Bet you can’t just eat one


Manal Salim

Photo by Paige Kiehl, information by Trisha Chaudhary
Glancing at the pile of food before her classmates, junior Crystalyn Wyatt notices meals different from what she is used to. Mountains of rice, combined with a hefty amount of fruits and vegetables, make up a significant portion of Wyatt’s diet.
But according to, 58 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 drink soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages every day, and 46 percent eat fast food at least twice a week.
Unlike more than half the teens her age, avoiding junk food was a lifestyle choice Wyatt had to make. Wyatt is allergic to gluten and sugar, both of which are commonly present in junk food. But Wyatt has learned to look at her condition not as a constricting factor but rather as a guideline on the path to healthy eating.
“Not only because I’m allergic do I eat healthy, but our food industry is a mess. Half of the stuff we eat consists of everything but that what it’s supposed to be,” Wyatt said. “Junk food companies advertise it that way for money. This hinders the public with false advertising and making things look good when they really aren’t good for you.”
However, this form of misrepresentation with junk foods doesn’t always go unnoticed. Senior Emily Thomas, a vegetarian, said her restricted diet has encouraged her to attempt to eat healthier. Thomas said she, like many others, does notice the misleading information but fails to restrain from purchasing unhealthy foods because of the way it’s presented toward the public.
“I think the commercialization of junk food poses a public health risk, and advertising changes our habits. A lot of times, junk food advertises itself as health food, like PopTarts that say ‘Good source of calcium,’ on the packaging,” Thomas said. “That calcium doesn’t cancel out all the sugar and fat in the Pop-Tarts, too, but it might make people eat Pop-Tarts more than they otherwise would.”
Thomas is correct in her conclusion of increased public consumption of junk foods, but false advertising isn’t the only factor to blame. According to, new discoveries prove that industrially processed sugar, fat and salty foods — basically anything made in a plant rather than growing on a plant — are biologically addictive. Though the concept of addictive foods may seem absurd, Dr. Mark Hyman, a practicing physician and an internationally recognized authority in the field of functional medicine, said most teens don’t realize their addiction is prevalent on a daily basis.
“Imagine a foot-high pile of broccoli or a giant bowl of apple slices. Do you know anyone who would binge broccoli or apples? On other hand, imagine a mountain of potato chips or a whole bag of cookies or a pint of ice cream,” Hyman said. “Those are easy to imagine vanishing in an unconscious, brain-eating frenzy. Broccoli is not addictive, but cookies, chips or soda absolutely can become addictive drugs.”
In fact, researchers from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity confirmed the similarities between processed junk foods and drugs such as cocaine, heroin and nicotine. According to their research, the similarities are perilously close. Research states that substances being consumed in large amounts and over long periods of time are a classic symptom in people who habitually overeat. Also, with drugs, there is the persistent desire or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit, similar to the recurring attempts at dieting so many overweight people go through.
Nutritionist Rakiya Khaleel explains how she observes the increase to the addictive properties of junk food when individuals consume it in large amounts. Khaleel said “junk” food, such as chips, cookies and candy offer no nutritional value but are calorie dense and contain addictive ingredients, including high levels of fat, sugar and sometimes sodium.
“An excessive amount of any type of food isn’t healthy. But if a person doesn’t eat a balanced diet, they will not get the nutrients they need,” Khaleel said. “If a person becomes obese, they can develop problems associated with obesity, including heart disease, type-2 diabetes and hypertension.”
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, sugar stimulates the brain’s reward centers through the neurotransmitter dopamine, exactly like other addictive drugs. Because of the stimulation junk foods provide, brain imaging scans show that obese people and drug addicts have lower numbers of dopamine receptors, making them more likely to crave things that boost dopamine like addictive drugs. And just like drugs, after an initial period of “enjoyment,” users don’t consume foods to get high, but to feel normal.
Thomas describes how the addiction to junk food can sometimes go unnoticed by teens, merely because they consume unhealthy products on a regular basis. She said busy schedules largely contribute to the lack of attention teens pay to what they eat.
“It definitely gets hard [to avoid junk food]. I’m really busy and spending a lot of time away from home, for example during show choir or marching band season. At competitions, they don’t offer a lot in the way of health food. I always notice that I perform worse on a meal of pizza and soda than a balanced meal,” Thomas said. “I think convenience is the main reason teens eat junk food. It’s fast and tastes good. We all live such hectic lives, and a lot of times there isn’t time to think about getting a balanced diet.”
Though teens may lead hectic lives, Khaleel explains how when consuming foods, moderation is the key. Khaleel said when teens fill up on the right food, with high quality nutrition for their bodies and brains, they will naturally have less room for junk food.
“I would encourage them to allow themselves this certain junk food that is their favorite once a week,” Khaleel said. “I think that all foods can fit in a healthy diet in moderation, but this would vary … because one healthy way to eat isn’t the same for everyone. But it is important to lower intake of foods that are rich in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars because too much intake … may have serious health implications.”
Despite the negative implications of eating junk foods and the addictive properties they possess, Wyatt also believes that every once in a while, a teen has the right to have a cookie. However, she describes that with giving into cravings periodically there needs to also be a sense of responsibility kept in mind.
“Teens need to know healthy foods really do improve your overall well-being. They make you feel better and improve you physically and mentally. [Teens] are harming the public with their health because they aren’t bettering themselves,” Wyatt said. “You also have to be able to defeat the norm and improve your overall well-being, and one way to do that is simply eating healthy, and that’s that.”
By Manal Salim