06 Jun What’s your fix? – The problem with food addiction
Would you believe me if I told you that not only can you be addicted to the foods you are eating but to an extent, some foods can be even more addictive than the worst of drugs? These foods can be found right in your kitchen and are even being fed to your children translating to obesity, illness, and slow death risk all while major corporations gain huge profits!
Is Food Addiction Real?
Well, let me first ask you this… Have you ever found yourself munching away at a bag of chips only to find the bag empty and you have no idea how you just ate an entire bag? Do you have bad food cravings? Do you binge eat? Have you tried to stop overeating but just can’t? Have you lost control over how much and how often you are eating? Do you ever feel shame or guilt for eating too much?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a food addict.
Food addiction plays a major role in the obesity epidemic that currently affects the U.S. among other countries. It has been found that one out of every two Americans (1) is affected by diabesity and food addiction. Food addiction can be described as uncontrollable and compulsive eating (2) habits largely in response to an emotion like stress or sadness and often associated with eating disorders like bulimia, obesity, and binge eating disorder. This addiction is usually to foods that are rich in sugar, fat, and starch like chips, candy, and white bread.
The Science Behind it
Every wonder why you get pleasure from eating?
Everything you eat plays a major role in how your body functions and operates. Addiction does not discriminate, meaning no matter the fix, whether it be food or a drug, both share similar neurobiological and behavioural framework (3) so that when used or eaten, elicit the same responses. The consumption of food actually alters the dopaminergic system (4), the part of your brain that controls reward processing and motivated behaviours in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), also known as the addiction center of the brain. This means eating food, particularly heavily processed foods, triggers chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine (DA) making you feel pleasure and acts as a release from emotional distress. Other drugs, like nicotine and cocaine, are also found to alter dopamine release (5) producing addictive responses.
Sugar as the Major Culprit
Sugar is one of the most toxic drugs on the planet being found to be eight times as addictive as cocaine (1) and is also the number one cause of liver disease- fatty liver, affecting about 90 million Americans. It alters your brain chemistry, hormones, and metabolism, spikes blood sugar, and raises triglyceride and insulin levels, which regulates hunger and fat storage. Evidence finds that sweeteners and fats demonstrate the greatest addictive potential (6)with among the worst foods being candy, chocolate, ice cream, fries, and pasta. To the body, sugar is sugar, it cannot differentiate between a bowl of sugar, bowl of cereal (most being 75 percent sugar) (1), and white flour, as the body breaks down refined carbohydrates into sugar.
Are the food companies profiting at the expense of our health?
In the simplest answer, yes they are. Food companies are in the business of keeping us sick and overweight. Why? Because that is where the profit is. The more you eat, the more they make. It doesn’t take an expert to know that it is easier to sell a product if someone is addicted to it. Unhealthy, processed ingredients keep the cost of production low and profits high. Some companies, including the largest and most profitable such as Kellogg, Frito-Lay, and Nestle are even going as far as the manipulate and engineer their products to be hyperpalatable (7), so that they surpass the reward properties in the brain one might get from healthy foods, like vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Scientists for these companies work in their high- tech labs to find the precise measurement (8) of sugar, salt, fat, and white flour that taps into our brain’s circuitry stimulating our desire for more and creates food cravings even when we are full!
How can you fight food addiction?
The first step should be in practicing mindful eating. If you are aware of what you eat and why you eat it then you are one step closer to gaining control of your body.
- Read the nutritional labels – It is important to look beyond calories and carbs and pay attention to things like grams of sugar and serving size.
- Replace processed foods and sweeteners with alternatives- Eat whole foods in their natural state like fruits vegetables, proteins, nuts, and seeds. (Tip: Opt for carrots or celery instead of chips. It still satisfies that craving for a crunch your body might want but in a much healthier way. Dip in hummus or nut butter to make it even tastier!)
- Drink water – If you are craving salt, chances are you are dehydrated. Drink at least one glass of water every time you feel hungry or before you eat. This will help you feel full faster, aid in healthy digestion, and make you more aware of what your body actually needs.
- Opt your sugary cereals and breakfast foods for fruit- If you think eating yogurt instead of cereal is better for you, think again, since Yoplait actually has twice as much sugar as a bowl of Lucky Charms. The unprocessed state of sugar in fruit along with other properties like protein, fiber, and water slows the absorption of sugar and reduces the addictive like behaviour making it a great way to get your metabolism going in the morning.
- Cook at home- It’s hard to know what goes into our food when eating out and a lot of the times restaurants add unhealthy ingredients to make the food taste better.
Other measures you can take include avoiding caffeine, getting a good night’s sleep, exercising regularly, and reducing exposure to stressful environments. These will help you fight those cravings and give your body the fuel in needs.
If you would like to find out for certain if you are a food addict, you can take the free validated Yale Food Addiction Scale found here (9).
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