Food Addiction: Personal Choice or Biological Craving?
Lifestyle choices do greatly determine our health and wellbeing. Diet, exercise, attitude and how we manage environmental factors all play a key role in reaching that ideal state of homeostasis, balance and moderation in all things. Sounds great in theory, doesn’t it?! In practice, the picture is very different.
According to a new global study on obesity published in The Lancet (Feb 3, 2011), Global obesity rates are doubling: New worldwide study researchers from Harvard, Imperial College London, and the World Health Organization (WHO), show how more than half a billion adults are clinically obese. Numbers have almost doubled since 1980. What is going on? If we can choose our lifestyle, why so many of us really choosing to be overweight?
Maybe the problem of obesity is not simply driven by a lack of motivation or effort.
Do We Really Have a Choice About What We Eat?
We may think we are making healthy food choices, but in fact, we are often being misled. So called processed ‘healthy’, ‘low fat’, ‘low sugar’ foods and drinks are, in fact. far from healthy.
They contain toxic filler or replacement ingredients like aspartame, MSG, hydrogenated (&/or trans fatty) fats and oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colours and flavourings and more. These neurotoxins may tantalise your taste buds, but they also unbalance dopamine and serotonin levels leading to craving behaviours and severe health consequences.
Indeed, Scientific findings prove how the vast majority of these processed consumables are biologically addictive. For example:
- Sugar stimulates the brain’s reward centers through the neurotransmitter dopamine exactly like other addictive drugs.
- Brain imaging (PET scans) shows that high-sugar and high-fat foods work just like heroin, opium, or morphine in the brain
- PET scans also show that obese people and drug addicts have lower numbers of dopamine receptors, making them more likely to crave things that boost dopamine.
- Foods high in fat and sugar stimulate the release of the body’s own opioids (chemicals like morphine) in the brain.
- People (and rats) develop a tolerance to sugar: They need even more of the substance to satisfy them, just like they do for drugs like alcohol or heroin.
- Obese individuals continue to eat large amounts of unhealthy foods despite severe social and personal negative consequences, just like addicts or alcoholics.
- Animals and humans experience “withdrawal” when suddenly cut off from sugar, just like addicts detoxifying from drugs.
- Just like drugs, after an initial period of “enjoyment” of the food, the user no longer consumes them to get high, but to feel normal.
These examples show how we have specific biological mechanisms driving addictive behaviour.
The behaviours arise out of primitive neurochemical reward centres in the brain that override normal will power and overwhelm our ordinary biological signals that control hunger. When these reward centres are triggered and overwhelmed by processed foods, addictive behaviours result.
Food Addiction encouraged by Food Manufacturers
Problems with food addiction are compound by food manufacturers who refuse to release any internal data on how they put ingredients together to maximize consumption of their food.
This was highlighted by the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr David Kessler. Courageous man!
In his book, The End of Overeating Dr Kessler describes the science of how food is made into drugs by the creation of hyper-palatable foods leading to neurochemical addiction.
He echoes the movie ‘Super Size Me’, where Morgan Spurlock became addicted to his daily three super-sized meals from McDonald’s.
At the beginning of the movie, when Morgan ate his first supersized meal, he threw it up, just like a teenager who drinks too much alcohol at his first party. By the end of the movie, he only felt “well” when he ate that junk food. The rest of the time he felt depressed, exhausted, anxious, and irritable and lost his sex drive, just like an addict or smoker withdrawing from his drug. The food was clearly addictive.
Given that food manufacturers aren’t likely to help reduce our preference for their processed consumables, and jeopardise their profits, what can we do?
How to Break (or Prevent) Food Addictions
Here are five suggestions to prevent or break food cravings and addictions:
- Eat well: Select unprocessed, and if possible, organic foods and drink without refined/artificial sugars, additives and flavourings, hydrogenated fats and oils, all of which are neurotoxins and damaging to your health
- Balance your blood sugar: Low blood sugar levels are associated with lower blood flow to the brain, and therefore impaired neurological function. To keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day: 1. Eat a nutritious breakfast with protein like free range eggs, a protein shake or nut butter. (Studies repeatedly show that eating a healthy breakfast helps people maintain weight loss.) 2. Have 4-5 smaller meals during the day, rather than one to three large ones. 3. Include protein with each snack or meal (lean animal protein, nuts, seeds, beans). 4. Avoid eating 2 hours before bedtime
- Optimize your vitamin D level: When Vitamin D levels are low, the hormone that helps turn off your appetite, leptin, doesn’t work. Then people feel hungry all the time, no matter how much they eat. Use sunshine to achieve this.
- Optimize Omega 3s: Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with depression, Alzheimer’s disease and obesity. This is because Omega 3 DHA helps to increase serotonin and dopamine levels. The most effective way to boost your Omega 3, serotonin and dopamine levels is by using one our Omega 3 range of fish oils.
- Take natural supplements for cravings control. Glutamine, tyrosine, 5-HTP are amino acids that help reduce cravings. Chromium balances blood sugar and can help take the edge off cravings. SAMe also helps to methylate serotonin and ensures that it remains 'active'.
Clearly, obesity and food cravings are not simply driven by a lack of motivation, effort, moral failing or lack of willpower. Rather, many of the processed foods we eat trigger addiction. If you are one of the many who craves such addictive foods, please know that you can reduce, if not stop, this vicious addictive circle by following the five suggestions above.
People with addictive cravings also say that it helps when they can find something else to refocus their energies or cravings on! Then the transformation can be remarkable.
For example, I know several people labeled as ‘addictive’ by the medical establishment. Yet they have become highly successful in other areas, especially creative ones. Where I live, in the Caribbean island of Antigua, many so-called ‘addicts’ (to food, drink, drugs, sex!), are know better known for their exceptional artistic and entrepreneurial talents.
Ultimately, aren’t we all talented? It is just a matter of identifying what we are talented in! Maybe cravings can lead somewhere remarkable.
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