Day 6: Why is Fast Food so Addictive?

Day 6: Why is Fast Food so Addictive?

Over the course of our 28 Day Weight Loss Challenge our Daily Recap videos  will be where I post the notes I have written for the talks I do in the FaceBook Group each night.  Hopefully this will make what we are talking about easier to follow for everyone that wants to join us in the challenge.  You can see each of the 28 Day Challenge recap posts here.  Please subscribe to the YouTube channel to never miss an video.

So what makes fast food addictive? A Big Mac with large fries and a large soda contains 1360 calories or two thirds of the recommended total caloric intake for the day.   It contains 1380 milligrams of sodium, or almost an entire day’s allotment.  The fat content is 38% of the total calories and the sugar content is 95 grams, or 19 teaspoons, or 390 calories.  More than the American Heart Association recommends you eat in one day.  50% of Americans are eating this or the equivalent at least once a week.

So what part of this meal is so addictive?  Let’s take a look at the macro nutrients and figure out if they are addictive


Our example meal contains 1380 milligrams of sodium.  The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans sets the upper limit of allowable sodium per day at 2300 mg so if you eat this, you are already at half of all the sodium you should eat if you are comfortable with the “upper limit”.   Processed food adds about 3400 mg of sodium to the diet of the average American every day, but is it addictive?  We know a taste for salt is acquired over time, usually at about four to six months old.  We also know people can change their salt preferences fairly easily.  For instance, people with high blood pressure that have to cut back on salt usually report that it takes about 12 weeks on a low sodium diet to begin to prefer the low sodium food.  So salt is not typically an addictive substance.


The high fat content in fast food is what makes it so rewarding.  In animal studies, rats will binge on fat if given the chance but will not show the other signs of addiction like withdrawal or tolerance.  The issue here is fat is almost always found in fast food that is also high in starch like pizza, or high in sugar like cookies.  Adding sugar significantly increases the preference for high fat foods in normal weight people.  So fat can be addictive when mixed with sugar.


Drinking a large soda with your meal will net you about 58 mg of caffeine.  Caffeine has been proven to be very addictive with 30% of Americans feeling intense withdrawal symptoms if the don’t have their morning coffee.  Children will usually get their caffeine fix from soda and feel the same withdrawal symptoms if they don’t have a soft drink with their meals.


Now we get to the real culprit.  Sugar has been proven in animal trials to be extremely addictive.   Given unlimited access to sugar, rats will bings.  They will show signs of withdrawal when you take it away.  They will show seeking and craving behavior if you take sugar away from them. Over-consumption increases with time, which means a growing tolerance for sugar.  Did you know almost every item on the McDonald’s menu has added sugar?  Right now the only things on the menu without added sugar are french fries, hashbrowns, sausage, chicken nuggets without sauce, coffee, iced tea and diet soda.  Everything else on the menu has contains sugar.  Why?  Because they want you addicted!

We probably developed our sweet tooth because no sweet foods in nature are acutely poisonous.  If it was sweet, it was good to eat!  So we naturally gravitated toward eating sweet foods.  I can tell you from my own experience with 4 kids and 4 grandkids that getting a baby to eat peas is tough, but throw a banana on their plate and they can’t scarf it down fast enough.

All notes taken from information found in Fat Chance by Dr Lustig, Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, The Angriest Trainer Podcast and Jimmy Moore’s Podcasts.

Day 6: Why is Fast Food so Addictive?

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