It’s always nice to plan having a health-conscious diet, working out, and maintaining optimal weight. But for many people things go completely the wrong way. And why is that? Why despite their best intentions, many people seem to fail in this task? Despite their efforts, they find themselves consuming large amounts of chocolate, pastries, McDonald’s burgers, fried potato chips and other salty packaged snacks, soda etc. Sudden uncontrollable food cravings, like binge eating disorder for instance, might be a result from accumulated stress from personal issues or work. Some individuals tend to find solace and stress-relief in overstuffing with junk food. It’s only after the eating berserk that they actually realize that what they have just done wasn’t worth it. It may sound odd, but the reason for all that may be food addiction.
What is food addiction?
Basically that happens when the effects of specific foods influence the brain which results in plain addiction. And the idea of food addiction has lately gotten a more and more discussed topic with science backing its genuineness. Trials on animals and humans show that the same centers of the brain that are responsible for pleasure and reward, and are activated by illegal drugs like heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine, can also be triggered by certain foods, especially some that feel particularly good on the palate. Most commonly, those type of foods are based on sugar, salt, and fat. Similar to drug substances, certain types of palatable foods activate brain chemicals and neurotransmitters like dopamine, which have a reflection on mood and joy. When a person feels pleasure connected to raised dopamine levels because of food consumption, they want to repeat the ritual again and again.
Such reward signals may overshadow and neutralize signals of satisfaction and satiation. That’s when people continue to eat, even though they’re practically full and no longer hungry. Some people with food addiction might even develop food intolerance. This means that progressively in time they eat more and more, yet tend to feel less and less satisfied.
According to doctors and scientists, food addiction may lead to excessive weight. But even people who keep their normal weight could suffer from it, they just have a better genetic capability for processing calories, or they could be having a more intense physical performance to compensate.
Those with food addiction often find themselves unable to quit overeating all the time, despite that it could ruin their relationships or lead them to obesity. Similar to gambling and drug addicts, they too would find it difficult to cut the vice and change their behavior for the better.
A video about the science behind food addiction
How can you find out if you have food addiction?
There is a questionnaire that can help a person determine if they suffer from food addiction. The test was created by researchers and scientists from the Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Science & Policy. Here it is…
- Eat to the point of feeling ill?
- End up eating more than planned when you eat certain foods?
- Continue eating specific foods even though you’re not hungry anymore?
- Go out of your way to supply yourself with certain foods that aren’t currently at your disposal?
- Find yourself worrying about not eating certain foods, or worrying about cutting certain foods off your diet?
- Tend to avoid social and professional meetings where concrete foods are available and could tempt you?
- Eat some foods so often and in so large portions that you start doing that instead of spending time with your family, friends or engaging in sports?
- Are unable to do well at school or work because of food cravings and overeating?
The questionnaire also includes a few questions about psychological withdrawal symptoms. Like for instance:
When you stop consuming specific eatables (besides caffeinated beverages), do you experience symptoms such as:
- Irritation and agitation
- Other physical issues
The test also tries to size the impact of food choices on your emotions. Do these occasions apply to you?
- The urge to eat more and more food in order to relieve negative emotions or feel more pleasure.
- Eating food causes states like anxiety, depression, guilt or self-hatred.
- Eating the same portions of food doesn’t seem to increase pleasure or lower bad mood and negative emotions any longer.
How to fight food addiction?
Science is still trying to fully understand the reasons for food addiction, and is still trying to find a more reliable treatment for it, because this type of addiction may be more complicated than the rest types.
A doctor, certified nutritionists, or a psychologist could help you break the compulsive eating cycle. There are even recovery programs such as Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. But there are certain tips to beat food addiction, here are some of them.
Start by taking the food addiction quiz we talked about. That should help you asses your emotional link with food, and whether you have a problem. Scientists are keen to believe that many corpulent individuals have food addiction to some extent. Despite that, this condition can affect people of any size and age.
Make wiser choices when it comes to choosing your staple foods. The human brain works to look for the tasty reward of natural carbohydrates like berries, bananas, potatoes, lentils etc. We should also obtain healthy fats from fish, olive oil, flax and other seeds, nuts, avocados etc. These are the type of foods that are suppose to nourish our bodies, and they have been since ancient times.
The human brain was accustomed to enjoy the taste of natural foods. In the modern era however, there are many, many companies that manufacture “hyperpalatable” eatables that are particularly high in processed fats, sugar and salt. They trigger the taste buds, they are easily portable, cheap, and highly accessible. Overall these foods are the easy alternative, therefore many people opt for them, and tend to cook lesser than they used to in the past. That’s why you should go back to natural and cooked meals, and choose healthier snacks when on the go.
