Friday, October 5, 2012

Food Addiction: Is it real?

When my issue of ACE Fitness Journal arrived in the mail this week, the cover really spoke to me: Food Addiction. Oh, yes. This is a biggie for me. As someone who has gone through the very difficult process of dumping sugar, as well as completely revolutionizing the way I interact with food, addiction is a very good word to describe the way many of us feel in the presence of some foods. 

I posted a picture of the cover on my Facebook fan page and asked what foods people felt they were addicted to. Right away the common bad guys popped up:

Starches, carbs, potatoes!

Yep. Been there.

The article is a scientific look at how food addiction occurs, why some foods are harder for us to moderate than others, and most importantly how to reverse the cycle of food addiction. In short, food addiction is indeed real, thanks to a neurotransmitter called Dopamine that signals our brain to get ready to feel reallllly good when a hyperpalatable food is present. Hyperpalatable? Yep, I'm talking about food that is so jacked up with flavor in the form of fat and sugar that it has conditioned our brains to need and want more of it to get the same high that we used to get from just a taste. In other words, junk food.

I've read reports about fast food companies that follow a formula of fat to sugar to salt ratio that is designed to activate the reward centers of our brains and almost guarantee repeat business. In other words, we become addicted to it. My husband told me last weekend about a story he heard reporting that children who frequently eat fast food begin to salivate when they see the Golden Arches. That's downright scary.

Research has shown that obese people - not all but enough to matter - have fewer dopamine receptors in their brains that signal when it is time to stop eating. But are they born that way, or does this develop as a result of behavior? Just as behavior can trump genetics when you're trying to develop good habits, it can do the same for bad. Consistently eating hyper palatable foods has a negative impact on your brains ability to produce the dopamine it needs to tell you to lay off.

So yes. Food addiction is real, and most often the foods we find ourselves addicted to are the ones that provide a tidal wave of sensations: the texture, aroma, and even the setting in which we consume them all playing a role. But, the good news is that food addiction can be overcome. It takes time and discipline, but it is possible!


1. Mindfulness. As a wellness coach, I spend a lot of time helping clients develop mindful habits. Our busy lives can get so distracting that sometimes we are eating without even realizing it until we've wolfed down half a sandwich. By slowing down and becoming mindful - it takes practice and intention! - we can reverse that process and reduce stress as well.

2. Omega 3. I don't often recommend a lot of supplements, but Omega-3 (you might also see it advertised as DHA) has been shown to help reduce impulsivity in food choices. Now, don't rush out and buy a bottle of fish oil and think it will solve your food addiction! It is one part of a larger lifestyle change that needs to happen together.

3. Exercise. Its a natural appetite suppressant, and the endorphins from exercise make it a lot easier to make healthier choices later. Plus, its just a good idea overall.

Food addiction is real, and I have been on both sides. It is a tough road, but soooo sooo soooooo worth it when you get to the other side. Trust me on this one: you can do it, and you are worth it. If you need help, let me know. That's what wellness coaches are for.

Get out there and get healthy today, even if you really, really, really want something else.

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