Chapter 3. Food Addiction

The tricky thing about processed foods is that they stimulate the reward system in our brains in the same way that addictive drugs do, and it’s this, rather than our love of their flavor, that makes them particularly hard to give up.

A study published in 2018 reported that people who reduced their consumption of processed foods actually experience some of the same physical and psychological symptoms as those withdrawing from cigarettes. And, just as with cigarettes, the longer you go without these types of foods, the less you’ll crave them, up to the point where they don’t even appeal to you anymore. The fact that you may start to feel better than you have in a long time, is a powerful motivation to stick with it!


Added sugar is often referred to as “America’s favorite drug” because, like drugs, it causes a release of dopamine and endorphins in the brain. This is why we often find ourselves craving “something sweet” and then distracted, depressed or angry when we don’t get our “fix”. Sugary candy, cakes, cookies, and chocolate are heavily marketed to us from an early age in the knowledge that children’s early experiences often shape their later behavior, making them more likely to buy sugary foods when they’re older. This may be great news for the sugar industry but it is bad news for our health, since eating too much added sugar is a major contributing factor to chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Added-sugar withdrawal can actually cause nausea, headaches, and fatigue, and feel a lot like a bout of the flu. One way to ease the withdrawal and satisfy that need for something sweet is to eat dates or mangoes, as these fruits are incredibly sweet, and the natural sugars in them do not cause the same problems as added refined sugar.


Cheese is another prime example of a processed food many people say they cannot live without. Cheese, which is the biggest source of saturated fat and cholesterol in the American diet, contains several ingredients that trigger the pleasure receptors in our brains. It also contains casein fragments called casomorphins: a morphine-like opiate compound. No wonder so many people find it hard to quit!

“These opiates attach to the same brain receptors that heroin and morphine attach to. They are not strong enough to get you arrested, but they are just strong enough to keep you coming back for more.”

Dr. Neal Barnard, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine


The addictive quality of animal products and processed foods are important to bear in mind as you embark upon your healthier plant-based vegan lifestyle. Knowing that addictions can be fought and beaten with the right amount of knowledge, guidance, and determination will be key to your success. And finding that the food awaiting you on the other side not only tastes amazing but makes you feel amazing too is what makes this journey so worthwhile.

Trust us—you can do this, and you’ll be so glad you did!

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