“This is Your Brain on Junk Food” β€” What Creates Cravings?

There’s MUCH more than meets the eye when it comes to fast food. (And sometimes what meets the eye isn’t so pretty either…) A lot of factors combine to make you CRAVE the stuff. Not just taste. So without further ado, I present: “This is your brain on junk food!)

I’ve talked about food cravings before, on my Insta…but a thought occurred to me recently, that you probably AGREE with. When you’re having a strong craving for something sweet or salty, and then you go ahead and GIVE IN…it’s never quite as good as you thought it would be, is it?

Doesn’t look too great, huh?

Yes, for those of us who have junk food cravings BAD because we have been training our brains wrong…a food craving can be almost as strong as someone’s craving for nicotine and other drugs! But that means, all cravings are = your brain trying to trick you into getting what it thinks it wants. When you actually EAT the food, 9 times out of 10, it can’t live up to the taste you had imagined in your head! “Relief” for 5 seconds, and then back to REGRET. Such is the life of a fast food junkie.So yes, in part I wanted to make this post to remind you that when you get cravings, just remember that your imagination of how good the food tastes is proooobably better than the reality. Hopefully that makes it easier for you to let the moment pass!I also wanted to delve more into the topic of “This is Your Brain on Junk Food,” though. What chemical processes actually occur in your brain when you eat this artificial crap, that makes you CRAVE it?Again, the answer is, “way more factors than you’d think’!


Did you know, a potato chip company might spend millions trying to get the satisfying “crunch” exactly right?

That’s because they know that more senses than just taste play into our unfortunate enjoyment of fast food. Of course,smell is a big one, and is tied to our sense of taste as well. The “feel”/texture of the food is surprisingly important too, because our brains like variety (like Oreo cookies with a frosted filling!), and we like when foods have lots of unique/mixed textures. That’s common with fast food.Also, a lot of companies try to get the food to melt in your mouth so your brain thinks it needs MORE food. Seriously!


Fast food is more likely to cause a salivary response, which your brain likes. From butter to ice cream, foods that contain ingredients that make oil and water mix a little better, ALSO make you salivate. Your brain likes this because it makes the food easier to consume. Just one WEIRD reason our brains like unhealthy food…but a less weird reason is:


All things your body needs in moderation! And in natural forms!Fast food meets neither of those criteria, of course. But your brain craves these things, especially when you’re STRESSED. Quick scientific explanation there: stress makes your brain release:

  • opiates (yep!)
  • neuropeptide Y

These chemicals create an effect in our brains that FEELS SIMILAR to junk food cravings. And since we aren’t too in touch with our bodies sometimes, we mistake this stress response for a junk food craving. ” This is Your Brain on Junk Food “! It’s part of the reason why so many people stress-eat unhealthy food…because their brain mistakes “stress” for “cravings” until they can’t distinguish between the two any more!

And you might say, “Morgan, I’m not that bad!” And I sure hope you’re not! πŸ˜‰ But in addition to providing fitness coaching, I also offer nutrition advice!

If any of that aligns with your current GOALS, I’d love to hear from you and see if I can help…even if it just means one less junk food item per week!!

Because remember, ” This is Your Brain on Junk Food “…not your “REAL” brain, or your real self, wanting the unhealthy food!!

James Clear