Katie Nowikow knows personally how addicting junk food can be. She grew up as a self-described junk-food junkie. It wasn’t until college that she began to make better choices.
“We’re a social eating culture,” she said. “It’s pizza, burgers, fries and sweets. Those foods are very addicting to our bodies because they are loaded with the things we crave most which is salt, fat, and sugar. When that addiction gets a hold of you it can be hard to break away from. There’s cues that are around us all the time pushing us to look for that fast food.”
Nowikow is a certified health coach who teaches several courses for St. Charles Adult and Community Education, including “Bittersweet: How Sugar Makes us Fat.” The next bittersweet class will be Oct. 29 from 6-9 p.m. Sign up for the class here.
The biggest issue people face is the availability of processed, addicting junk food at drive thru restaurants, vending machines, the office break room.
“Food is a socially acceptable coping mechanism for stress,” she said. “We all have either celebrated with junk food or coped using junky items. Unlike alcohol, drugs or cigarettes it’s OK…. There’s a disconnect with how bad the food can really hurt us.
Often people know they should be eating healthier but aren’t sure where to begin, Nowikow said.
“There’s a lot of information out there, which can be great but can be really damaging. Some people say you should have meat, some say too much fruit is bad, others say eat all the fruit you want.”
Nowikow said she works to help people break down what is needed in their bodies. She said sugar addiction can be very challenging to work on. Natural sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup, can help people transition away from table sugar.
“It takes time to reduce those cravings,” she said. “You need to have something. Most people can’t quit cold turkey.”
Other artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, Nutri-Sweet, and Equal, can have negative effects on the system, Nowikow said. “They are chemically made and may be calorie free, but they are probably nutritionally empty.”
Nowikow said people interested in kicking the sugar habit have to focus on more than just eating, but also their lifestyle, common causes of stress and how to manage other things in conjunction with food.
“It’s not a one-trick deal to change what you are eating and everything else falls into place,” she said. “There’s a lot going on.”
Check out Katie’s blog for recipes for bread made with nut butter and 10 actionable steps you can take for a safe and happy fall.