I am at times both health maven and junk food junkie. It, of course, depends upon the mood. Right now I am in a cycle of diet and health focus, so I am doing my best to avoid junk food. But as is the cycle of life, I imagine I will once again fall into the clutches of fast foods and a maddening desire to satisfy a genetically inherited sweet tooth.
At times, I wonder if because of my sensitivity or heightened sensory awareness, does this make me more prone to indulge in the pleasures of junk food? Is it just about the sensation of taste, smell and mouth feel or is there brain chemistry involved as well. This week’s topic is about the HSM and being junk food junkies.
Ever since I was a kid, I have been a bit of a junkie for the foods that today we know contribute to multiple health issues. It seemed I could soothe a disappointment or overcome a hurt feeling with a sugary soda (Pepsi) or a sweet and crunchy candy (Chick-o-stick). It was always seemed to be a reliable way to soothe raw emotions.
I grew up as a tall and skinny kid, active and always in motion, so eating junk food never dealt me the same misfortunes of those that gained extra weight with over consumption of sugar. Back then High Fructose Corn Syrup was not as prolific as it is today, so I had the good fortune of most of my generation of consuming good ol’ straight sugar, made from beets or cane. This only lessened the blow by a degree or two, but I do think kept us from becoming a generation of obese sugar junkies.
Today things are different. Junk food is designed with the intent of making you addicted or as the manufacturers would prefer saying -- craving more or their product. Their foods and I use that term loosely, are specifically designed to appeal to the brain and the senses. The appeal is more than a quick treat, it is made to continually keep us coming back for more.
Working with food engineers, manufacturers carefully design junk food to elicit neurological, psychological and physiological responses in the consumer. Things like dynamical contrast, where a hard shell of a candy contrasts with it’s soft, gooey inner layer; salivary response, just the thought of the food brings forth a physiological response; vanishing caloric response – a fancy way of saying, because of the “lightness” of the food fools the brain into thinking you are consuming less calories, you eat more; sensory specific response – satisfying a brain need for food variety, the food is designed again to fool the brain by not providing too much satiation to prevent a dulling of your senses and a future avoidance of that food; engineered caloric density – a way of mixing ingredients to pass the brain’s food test, but not enough to pass the “full” test; and finally, past memory association – this is the psychological part, where your brain associates this food with some pleasant past experience.
Now I added all the above verbiage, to illustrate a point about how junk food is designed to be addictive. If you have a personality that is prone to addiction, it is easy to fall prey to this game played with your body and mind by food conglomerates. This falls easily into the category of food addiction.
As a hypnotist, I have worked with many people over the years looking for help in losing weight. One of the main components of the weight issue is the ease with which we become addicted to certain foods. This is no accident. The emotional ties we have to food, especially foods we consider to be comfort foods is very strong and difficult to break.
Many of the triggers for food addiction are physiological, the interaction from the brain to the body, brought about by the ingredients in the food we are consuming. This is a complex interaction and can involve the brain and the gut, both centers of neurological control. When food is engineered to affect a response in the consumer, you can see the danger. In addition, food addiction has a psychological component, largely emotional. Food as self-medication has at its root the use of food for coping with difficult life situations. Then throw in social pressures: family, friends, media, social occasions, you can see how pressures within and without can push us over the line.
The pull of sugar on behavior is very powerful, as are starchy carbs, which ultimately are turned to glucose in the body; creating this cycle of repetitive behavior. Indulging in the junk food of choice, creates a body response, a kick of dopamine as a reinforcer, a rush of sugar into our bodies, creating a sugar high and then within a short period, a drop off of energy and crash. What happens internally is even more devastating. The continued pumping of sugar producing foods into the body leads to more insulin production, which is used to absorb the energy into the cells and at some point a saturation of the cells occurs leaving the body to store the excess as fat. This condition can lead to insulin resistance, which is a precursor to a whole host of diseases. Not good for your long term health outlook.
Does this affect HSMs or HSPs more so than the general population? I think it can. Because the research supports that HSPs are processing more sensory data and are prone to overwhelm more often, it would seem to reason that HSPs are operating under more stress than the general population. Not necessarily under the greatest stress, but as a group, stressed more often, and could this be a motivator in turning to junk foods for a calming effect.
Recent studies have shown that a select group of high stressed females ate more “comfort foods” to alleviate stress, than individuals with less stress in their lives. The high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, creates an increase in cravings for sugar, carb, fat types foods and the consumption of these foods did lower stress rates, albeit only temporarily. Could HSPs also be more prone to doing the same thing? Certainly, some of us do.
Since more HSPs tend to present more intense moods as a result of our sensory processing sensitivity traits, food also can heighten mood expression from a biological standpoint. Should HSPs avoid sugar and processed carb foods to help throttle down some of our emotional responses? The consumption of sugar in particular, can suppress activity of a key growth hormone in the brain; brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which when levels are low corresponds with depression and schizophrenia. And increased sugar consumption can affect blood sugar levels in the body effecting mood. There is enough enhanced brain chemistry naturally with HSPs, no need to flood our systems with junk food highs and crashes.
To top this all of off, someone has studied a correlation between personality types and preferred junk food. Although HSPs were not called out as a personality type, I could surmise from the personality descriptions where HSPs might fall. The criteria for snack foods, aka junk foods, were largely in the processed carb category, but traits like – loyalty, integrity, perfectionism and thoughtful kind of fit into the HSP wheelhouse. The foods corresponding to those categories were: meat snacks, cheese curls, tortilla chips and crackers. No chick-o-sticks…bummer.
Here are a few thought for HSPs on junk food consumption:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
Bill Allen lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.