All About Eating Addiction

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Obesity has become a globally increasing issue. It is estimated that more than 600 million people are diagnosed with obesity worldwide, creating a social and economic burden. Although the topics of health and wellness have been quite popular over the years, the number of overweight and obese individuals continues to increase. There are many weight loss and nutrition programs available, which have been proven effective for many overweight people, but the problem seems to be the difficulties of keeping the weight off. In the majority of cases, the struggle of keeping healthy results from cultural and lifestyle habits and lack of education, creating a preoccupation with food. The idea that food has addictive qualities is a concept that should be recognized since studies have shown similar responses in the brain as drugs of abuse.

How Does Food Become Addictive?

The development of processed foods is one factor to blame for food’s addictive qualities. Hyperpalatable foods is the term used to describe these ‘pleasurable’ processed foods, as many of them cause one to continue craving them even after satisfaction. Research shows that the extremely high sugar, sodium, and fat content in foods are what results in certain responses in our ‘reward’ center of the brain. Increased activity of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates and acts upon pleasure emotions, causes continued attention on seeking reward. This is the same response as drug addiction and may be the reason why many people have a hard time controlling portions and cravings for certain foods.

Obesity is a disease that is influenced by many factors, including food addiction since it causes overeating. To evaluate this condition, professionals use a questionnaire that assesses factors such as lack of control over consumption of food, continued eating despite adverse consequences, and unsuccessful efforts to quit. In some studies, individuals who underwent bariatric (weight loss) surgery or unsuccessful weight loss treatments scored significantly higher on this questionnaire, suggesting that food addiction most definitely plays a role in the struggle with obesity. Therefore these treatment centers and weight loss surgeons should consider this condition a cause of the unsuccessful weight management for some cases.

Why Food Addiction is the Worst Kind

When one has a drug or alcohol addiction, they may choose to go through a rehabilitation program or Alcoholics Anonymous in an attempt to quit. Whether they try to wean off of their addictive substance or try to quit cold turkey, they do so by staying away from the substance and anything that drives their temptation for it. With food addiction, you cannot just stay away from food. You have to eat every day, and several times every day in order to stay fueled and functioning. Because of this fact, food addiction is most likely the hardest addiction to get under control.

The Most Addictive Foods

Although food cravings vary from person to person, research has shown that the most addictive foods are ones that are processed and contain high fat, sugar, or sodium levels. Three of the most commonly addictive foods are chocolate, cheese, and simple carbohydrates. Chocolate may seem like the go-to food when craving something sweet, but it is not just from the high sugar level that we keep going back for more. Chocolate stimulates a ‘feel-good’ hormone called oxytocin almost immediately after putting a piece in our mouths. When this response is activated, it triggers us to crave more of it.

Cheese is another highly addictive food due to the casomorphin it contains. This substance is a binder to the opioid receptors in the brain, which signal more release of dopamine. Cheese is usually on the top of the list of favorite foods, especially in America. It is rare to find someone who actually does not almost drool when watching a pizza commercial. Speaking of pizza, which consists of cheese as the top layer and fluffy crust on the bottom, introduces the third most commonly addictive food—simple carbohydrates.

White bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, and cookies are all made of simple carbs. Unlike the other addictive foods, this group of food does not contain any receptors or hormone-producing ingredients. Their addictive quality is simply the fact that they are digested quickly and cause a quick glucose release, leading to quick energy followed by a quick crash. This energy rush leaves you craving more of these carbs once that jolt is used up.

Tips to Help Control Cravings

  • Drink water. Many times when craving food, it is really that your body is thirsty, so drinking a glass of water may work.
  • Eat more protein. Including small amounts of protein at every meal is linked to more appetite control and satisfaction.
  • Distract yourself with something else you enjoy. Try going for a walk or run, call a friend, or watch an interesting show or movie to help get your mind off of the craving.
  • Plan your meals ahead of time. Always knowing what your next meal will consist of will get the thought of “what to eat” out of your mind.
  • Do not let yourself get hungry. Studies show that having smaller and more frequent meals before reaching a hunger state controls cravings and overeating.
  • Get more sleep. Lack of quality sleep is linked to hormone disruption in the brain that may stimulate those pleasure hormones and cause more cravings.

Not everyone who consumes hyperpalatable foods develops obesity. The addiction to food is related to many factors other than just the consumption of addictive ingredients. The motivations to eat certain foods and large amounts of these foods are what may begin the addiction, but there are some people who are able to control the continued consumption, while others may not. Whether the attachment to food is due to a coping mechanism, an abundance of social occasions, or as a reward, understanding your own personal reasons to eat is a start to maintaining a healthier relationship with food.

Sources

  1. Jose Manuel Lerma-Cabrera, Francisca Carvajal and Patricia Lopez-Legarrea, Food Addiction as a New Piece of the Obesity Framework, Journal, Apr 29, 2018
  2. Ashley N. Gearhardt, M.S., M. Phil, Marney A. White, Ph.D., M.S., and Marc N. Potenza, M.D., Ph.D., Binge Eating Disorder and Food Addiction, Journal, Apr 29, 2018
  3. Ashley N. Gearhardt, Carlos M. Grilo, Ralph J. DiLeone, Kelly D. Brownell, and Marc N. Potenza, Can Food be Addictive? Public Health and Policy Implications, Journal, Apr 29, 2018
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