Food Addiction

If you are like many of us, you feel like you have absolutely no willpower when it comes to food. If you are the average person, a typical day starts with a cup of coffee and a breakfast food. Perhaps you lean towards a cheese Danish, cereal with milk, toast with jelly and butter, or a toaster pastry.

You go about your day and by mid morning you are tired and starting to get hungry. You reach for a donut, cookie or another simple sugar and maybe another cup of coffee.

Now you are watching the clock for lunch time. Lunch is a sandwich of some sort, perhaps a burger, on white bread. Maybe it includes pasta, French fries, cheese and meat burritos, pizza and a soda.

In the next two hours you find yourself struggling to keep your eyes open and counting the minutes to bed time so you can finally get some rest. The next morning, you start all over again. Never once have you ever thought that, perhaps, what you are eating is one of the main reasons you are so tired all time.

The key to having sustained energy throughout the day is to maintain a steady level of blood sugar. If you eat a simple carbohydrate with not a lot of fiber present, the simple carbohydrate (also known as a simple sugar), the sugar is quickly absorbed into your blood system. Large levels of sugar floating around in your blood sugar causes the body to release insulin. Insulin has several jobs, one of which is to attach to the sugar and carry the sugar to the cells where the cells use the sugar as fuel.

This big influx of fuel for the cells gives you an energy rush. The problem is once the rush is over, your blood sugar (your fuel supply) drops, the cells, in a sense, run out of fuel, and you feel tired. You now want a quick pick me up, so you reach for more simple sugar to re-fuel your cells and the cycle continues. If we go one step further we see that if we continue to eat simple sugars, the cells will fill up with fuel and cannot accept any more.

The excess sugar cannot remain in the blood because the sugar is an acid and too much acid in the blood is very dangerous. The acid can, in very simple terms, eat little holes in the blood vessels. If you start to develop these holes in your blood vessels, the body must fill in these holes before the blood vessel becomes weak and runs the risk of rupturing. The body fills in these holes with cholesterol. The more holes we have in our blood vessels, the more cholesterol is laid down and the narrower the blood vessels become. Narrow blood vessels prevent normal levels of blood from properly nourishing the body and parts of the body that have their blood supply being decreased or cut off will malfunction. An organ, or any part of the body, cannot function properly if it is starved of its blood supply.

The body needs to get the excess sugar out of the blood, and if the cells cannot accept the sugar the body sends the sugar to the liver where it is converted to glycogen. Glycogen is the way the body stores sugar for use as fuel at a time when sugar is not available. Glycogen is mainly stored in the liver, under blood vessels and in muscles. Once all the places to store glycogen are filled up, the body converts glycogen into triglycerides, sends the triglycerides into the blood and gets stored in the fats cells as fat. This explains why eating a diet high in simple carbohydrates can cause you to gain weight. Stored fat in fat cells will cause you to produce more estrogen.

Estrogen is a growth hormone. Growth hormones do what they say, they cause you to grow. Growth hormones are important, but if you have too many of them, they can cause abnormal growth. One form of abnormal growth is obesity. Another form of abnormal growth is cancer. In a strange twist, the more estrogen you have, the more likely you are to lay down fat (gain weight). The more fat you have stored, the more estrogen you will produce and you get stuck in this vicious cycle. Woman on average have more estrogen than men which may be why women have a tougher time losing weight than men. The easiest way to not fall into this eating frenzy is to avoid simple carbohydrates. A dangerous pitfall many people fall into is that they go to the other extreme. They avoid carbohydrates and rely on protein  heavy  foods.

This is more dangerous for other reasons. Too much protein, especially animal proteins (meat and dairy products) are not good sources of fuel. The brain runs on glucose (a form of sugar) and high protein diets are very low in glucose. This causes the brain to try to function on a byproduct of protein and fat and it does not do a good job. This explains the “brain fog” many people report that are on high protein diets.

Sustained release of complex carbohydrates will give the body the fuel it needs to function normally. The way to achieve this is by eating whole foods that are high in fiber. Whole foods are foods that are eaten in the form in which they are found in nature.

For example, old fashioned oat meal will give you a high fiber, slow release of sugar food. Instant oatmeal, which is processed and chopped up very finely, will not give you a slow release of natural sugars. Brown rice has all its fiber in tact and will not give you the quick rush of sugar. White rice, which is brown rice with the outer covering bran removed (which is the high fiber portion of the rice kernel), will break down into sugar very quickly.

This is why you get hungry not long after a Chinese dinner, even though you ate a large serving. Research has shown that people who eat high fiber, whole foods, will snack up to 35% less than those who don’t eat high fiber foods.

There are certain foods that will cut your cravings and keep you from getting hungry for hours and there are other foods that will cause cravings and make you feel hungry, even though you have eaten a substantial amount of food and should be full. If you are hungry, you are hungry for nutrients. Food is one way to get nutrients into our body. Quality supplements are another way we can get nutrients. If we have enough nutrients, we will be less hungry. I can safely say that food addicts are malnourished. When a food addict gets all the nutrients they need, the cravings will be at least curbed and in many cases the craving will go away entirely.

Food Addiction Explained

Research has shown that a few common foods need to be monitored and in many cases totally avoided. Dr. Neal Barnard’s  book “Breaking the Food Seduction” (St. Martin’s Press, 2003), talks about the 4 foods that can cause a chemical reaction in your brain similar to heroin, cocaine and other addicting drugs. Dr. Barnard has found in his research that the main foods that can cause addiction are chocolate, dairy, meat, and simple sugars. These foods can cause you to have a physical addiction and you must address these addictions if you are to overcome them and return to good health. These addictions can be as serious as any drug addition and are treated in similar ways as drug addicts are treated.

