Food Addiction 101


Have you ever had a craving so strong, you’ve left your house on a cold night and driven miles just to get your favorite treat? Do you wake up and instantly plan out your meals for the day? Have you tried to start a diet only to sabotage yourself with unhealthy food choices?

Additions to food are powerful. Food can control your thoughts and daily plans as you search for the perfect food to satisfy your desires. Dr. Neal Barnard points to common addictive foods in the American diet: cheese, meat, chocolate and sugar. According to Dr. Barnard, “these foods contain chemical compounds that stimulate the brain’s secretion of opiate-like, ‘feel-good’ chemicals like dopamine, which drive our cravings for them.”

There is that word again…dopamine. By now you are realizing just how powerful this brain chemical is in addiction. Problems in the brain occur as it naturally adjusts to the surges in dopamine by producing less dopamine and by reducing the number of receptors that can bind to dopamine. As a result, dopamine’s impact on the reward circuit of a drug abusers brain can become abnormally low, and the ability to experience any pleasure is reduced resulting in the need for more and more drugs to bring about pleasure.

Many of us have fond memories of getting ice cream with our grandparents or the delight of your mom’s delicious recipes. We can associate food to pleasure. Many of us have also been “trained” to overeat. Did your parents ever make you finish your plate as a kid? And, do you find yourself overeating as an adult just to eat every last bite? Our brain can create powerful neuro-associations with food. So things we did as a kid can later in life cause us to reach for food when we are sad, stressed, happy, lonely, or any other emotion.

WebMD lists the characteristics of a food addict as:

  • Being obsessed and/or preoccupied with food.
  • Having a lack of self-control around food.
  • Having a compulsion about food which can result in binging.
  • Being unable to stop using food as a sense of comfort and pleasure.

Desires for food can start from emotions, but experts are also pointing to the food industry as a source of our addiction. Persuasive advertising and packaging that tempt us into purchase can be tough to say no to.

Processed foods are especially dangerous. Not only are they filled with empty calories, which can make you return to the fridge, but they also stimulate dopamine production. In the movie, Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock was feeling miserable and did not feel like eating. But, he went to McDonald’s and noticed that as soon as he started eating, he instantly began to feel better. Food can be controlling!

Addictions can lead to serious health problems. The way food overwhelms your daily life can lead to eating disorders such as bulimia and compulsive overeating. People addicted to alcohol, drugs and tobacco can live a healthy life without having these substances in their lives. But, food addicts need food to live. So they fight a battle against their addiction daily. Some even go to extremes to avoid food entirely and face becoming anorexic.

Choose your battle wisely!


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