Food Addiction is Real (and 6 Ways to Deal)

496SHARES

By: , – Dr. Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP
2/13/2013 6:00 PM   :  31 comments   :  45,226 Views

Greetings to everyone. I'm thrilled to share this guest blog on DailySpark.com to share my wit and wisdom on all things healthy living. The SparkPeople community is a powerful and potent network of wonderful folks supporting one another as they strive to achieve mental and physical fitness through a healthier lifestyle. Kudos to all of you for doing your best to live the rich and rewarding life each of you so deserves.
 
This blog is all about the brand new science of food and addiction. As a physician and scientist and Pew Foundation scholar in nutrition and metabolism, I have devoted years to studying this issue and am thrilled to see that scientists around the globe continue to produce brilliant work to help people manage what is now emerging as a major problem in the field of weight management. Even the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, noted in a recent pronouncement that a new and significant cause of overweight and obesity is food addiction.
 
SparkPeople has done a masterful job of enlightening the community about this cutting-edge new science. I've been following the personal journeys of so many people who are struggling with cravings, binges and addictive urges for what we now call the hyperpalatables--sugary/fatty/salty/refined/processed food combinations.
 
Let's meet Samantha, one of my patients, who is featured in my book, The Hunger Fix,  which described the new science in consumer-friendly terms.

The beast never went away, it was just hiding, waiting to strike. I was blindsided, and by the time I really consciously realized what was happening, it was too late. A clear consciousness of what was happening didn't emerge until real physical terror— I woke up choking, because stomach acid was running up my throat into my mouth from my anxiety. I had bought bags of candy, intending to make Christmas cookies for everyone, but suddenly I had to feed the beast. I hid candy in the freezer, the car, even wrapped in a sock strategically placed through- out the house. I felt ashamed, tricked, embarrassed, mortified, and angry. The anger fired me up and gave me strength to face the beast. I'm nauseous just admitting my darkest moments of addiction— my friends, family, and husband would be shocked to know!  The Hunger Fix, pages 166-167

Thanks to the advent of specialized scans that allow researchers to peer into the brain, we've discovered what is now believed to be the basic mechanisms underlying all addictions. This is what is happening inside your brain:
  1. Your Reward Center is Hijacked: In any addictive state, we now know that the reward center in your brain undergoes organic changes. In the case of food, it's usually the hyperpalatables that cause most of the problems. Overexposure to them causes too much dopamine (the brain chemical that helps you feel reward and pleasure) to flow, overwhelming the brain. The brain can't handle this long term and a primal mechanism kicks in resulting in a decrease in the total number of dopamine receptors (the only way to feel reward is when dopamine bonds with its receptor). The bad news is that as a consequence of this downshift in receptors, your own perception of reward significantly decreases. One cupcake is not enough. 2, 3, 20 can't do it. There's no period to the end of that sugary/fatty/salty sentence. This is how the addictive cycle begins. If you have addiction genetics in your family line, this entire process is magnified. You do not have to have addiction genetics to become food addicted. You just need that overexposure from your living environment.

  2. Your Executive Center is Impaired: People with food addictions are constantly told "just use moderation for heaven's sake!". The problem is that the brain center that controls impulses (prefrontal cortex or PFC) is also where your willpower and discipline is housed. Scientists have discovered that in all addictions, the PFC is damaged and impaired. Try telling a food addict or an alcoholic in the middle of their respective binges to use moderation. This is not an excuse to stay out of control. It's just a scientific fact that is taken into consideration when a detox and recovery program are created.
What does this mean to you? Here are some tips to help you get started on your own path to lifelong recovery.

1) Are you a food addict? Something to keep in mind is that people who struggle with food and addiction come in every size, from skinny to obese. The skinny folks have just learned how to rein in calories enough to allow them to continue their addictive behaviors. They're not healthy or fit. Appearances can be quite deceiving.  Binging on a particular food(s) is very common. To help you, Yale University researchers have created a validated quiz to help you determine if you do indeed have this problem. Take the quiz. You have two options, the longer version  or a quick quiz.

