Cravings for food can be similar to what alcoholics feel when they need a drink!
The addiction scenario in the brains of alcoholics and drug addicts is pretty well understood, but the notion that food cravings, compulsive eating and even obesity are tied to the same type of brain activity has been supported by a variety of studies, yet continues to produce controversial debates.
Compulsive overeating, also sometimes called food addiction, is characterized by an obsessive/compulsive relationship to food. Professionals address this with either a behavior-modification model or a food-addiction model. An individual suffering from compulsive overeating disorder engages in frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating, or binge eating, during which they may feel frenzied or out of control, often consuming food past the point of being comfortably full.
The latest evidence suggesting that food addiction exists was done by a small study at Yale University support that an addictive process takes place in the brain when people eat certain foods.
Identifying the Addicts
48 young women were recruited by the Yale researchers, who subjected them to a two-year old test. The test, known as the "Yale Food Addiction Scale" asks about their reactions to certain foods, such as specific sweets including chocolate, cookies cake and ice cream; starches including white bread, pasta and rice; salty foods including chips, pretzels and crackers; fatty foods including pizza, hamburgers, steak and French fries; and sugary drinks such as soda. It also asks about healthy fruits and vegetables, but hardly anyone has a problem with broccoli or apples.
Based on the women’s responses, the research identifies those who scored in the addictive eating range.
Eating disorders facts
What Happens in the Brain?
The women were then given MRIs to observe how the brain responded to images of a chocolate milkshake as well as those of a tasteless solution. The women who scored highest on the "Yale Food Addiction Scale" showed greater activity in brain regions associated with reward when they saw the chocolate milkshake.
When the women actually were allowed to drink the milkshake, the research showed the same kind of brain activity that occurs in alcoholics and drug addicts when they got their drink or fix.
Can Food Addiction Make You Fat?
Accrding to research, food addiction may very well be a major factor for some people getting fat. Many doctors and nutritionists believe that food addiction may be a major contributing factor to the ongoing obesity epidemic, actually arousing people to overeat sweets and high fat, starchy foods.
Although the women participating in the Yale study ranged in size from slim to obese, there was no anology between the women’s BMI (the measure of body fat based on height and weight), and how she scored on the Food Addiction Scale.
However, the study did note that even though the BMI reflected genetics, physical activities and metabolism, some people may be eating in a food addictive manner while crash dieting or exercising periodically to keep weight off.
Learn how to identify the symptoms of binge eating and how to get treated.
What Underlies Addiction?
Food addicts often eat to cope with negative emotions and can consume “shocking” amounts of food. Some people will eat up to 10,000 calories in one sitting. Food addicts often overeat all day long like a chain smoker constantly puffs cigarettes. A preoccupation with food definately suggests addiction.
Those who scored high on the food-addiction scale reported the need to eat more and more food to get the emotional satisfaction they experienced in the past.
Food addicts develop a physical, mental, emotional craving and chemical addiction to food. The characteristics of food addicts can include:
- Being obsessed and/or preoccupied with food.
- Having a lack of self-control when it comes to food.
- Having a compulsion about food in which eating results in a cycle of bingeing despite negative consequences.
- Remembering a sense of pleasure and/or comfort with food and being unable to stop using food to create a sense of pleasure and comfort.
- Having a need to eat which results in a physical craving.
The following are questions that potential food addicts may ask themselves:
- Have I tried but failed to control my eating?
- Do I find myself hiding food or secretly bingeing?
- Do I have feelings of guilt or remorse after eating?
- Do I eat because of emotions?
- Is my weight affecting my way of life?
The Most Addictive Foods
The Yale study suggests that the food addicts most commonly crave is highly processed, containing lots of sugar and fat. Chocolate, ice cream and fries can also cause an addict to lose control.
Some foods are naturally high in sugar while some are naturally high in fat (like avocados) but the combination of sweet and fat doesn’t occur in nature.
The worst food addiction seems to come from food processing that combines sugar and fat, adding chemicals and even caffeine or flavor enhancers, producing foods that are very different from what we’ve naturally evolved to consume.
Food addiction, compulsive eating and over eating, just like bing overweight and obese appear to be unnatural. In other words, our bodies were not designed to eat like that or be like that.
Now its up to us to eat, live and be what mother nature intended.