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Food Addiction: The Addictiveness of Common Foods

Posted Aug 04 2009 6:41pm

Image by Nesster

I can’t seem to lose the weight despite continuous efforts to do so; I just keep craving and bingeing…

If you could only put down the fork and back away from the table then maybe, just maybe you wouldn’t have such a problem with food. If you could only walk past the shop without caving and going in to buy a chocolate, then maybe, just maybe you wouldn’t pile on the pounds. If you could only stop going out late especially to buy junk, then maybe just maybe you might not be so miserable.


You feel greedy.

You feel weak.

But honestly, you are neither.


If it was that simple, don’t you think you could have done it by now?

Food cravings unfortunately are a subtle type of addiction in some respects. Society doesn’t recognise food as addictive in the same way that drugs and alcohol are. Where as someone who craves alcohol would be encouraged to seek help, those of us who crave sugary snacks are often - if not all the time - encouraged to indulge in our addictions. And if we don't indulge we will often hear the retort:


"Why are you depriving yourself?"  


"A little isn't going to hurt!"  


It’s why we have the word “craving”. It belittles the whole experience that many of us go through when we need to have a particular food.

Now you may be thinking that the word addiction is a little too strong for your case of cravings or you may be thinking it is exactly what you experience. Either way let’s explore this further.

Most of the foods that we crave usually involve sugar like chocolate, candy, cakes, biscuits and cola. These foods have no real nutritional benefit. The white sugar found in them is an unnatural molecule that has no nutritional value whatsoever. It is completely devoid or nutrients – it is an empty calorie. But this is what we crave.

So why, other than comfort and pleasure, would you crave sugar? Why would you eat foods full of nutritionally empty calories if not for pleasure and comfort? You certainly aren’t eating them for nutrition. And that is a key concept you need to grasp and that is lost in a society that uses food for many more things than just nutrition.

Food has a function and that is to fuel our bodies. When we were babies it did also have the function of comforting us. Mother’s milk is sweet for a reason. When one merely tastes sugar impulses are sent through our nerves leading to the base of our brain. Along the way our pleasure centre is activated causing a release of natural opiates. This is all quite natural. However as we grow we learn to become more independent and less reliant on our mothers. We naturally wean between 4-7 years old. Food then is just a function but most people do not use food in this way.

I am not saying that eating shouldn’t be pleasurable. What I am saying is that pleasure should not override the first function: nutrition. They can go hand in hand, it’s just most people have numbed their taste buds too much to allow it!

Maybe that isn’t enough to convince you that you have an addiction just yet but bare with me…


Loss of Control

Addiction is anything that has become stronger than your willpower to change.

Food addiction is a loss of control over eating.  Loss of control can mean many different things.  It can mean eating in excessive quantities. For some, eating three square meals a day is kept to with out snacking only because the portion sizes are extortionate.

For many not eating at all is something much easier to deal with then trying to quit once started. This can lead to one not eating all day and then bingeing in the evening.

It can also mean that we get strong urges in our head of that craved food that we just can’t resist and no matter what the time we have to go out and get it. The drive can be so powerful yet almost unconscious that we aren’t really aware of what we are doing. On reflection of my own food addictions, once I had more self awareness of my issues, I couldn’t believe how I hadn’t noticed before. I used to obsess over food – picture a nice chocolate cake in my head and could even feel it melting on my tongue.


The Affect On Your Body

Physical dependence or physical addiction to food simply means that something has altered inside you in some way.

When addictive foods are eaten repeatedly, the body adjusts homeostasis to be balanced with the food in the system. It attempts to operate and function normally despite the imbalance created by your sugar/food addiction. Over time the body will become dependent on that substance for homeostatic balance and its removal will cause withdrawal. The body cries out for the missing substance as just intense hunger cries for food

If you have been eating sugary/salty/refined/processed foods, eating irregularly, or eating more than your body needs – your natural appetite is distorted.


Brain Chemistry

As mentioned above sugar, including chocolate, triggers the release of natural opiates in the brain. Sugar isn’t the only thing that affects us in this way. For example, cheese and dairy products contain morphine. In 1981, Eli Hazum et al discovered that cow’s milk contains morphine. This is because cows produce morphine in their bodies (cited in Breaking the Food Seduction ). The morphine in cow’s milk produces a calming effect on their young. It is there to help the mother-infant bond and to make sure the infant gets the nutrition it needs.

Many foods also contain heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are both indirectly and directly addictive. Some of these HCAs can cause sleeplessness, mood issues (ever feel moody after certain foods even a day later?), can contribute to cancer, brain diseases and also depression (see for more information).

It doesn’t end there though. I have only lightly touched on some of the issues surrounding our favourite foods in this article. There is a lot of consequence in the hidden properties of foods and most of us are totally unaware of them. Becoming more self aware, eating consciously and preparing food ourselves instead of leaving it up to prepackaged foods is something that we all need to do in order to live a healthier, lighter life.


Stop Cravings


Check out my new site: Food Addiction 101

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