2) Reclaim your brain. For all addictions, it's imperative to do what it takes to heal both the reward and executive centers in the brain. In order to do this, you need to tell your true truth and make a list of any foods that, after consuming, leave you feeling out of control and launching into overeating. Pitch them now. Will you ever be able to have them down the road? That's not possible if they keep lighting up your reward center and knee jerking you into the fridge. If you're cross addicted, the answer is a firm "no." Brain healing can only take place in the absence of the addictive food products.

3) Use an integrative approach. In my work, I use the pillars MIND MOUTH MUSCLE. In each category there are so many easy steps you can take to detox and pop into lifelong recovery from food addiction. Here are some highlights:

a) Meditate: Science now shows that when you regularly practice meditation (especially mindfulness and transcendental meditation) you activate and promote healing in the executive center of the brain. You also increase vigilance and stay present as you live through each day.
 
b) Switch Foods: I call addictive foods False Fixes. Switch out False Fixes with Healthy Fixes. Bag the salty fatty corn chips and bake some kale chips. Get smart and curb cravings by combining protein and fiber throughout the day. The brain perceives fullness and your appetite is reined in. Works like a charm and you're less likely to cave to the crave.

c) Grow a Bigger Brain: Get up and be more active throughout the day. When you do, scientists have shown that you actually stimulate the brain (including the executive center) to grow more brain cells and new circuits to duke it out with the addictive ones. That's why my Hunger Fix motto is "Big Brain, Small Waist". The bigger and more powerful your brain, the better your decisions and the smaller your waist.
 
4) Practice the 24-hour rule. Biggest Loser celeb Tara Costa wrote the forward to my book and helped promote our 24-hour rule. Here's how we teamed to make it work for you:

a) Study your own eating patterns throughout a 24-hour period. Identify the "red zones" when you're more likely to cave to the crave--morning, lunch, 3 p.m., dinner time, after dinner, any or all of the above.

b) Start every day by saying "Today I will______" and keep to your daily goals. "Today I will eat my mid-afternoon snack on time and be mindful at dinner."

c) Be prepared for the red zones by making certain you have the foods you need throughout the day (healthy meals and snacks), staying physically active, getting sleep and practicing better stress management.

d) Take it hour by hour and keep saying to yourself "I'm doing well and I can do this." Stay present and mindful. Keep a food log to stay honest. Keep a vision of your goals.
 
5) "A Square it" every day. I made up this verb--A2 -ing it means adapting and adjusting to life's stresses without resorting to self-destruction. Stress is the Achilles heel of people who have addictions. By preparing ahead of time for predictable stresses and by practicing meditation, getting enough sleep, creating a strong support system around you and strategically reducing as much stress in your life as possible, there's less of a tendency to crumble and cave.
 
6) Create a Healthy Voice. People with addictions often listen to what others say about them and believe those voices above their own. It's time to stop that and instead create your own Healthy Voice. SparkCoach is a wonderful way to learn how to support yourself as you work through each day. So are the helpful comments from your SparkPeople support system. Dump the unhealthy voices and develop your own "You Can Do This" affirmations.

There's so much more, but this is a good beginning to help you understand the gist of what's known about food addiction science and treatment. I welcome your thoughts, comments and stories and look forward to sharing more. Congratulations to everyone as you embrace each day to its fullest, remembering to live, laugh and love.

Do you suffer from food addiction? Which of these tips will help you the most?
 


Dr. Pamela Peeke is an internationally recognized expert, physician, scientist and author in the fields of nutrition, fitness and integrative medicine. Dr. Peeke is the New York Times bestselling author of Fight Fat after Forty, Body for Life for Women and her new book, The Hunger Fix: The 3 Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction (Rodale, 2012), which presents the groundbreaking new science of food and addiction, noting the latest NIH based research showing that food addiction is real.
 
Dr. Peeke is a Pew Foundation Scholar in Nutrition and Metabolism, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland and Fellow of the American College of Physicians. Dr. Peeke has teamed with the US Surgeon General to create the Surgeon General Walks for a Healthy and Fit Nation. She is a member of the Maryland Governor’s Council on Fitness, and is national spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine’s Exercise is Medicine global campaign.
 
