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Food Addiction

This week is the Future of Nutrition online conference presented by the Institute for the Psychology of Eating started by Marc David. One of the interviews from day one of the conference with Pamela Peeke, MD addressed the topic of food addiction.

Some common food addictions are sugar, caffeine, salty and fatty foods. Sugar (processed/refined sugar) in particular has been proven to be more addictive than cocaine, heroin and morphine. Sugar has the same affect on the reward center of the brain as these drugs. In a study with rats, after they had been given Oreo cookies, cocaine, heroin and morphine, when given a choice they went right for the Oreo cookies and specifically pulled them apart to go directly for the filling in the center.

The food companies have a term for this effect on the reward center of the brain – bliss point. The food companies have taken the reward threshold and brought it way past the point where natural foods (such as a ripe fruit) trigger the reward center. Over time, the dopamine receptors are decreased because the brain is over stimulated by the intense sugary, salty, fatty foods that we eat. The decrease in the receptors then requires more of these foods to feel satiated.

If you are vulnerable to addiction, it can be even more difficult to resist the sugary, salty, fatty foods that are over-abundant in our society. People who are vulnerable to addiction may have an addictive gene, or could have been raised in an environment where they were regularly exposed to these foods, or may have other eating disorders.

There is hope, because the effects on the brain can be reversed when you stop eating these foods. Some recommendations for working with a sugar addiction are: drink water, eat sweet fruits and vegetables, get plenty of sleep, eliminate packaged snack foods, and get physically active to help balance your blood sugar levels.

The most effective ways to combat food addiction are:

  • Journal - keep track of what you eat and how you feel before and after

  • Seek group support - social groups have an impact on your health; chronic diseases such as obesity are contagious (you are more likely to be overweight if your friends are overweight)

  • Cook and take the time to sit down to eat – health happens in the grocery store, in our kitchen and where we eat

  • Return to the “factory settings” of the body by cutting out these addictive food items to get back to what the body actually needs

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