For you to learn how to fight food addiction, you first have to control the brain’s reward center. When highly delicious junk foods are too often your top choice, the brain’s pleasure center that secretes dopamine, gets hijacked. That’s when the insulin levels go way up and stimulate your desire for more and more. Abruptly, that banana or the blueberries seem to fade as a tasty treat. Instead, a heavy cream cake or a chocolate Twix dessert begin to be more alluring options.
Even if you eat those type of treats occasionally, like a birthday cake for your celebration, you’d still get a sudden dopamine raise, but your brain will suffice for lower and more normal levels of this neurotransmitter. However, if you’re constantly eating burgers, pastry, chips and other particularly salty or sugar-rich snacks, or you’re drinking highly sugared coffee and energy drinks, you’d inevitably fall in a bad closed cycle, wanting for more every day. That’s why controlling and restricting the consumption of such foods may help in the battle against food addiction by preventing it, or help deal with it while still in “germ” state.
Learn to recognize the hyperpalatable junk edibles (we may call them False Fixes). Your ceaseless consumption of those would force your brain to change, as it will find it hard to stand this kind of overstimulation. So to react to this situation, the brain reduces the dopamine receptors so that you can’t feel this hyperstimulation, which is good on one side. But on the other side, the typical portion of food that once was enough, now no longer feels satisfying. That pushes you to eat more, and put on weight in the meantime.
To boot, during the brain’s reward center is being deceived, its prefrontal cortex (the cerebral cortex that covers the front part of the frontal lobe, and is situated behind your forehead) suffers damage too. Being an executive part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex would kind of lose its functions to help you stay concentrated, or control impulses. That’s why in cases of strong food addiction, moderation may not be the key to coping with the problem.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health, shocking studies and tests on the brains of food addicts show the same damage and alterations as those of cocaine abusers. Another worrisome ascertainment done upon researches, says that sucralose (white table sugar) is more addictive than cocaine. Counseling, detoxification, and recovery from the addiction-causing foods is probably the right way to go if you want to overcome food addiction.
Try making a list of the false fix foods you eat most and make you spin out of control. Before you begin your detox cleanse, make an analysis of the places, activities, situations, and even people that have lead you to your food addiction. Scrutinize your whole lifestyle, and generalize everything. It would make it easier for you when you start making healthier choices and asserting your recovery. Be patient, go step by step to build a strong foundation for your success.
To ensure an efficacious detoxification and recovery process, you can circle around 3 major standpoints: Mind, Mouth, and Muscle.
You need to repair your brain. You need to heal your prefrontal cortex in order to restore the brain’s reward center. To do that, you can try some mindfulness and meditation to calm your thoughts and emotions. Achieving tranquility in moment of food urge is key. Daily meditation practice helps your brain change for the better. It will start reviving and generating new brain cells, thus repairing the damage.
Your goal here should be increasing dopamine, and reaching a natural “high” via quality food. Making your reward center happy though real food is a must if you want to make a significant change. Foods like watermelon, peaches, spinach, tofu, avocados, nuts and seeds, can help you get back your normal reward response to natural foods. To make yourself feel full faster and in a healthy way of course, you can combine foods that provide your organism with dietary fiber and protein. These nutrients are key in every person’s healthy diet, they help you feel satiated faster. Besides that, fiber improves your digestion and colon cleanse, while protein makes your body burn more calories (to absorb it), and helps you build lean muscle instead of fat.
For instance, you may combine chickpea hummus with vegetables like broccoli or carrots, lentil soup with roasted fish, artichokes and brussels sprouts with chicken fillets, plain oats soaked in yogurt, a protein-rich smoothie with whey protein, berries, veggies or nuts, etc. The combinations are many, you just have to learn which foods are high in the respective nutrients, then look up for some delicious recipes. Learning to appreciate the taste of quality food will lower the huge hunger for extremely salty, sweet or fatty junk foods.
Regular physical activity will also facilitate the growth of new brain cells, and the strengthening of the prefrontal cortex, plus not to mention it would relieve your tension and stress, thus lowering the chance for a nasty relapse. When your brain is healthy, and you make smart decisions regarding your diet, you’ll inevitably drop excessive weight. If you find it hard to start practicing a sport, daily walks can also prove useful. Of course it would be better if you had the will to engage more often in a sport activity like running, cycling, martial arts, swimming, and fitness, as it would lead to even better results in terms of body transformation and self-esteem. Some people have never tried a particular sport before, and puzzle over what they should choose. If you’re one of them, don’t worry, take your time and try a few things for a while just to see what fits you most.
In conclusion we’d say that everybody should know what food addiction is. It’s real, and its potential dangers shouldn’t be belittled. Knowing the causes, and the ways for preventing food addiction will without a doubt be a huge advantage for every person who wants to protect their health, both physical and mental.