight it forever though? If we knew that it would get easier and easier to resist could we muster enough willpower to fight back for a bit longer? It may make it easier to keep going.

Here are 3 reasons why it could get easier and easier to fight junk-food temptation…

1. Sugar is an addiction - so treat it like one

More evidence is building to show that sugar is addictive to some degree. It has a similar effect to drugs like cocaine – triggering the release of dopamine – a feel-good hormone from the brain. Problem is that the more sugar we have, the less dopamine we seem to produce – leaving us looking for more sweetness to hit that high. Understanding that you may have a proper addiction may actually help you to understand why you may be constantly craving it...and that may help you tackle it. That can be by gradually reducing your dependence on it, slowly cutting back. For some that is not enough and only going ‘cold-turkey’ and ditching all sugar can help them beat that addiction.

But, like beating other addictions such as nicotine the cravings definitely decline – making it much easier to say no when the doughnuts are passed around.

2. MRI scans show we can change our brains hardwiring

​​High fat / high sugar / high calorie foods seem to stimulate our brain’s ‘reward centre’, triggering the feel-good chemicals that I have mentioned can lead to a type of addiction. Whilst just a very small study that needs further confirmation, some recent research has suggested that we can retrain our brains to enjoy healthier food.

This study compared two groups of people – one group had followed a 6-month programme that taught healthy eating behaviour and provided support for weight loss; the other group had no access to the programme. The healthy-eating group lost weight after 6 months, whereas the other group gained weight…no surprise there. What was interesting, though, were the results of MRI brain scans performed after 6 months. The scans of the people on the healthy eating programme showed that the reward centre in the brain was stimulated more when they were shown images of healthy food, when compared to the group who hadn’t been on the programme. It proves we were not born to see doughnuts and chips as a ‘reward’ and can re-programme our brains towards desiring healthier treats. So stick with it!

3. Junk food reduces our desire for varied foods

​​A recent study on rats showed that when they had overeaten a particular type of healthy food, they

stopped responding to it – naturally protecting them against overeating and encouraging them to try different foods. Makes sense – nature has developed an in-built mechanism to ensure we eat a healthy, varied and balanced diet – not gorging on one particular food-stuff.

Rats fed on processed foods such as pies, cakes, dumplings and cookies, however, didn’t stop responding to cues for this type of food – happily continuing on their junk-food diet, despite it being higher in calories and gained 10% in weight. They had lost their in-built cue to eat a varied diet. Does the same effect occur in humans?

Well, the researchers think it is likely…and, let’s face it, as some people exist on virtually nothing but pizza, burgers and chips, they are probably right. The good news for us, is that by steering clear of these processed foods wherever possible, our body’s natural mechanism for encouraging us to eat a balanced diet stands more chance of steering us in the right direction.

So, tough as it is saying no to those cakes, burgers or sweets, the latest studies are suggesting that it could get easier with time. Stick with it – you never know, but in a few months time you may be salivating at the thought of a crisp, fresh, vitamin and protein-packed chicken and avocado salad and not giving the pizza and ice-cream a second thought!