Do You Have A Food Addiction?

Do You Have A Food Addiction?

In This Article

The Chemistry of Cravings & Overeating

Logic tells us that we crave foods when the body is low on fuel, but some new science along with some fascinating ancient wisdom is telling us that there is something primitive behind our cravings and food addictions. If you read Vedic philosophy, one of the main premises is to not get attached to the fruits of your actions. This means that if we accomplish something and we let that accomplishment be our primary means of satisfaction then, in short order, we begin to crave more accomplishments.

While this may be good for getting things accomplished, the risks can be burnout, fatigue, sadness or depression when things don’t quite go your way. Food works very much the same way. We get signals from the body to eat when we are hungry and, for the past 3 million years or so, eradicating hunger was a great accomplishment.

Today, many run the risk of letting the accomplishment of eradicating hunger be a primary means of satisfaction – we have become attached to the “fruits.” This is what science is now calling hedonic hunger, a powerful desire for food in the absence of any need for it!

Hunger Hormones

Overshooting the food requirement runway for the body is a relatively new phenomenon. When we overeat, the excess fuel or calories, either from fats or sugar (carbs), will be stored as fat. Once the fat cells start to swell or grow in size, they release a hormone called leptin, which tells the brains hypothalamus to send an all-points-hormonal bulletin to reduce cravings while increasing cellular activity, like getting off the couch to burn the extra calories. (2,3)

Other hormones in the stomach and intestines that activate digestion and reduce hunger are released when they sense the presence of foods. On the flip side, when the stomach is empty, energy is low and the blood sugar dips, grehlin – the body’s hunger hormone – is released to signal the brain to go find food. (2,3)

Hedonic Hunger Hormones

Hedonic cravings use a completely different set of hormones than the hunger hormones described above. The desire for food without the need for food stimulates hormones that are linked to addictive behavior that are seen in drug and alcohol use, gambling and other compulsive and addictive behaviors. (1,3)

Comfort foods that are sweet and fatty activate the brain’s reward circuits. This served us well in times of feast and famine, but today, with highly processed, high-glycemic comfort foods available 24/7, the reward pathways can easily get over-stimulated.

These reward hormones, like dopamine, are triggered even before the foods enter the mouth. Dopamine, the body’s pleasure hormone, is released at the first sight or smell of the food. If the dopamine reward hormone is over-stimulated from excess sweet and fatty foods, the dopamine receptors can be de-sensitized or rendered non-responsive. The result, much like a drug addict, is an insatiable desire for food that has nothing to do with the need for fuel. Food truly becomes an addiction. (3)

Broken Hormones

Normally when we overeat or gorge during a feast, the leptin released from the gorged fat cells suppresses the pleasure hormone, dopamine, and thus prevents the breakdown or damage of the dopamine reward receptors. Studies have found that, as the body increases the fat cell production to keep up with the overeating or consumption of excess fuel, the brain stops responding to leptin which should block the dopamine rush and the hunger. As a result, the growing number of fat cells stimulates more dopamineand the more dopamine that is released the more fatty and sweet foods are needed to continually stimulate the de-sensitized dopamine receptors. (3)

Overcoming Food Addiction & Cravings

To allow the dopamine receptors to heal and the hunger hormones to balance out, we have to give the body a break from foods that overstimulate these hormones. To do that, here are some of the basic rules:

  1. Eat three meals a day with no snacks. This gives the fat cells a chance to be used as a fuel supply between meals.
  2. Try not to eat after the sun sets, or close the kitchen by 6PM. This will force the fat cells to be used as fuel during the night.
  3. Avoid any foods with added sugar in the ingredients.
  4. Avoid any fats that are processed, cooked or baked.
  5. Daily moderate exercise with nose breathing forces the fat cells to be burned as fuel.

References

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18077142
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/
  3. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-sugar-and-fat-trick-the-brain-into-wanting-more-food/

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Gratefully,
Dr. John

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