By Joan Kent
The good news is things have moved forward with respect to food addictions. For one thing, food addictions are now acknowledged as real. (When I started doing this work, they were not — I remember how people would argue against the idea.) Now we know that food addictions are based in neurochemistry, making them physiologically real.
Those who claim they”™re something else tend to be unaware, either of the neurochemistry and physiology of addiction OR of the neurochemical effects of foods.
Sugar addiction is still the most common food addiction I see in my practice.
But other common addictive foods, such as saturated fats and processed white flour, are not always recognized as such.
Genetic factors may predispose someone to a given food addiction. These can include a family history of alcoholism, diabetes, hypoglycemia, hypertension, depression, and more. There are also non-genetic predisposing factors, including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder (which alters neurochemistry) and body type.
The brain response to sugar, saturated fats or other foods is often as genetic as eye color. We each got what we got. What”™s great is we can do something about it. Changes in diet can alter neurochemical levels and modify cravings, appetite, mood and food preferences in a beneficial way. My dissertation was on the treatment of women with binge-eating disorder. Eliminating sugar was found to bring a significant decrease in bingeing and craving.
It helps no one to ignore an addictive response to certain foods and treat it as if it were not an addiction. Treating an addictive response as an emotional problem misses the point. (Amazingly, there are still people in the weight-loss field who do that.) And it never gets to the underlying issue. Worst of all, it could very likely make the addicted individual feel like a failure if she or he couldn”™t control the addictive response to sugar emotionally. How unnerving, when the response is physiological.
In some ways, food addictions may actually be more difficult to conquer than other addictions. Obviously, abstinence is not an option. We can decide to give up alcohol or any other drug and only be the better for it, even if going through the rehabilitation is tough. But food is something we have to deal with several times a day, every day, for the rest of our lives, so the problem is insidious.
Virtually any food can result in addiction for people who are susceptible. That can occur due to various food sensitivities (sometimes called "allergies", a controversial term with respect to foods). The sensitivity may result in a neurochemical cascade that can trigger an addictive response. So, interestingly, some people with food sensitivities end up addicted to the very foods that make them feel worst.
Elimination diets are sometimes used in such cases. I have used that approach at times for suspected food sensitivities. Most food addictions, though, seem to hinge on general neurochemical responses (by all) that are problematic for some due to predisposing factors, based on family history. That can often be determined via questionnaire. If more specific information is necessary (by blood test, for example), I refer to an M.D.
The bad news in this situation is that food addictions, especially sugar addiction, are disturbingly common and are contributing profoundly to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and several types of cancer. But that”™s a post for another week.
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