Many people will say there is no reason to live if they can’t have meat, dairy, simple sugars or chocolate, even after they are taught why they are so dangerous. The four foods that are the major causes of addiction can have a physical effect on your brain by stimulating your pleasure center. That is the part of your brain that allows you to experience pleasure.

There are several reasons why the four foods, meat, simple sugar, dairy and chocolate have this addictive effect. When the human race did not have access to all the foods that most of us have access to today, it was important to eat to sustain life. Eating had to be pleasurable or else we as humans or any animal would not do it. Eating is an expensive habit, not only financially, but in time and energy. In the past, it was not as simple trip to the grocery store. Food had to be either hunted, gathered, or grown. If eating was not pleasurable, mankind probably would have died out a long time ago. Same goes with reproduction. If making babies was not a pleasurable experience, we as a race would have been extinct almost before we got started. Foods that gave us the most concentration of nutrients were in demand because they were cheaper in terms of energy expenditure. Foods with concentrated proteins, fats and carbohydrates were on the top of the list.

Eating these foods would release chemicals in the brain that gave us pleasure so we would go out and risk life and limb to get more of them. In the process our body was nourished and we thrived. Today we have relatively easy access to food in many places in the world. Foods high in protein, carbohydrates and fats are still sought after, but the problem comes in when these foods are in such great abundance and worse yet, in a processed, concentrated form. If normal amounts of these foods give you a little pleasure, the more processed and concentrated they are, the more pleasure you experience to the point that you can become addicted.

The high amounts of pleasure chemicals (neurotransmitters) can override logical thought and cause you do things you know logically are not right, but the desire to “get high” can lead you to do things that are not in your best interest. You might have experienced this when you are presented with a chocolate brownie with ice cream. You know that if you eat it, you will either feel sick and/or gain weight, but you do it anyway. When you are done, you feel awful and wonder why you did it. You swear you will never do it again, but the next time you are in a similar situation, you become weak, give in and do it again. If the sugar in an apple will give you a slow release of energy and a slight release of pleasure chemicals, apple juice that is concentrated and has added sugar and high fructose corn syrup (another form of sugar) will give you a rush of these pleasure chemicals and you will want more. Now imagine what a great high you will get if we concentrate sugar, add it to white flour (which quickly converts into sugar) add a concentrated protein, let’s say an egg, and add a concentrated fat, such as butter. Now we have a piece of cake, pie or bread. If you are prone to food addiction  this is most likely a food that will make your mouth water and you will go out of your way in time, energy or money to get this. You or someone you know most likely has a food addiction and will act around concentrated foods the way a drug addict or alcoholic will act around drugs or alcohol. Now let’s explain the mechanism of how these foods act on your body.

When an action or food gives you pleasure, one chemical called dopamine is produced and released. Dopamine is a chemical that acts on the part of your brain that stores memories. A good memory is associated with the action that created pleasure. When you come in contact with this action, your body comes to expect pleasure and you will seek out this action in order to experience pleasure again. Certain things we put in our body will stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain beyond even concentrated foods. Drugs such as heroin, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, legal and illegal, can have this pleasurable effect on the brain. Some people’s brains will be more stimulated by a certain food, drug or experience that others. One person might be susceptible to be addicted to food, another person might be susceptible to drugs, one to alcohol and another may not have an addiction reaction to any of these. Certain people will develop a physical dependency on certain chemicals which will cause withdrawal symptoms if they do not get a regular “fix” of the chemical.

There seems to be an association with how many opiate receptor sites a person has in their brain and how susceptible someone is to becoming an addict. An opiate receptor site is the area in the brain that picks up stimulating chemicals such as dopamine and causes you to feel pleasure. If a person has a lower number of opiate receptor sites, they need more stimulation in order to get the same pleasure experience as someone who has more opiate receptor sites. The more stimulants taken in, the more side effects that person is likely to have. In order for someone who is low in opiate receptor sites to get an “acceptable” amount of pleasure, they need to overload on stimulants and the sides effects can be devastating. In theory, any food can produce stimulating chemicals. Some such as meat, dairy, concentrated sugar and chocolate, are more stimulating than others and certain drugs can put your brain into overload. Just like dealing with alcoholism, the only way to not have the addiction reaction is to totally avoid the thing that you are addicted to. An alcoholic cannot have a little alcohol. Even a sip can cause them to fall “off the wagon” and go on a drinking binge. If you are not prone to alcoholism, you can have a drink and then stop. If you are an alcoholic, you can’t stop. The same is true for food addictions. The only way to avoid an eating binge is to avoid the foods that cause the chemical reactions in your brain. Different foods have a different effect in people. If you have a sugar addiction, avoid all processed, low fiber sugars. If it’s meat or dairy or chocolate that give you a problem, you must avoid them. It will take several days for you to get over the cravings and after several months, you might be able to have some of the foods in question and not have the addiction reaction. That being said, there is no reason for you to ever go back to eating meat, dairy, sugar or chocolate.

All these foods are counterproductive to your goal of good health. There are over 120,000 foods that will help get you to your goal of good health, so there is no need to include the bad foods. It is easy to see if the foods mentioned cause you to have a reaction. If you can eat just a small portion of them and walk away without any cravings, you most likely don’t have an addiction. If you can’t walk away and do have cravings, you most likely do have an addiction. Now that you understand why you can’t give up certain foods, you can address the issue and deal with it. You can give up the bad foods, replace them good foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, raw nuts and raw seeds, and move quickly toward optimum health.

If you’re ready to clean up your eating habits, give us a call at 770-427-7387 to schedule a nutrition consultation with Dr. Joe. You can also request an appointment by sending us a message in the live chat.