Healthy eating: This is the reason we get food cravings and can't stop eating snacks

Do you hit the food "bliss point"? New science suggests this is why it's so hard to eat healthy

Potato chips
(Image credit: Jeff Siepman/Unsplash)

Why can't we stop eating addictive foods once we start? We've all been there: sitting on the couch watching your favourite streaming service, and suddenly your hand hits the bottom of the bag of potato chips. What happened?

It turns out certain foods, especially those high in sugar, salt and fat, hit a point of no return, overriding the urge to stop. This is the source of our craving, and our inability to put unhealthy snack foods down. 

A psychological phenomenon called 'sensory-specific satiety' is overridden by these foods, according to nutritionist Tamara Willner from Second Nature, the UK National Health Service's 12-week healthy eating plan.  

Sensory-specific satiety usually dictates that as we consume more of a particular flavour, our taste buds slowly get more and more tired of it, and we stop eating it. Eventually, you can get bored or sick of a meal you eat every day for a week, and yearn for something different.

However, Willner tells us that salt, fat, and sugar, when combined in the right ratios, override this feeling. Many foods containing all three of those are designed to hit the reward centres of our brain hard enough to keep us coming back for more. It's why these foods are so addictive, and we don't get bored of them. 

Donuts and chocolate

(Image credit: Dennis Klein/Unsplash)

"This bliss point plays a significant role in why we crave certain addictive foods," says Willner. "Even in the most strong-willed individuals, these cravings can seem impossible to resist."

This bliss point is present in all the usual culprits: cakes, candy, donuts, ice cream and so on. However, less obvious foods that hit this "bliss point" include cans of soup, white sliced bread at the supermarket, dressings, dips like humous and supposedly "healthy" cereal bars.

Anything chock full of refined sugars will likely also include salt and fat to hit that "bliss point". Be mindful of this when eating snack foods: your mental chemistry is being gamed, and it's your responsibility not to fall for it. 

An easy way to get round this is to portion your snacks out before eating: that way, when you hit the end of the bowl, it's that much harder to keep munching.

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Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.