Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Food Addiction: A Primer Part One

This is a two part series.  The first part discusses the basics of food addiction while the second part is written by a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and will discuss what practitioners should know about addiction. 

Food has come off as a socially acceptable release for modern day society.  Where some people go to the bar for a pint some might head to the freezer for a different pint.  Recently, research has started to focus on food addiction.  According to WebMD, “experiments in animals and humans show that, for some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also activated by food.” 

Foods that trigger a ‘feel good’ response and are highly palatable are also high in sugar, salt, and fat.  New York Times  reporter, Michael Moss (Pulitzer Prize winner) recently wrote Sugar, Salt, Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us. “Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food. It’s no wonder, then, that one in three adults, and one in five kids, is clinically obese. It’s no wonder that twenty-six million Americans have diabetes, the processed food industry in the U.S. accounts for $1 trillion a year in sales, and the total economic cost of this health crisis is approaching $300 billion a year.”

Stress, a pre-disposition towards addiction, and a food industry manufacturing food add fuel to the fire. 

Food addiction is different from addictions to drugs or alcohol.  It’s socially acceptable to eat.  Actually, food is essential to life.  These highly palatable foods trigger dopamine and other feel good chemicals in the brain producing a high.  Eventually, the receptors need more and more once a tolerance is established.  Eventually, food satisfies the person less and less. 

Additional resources on the signs of food addiction include:

Researchers at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Science & Policy have developed a questionnaire to identify people with food addictions.
Here's a sample of questions that can help determine if you have a food addiction. Do these actions apply to you? Do you:
  • End up eating more than planned when you start eating certain foods
  • Keep eating certain foods even if you're no longer hungry
  • Eat to the point of feeling ill
  • Worry about not eating certain types of foods or worry about cutting down on certain types of foods
  • When certain foods aren't available, go out of your way to obtain them
The questionnaire also asks about the impact of your relationship with food on your personal life. Do these situations apply to you:
  • You eat certain foods so often or in such large amounts that you start eating food instead of working, spending time with the family, or doing recreational activities.
  • You avoid professional or social situations where certain foods are available because of fear of overeating.
  • You have problems functioning effectively at your job or school because of food and eating.
The questionnaire asks about withdrawal symptoms. For example, when you cut down on certain foods (excluding caffeinated beverages), do you have symptoms such as:
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Other physical symptoms
The questionnaire also tries to gauge the impact of food decisions on your emotions. Do these situations apply to you?
  • Eating food causes problems such as depression, anxiety, self-loathing, or guilt.
  • You need to eat more and more food to reduce negative emotions or increase pleasure.
  • Eating the same amount of food doesn't reduce negative emotions or increase pleasure the way it used to.