By: Dr. Kantor, PhD in Nutritional Science & CEO of NAMED Program
Can people really get addicted to food?
Yes, food especially foods that contain potent amounts of sugar, sodium and processed fats can be addicting- these foods stimulate the opiate receptors .Once the opiate receptors are stimulated they release chemicals that go to the frontal cortex in the brain and cause dopamine to be released. This is the same mechanism that is used by drugs and alcohol. Aside from the physical addiction to food, there is the emotional connection to food that is also addicting, people use food for coping, soothing, relaxation and even simple routine that they enjoy. Examples of these routines include doughnuts on Saturday mornings with the kids, beer and pizza date nights, ice cream after practice, etc. These examples are common happy moments that people want to repeat and they just so happen to be centered on foods.
If so, how can this happen, and what can be done about it?
Food originally was not processed and contained only natural occurring fats, sugars and sodium that the body was made to use for metabolism, for optimal energy. Modern technology has processed foods so much with potent amounts of sugar in the form of syrups, fats in the form of hydrogenated oils and sodium that when we taste these processed foods our body has a “high” like euphoric feeling with a release in dopamine and it stimulates the opiate receptors similar to a drug abusers response.
The first step to overcoming a food addiction is becoming self aware and realizing that food may play a negative role in your life. If you find yourself binge eating or eating food when you’re not hungry you may have a food addiction.
Some simple steps are to replace your unhealthy food choices with healthy unprocessed options like fruit instead of candy, nuts instead of chips, or 70% dark chocolate instead of processed candy bars. Ensure that you are eating a balanced diet rich in healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, quality protein and whole unprocessed carbohydrates. If your diet is packed with optimal nutrients, your cravings will reduce simply because your opiate receptors will not be stimulated and hormones like insulin levels will be in optimal range.
In addition to awareness and healthy food swaps reach out to a qualified counselor if you feel like your efforts are not working.