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Food Addiction: Is Science to Blame?

Posted Mar 22 2013 5:50am

I saw someone post on Facebook about being a food addict. It made me think about how often we hear that phrase and whether or not the majority of people who struggle with their weight are in fact food addicts.

I did a bit of research and the most common definition of food addict I found was from:

Kay Shephhard, M.A., mental health counselor, in an interview on the American Council of Exercise’s blog who says:

“Food addiction involves the compulsive pursuit of a mood change [through binge eating], says Shepphard.  “This is a disease that is primary, chronic, progressive and potentially fatal.”

The article goes on to talk about the fact that the foods that seem most “addictive” are those that have a high concentration of sugars and fat, and salt. Dr. David Kessler, in his book The End of Overeating, also talks about this triad of tastes.

The interesting thing about foods with this triad of ingredients is that they are almost all man-made in a test tube. You know, food from a tube. Processed foods often contain high concentrated amounts of sodium, are high in refined sugars, and are in many cases, high in fat. And when they are in combination, such as chips or cookies, those foods can be hard to put down.

Over time, these foods can certainly become addictive in nature. I saw in in myself. Why else would I have loaded up my 3-year-old into the car to take a little drive down the road to buy McDonald’s french fries and a chocolate shake in the middle of the afternoon? What compelled me to eat entire boxes of Girl Scout thin mints or bags of peanut M&M’s followed by salty chips?

I was addicted to those taste sensations, if not the foods themselves.

The science of food is now big business. Large food corporations often hire culinologists to find the perfect taste combinations that will appeal to the masses. These specialized chefs have training that blends the science and technology of food production with cooking. They learn to manipulate flavors, both natural and artificial. They are specially trained to make foods look good and taste just a certain way.

Although they certainly consider nutrition to some degree, the primary goal is to make the food taste a certain way. That taste appeals to us physically and mentally and for some people – can make that person crave those foods.

For those of you, who like me, find yourself attracted to that triad of tastes, there is hope.

The solution for me was to move away from processed foods and eat a diet more based in natural foods.

Cheetos were addictive to me, but cheese was not. Peanut M&M’s were hard for me to resist, but if I ate too many nuts, I got a stomachache. Ice cream was not so much an addictive food for me, but rather a true dessert. I found it relatively easy to eat ice cream occasionally and in small quantities.

I, like many of the research participants I read about, did not find healthy, wholesome foods addictive. I never ate pounds of carrots or cucumbers, but could eat pounds of chips in a relatively short period of time. Although I do love bread, I never ate an entire loaf of bread like I did entire sleeves of cookies.

The move to a diet heavily based on unprocessed foods not only helped me lose weight, but has also helped me maintain that weight for a long time. Why?

Because I’ve moved past feeling compelled to eat large quantities of junk food because I don’t give my taste buds those foods any longer. If I eat well most of the time, I can have a dessert if I really want it without that dessert sending me into binge mode. Some of you may react differently, but that has been my experience.

Every one of you has to find what works for you, but for many of you, moving from highly processed foods to a more natural diet is a great first step in your quest to get to a healthier weight. Food addictions are real and while a lot of people benefit from therapy to help with those addictions, eliminating scientifically modified foods from your diet can only help.

What to you think? Is science partly to blame for the prevalence of obesity and food addictions? Diane

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