In her laboratory at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Peeke’s original research helped establish the scientific foundation for the relationship between chronic stress and belly fat. She was also the first senior research fellow at the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine where she explored the new science of holistic and mind-body modalties.
 
Dr. Peeke is a regular in-studio medical commentator for the national networks and is a monthly columnist and contributing editor for numerous national magazines  including Prevention, O, Fitness, and More Magazine.
 
Triathlete, marathoner and mountain climber, Dr. Peeke is founder of the Peeke Performance Center for Healthy Living™ where she conducts her Peeke Week Retreats teaching her Peeke Performers how to mentally and physically challenge themselves in magnificent outdoor destinations including hiking the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce National Parks.


Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
 

NEXT ENTRY >   4-Ingredient Chocolate Tarts (Only 63 Calories)

Great Stories from around the Web

Comments

  • 31
    I suffer from BED (Binge Eating Disorder). It isn't a specific food that will trigger. If I had to remove 'trigger' foods from my home, there would be nothing left in it. The biggest factor in keeping my BED under control has not been managing my environment or keeping certain foods out of my home but learning how to rewire my brain. It isn't easy, but it is possible. - 11/10/2014   8:18:09 PM
  • 30
    Yep. That's me exactly. I cannot have any trigger foods around or else it's all I can think about until it's gone.
    - 3/26/2014   11:37:14 PM
  • 29
    I am so glad I found this article. It was helpful to read and what a relief. At least I know that I am not crazy. - 3/26/2014   9:47:16 PM
  • 28
    This is awesome. Yes, people who think it's all about willpower 100% of the time drives me nuts. This article helps me to understand the addiction to food and real steps on how to start chipping away at it. Thanks! - 3/26/2014   3:09:33 PM
  • 27
    I was glad to see this. Sometimes I just feel like screaming every time I read someone say just eat everything in moderation! - 3/26/2014   12:21:40 PM
  • 26
    Great blog!!!! - 12/11/2013   3:14:16 PM
  • 25
    Hope ya'll will join The Hunger Fix team/group here on SP: www.sparkpeople.com/myspark/groups_
    individual.asp?gid=60442
    - 8/6/2013   6:28:10 PM
  • 24
    Very informative! I have learned a lot about myself from reading it! - 3/26/2013   1:44:34 PM
  • 23
    Wonderful insight. Excellent ideas to help overcome my addiction. - 3/20/2013   5:44:00 PM
  • BRITTANYS-FSAP
    22
    This article is super helpful. I never wanted to admit that in order to get past my addictions I needed to completely give up the items I am adicted to. Life can be great, even without chocolate. I don't need it. - 3/8/2013   1:25:49 PM
  • 21
    Very enlightening. I have always suspected I had a food addiction because of the binges. Even with SparkPeople sometimes I find myself binging on something that is healthy...like I just can't enough, when I know I'm feeding something other than hunger. You give some great advice in places to begin. I have realized since I started exercising the binges are further apart and not so severe. So, growing your brain must really work. Thank you. I may check out your book. - 3/8/2013   11:30:48 AM
  • 20
    I'm reading Richard Bernstein MD's "The Diabetes Diet" since I have Metabolic Syndrome/Insulin Resistance and I'm learning so much. He has been a Type 1 diabetic since age 12 and he is 78 now. He says ALL obese people have Insulin Resistance & he explains this in detail. He has lectures on YouTube that I recommend to everyone. I don't have Type 2 diabetes, but I'm dealing with Metabolic Syndrome, so his information is so helpful.
    I've never been a "food addict" like this article talks about, but I've dealt with yo-yo dieting, which I want to stop. - 2/16/2013   8:18:31 AM
  • 19
    well, I don't know if I have a food addiction to a particular kind of food, I think it more likely I'm a binge eater. Because it's not a particular food I eat, or that gets me going, it is the night time, after dinner and everything is put away eating that gets me, and it can be anything..good food that I eat too much of, something really unhealthy, or anything in between. Sometimes it feels like hunger, but a lot of times it's more a compulsion. If I could stop night time eathing, I would be okay, because for the most part, I eat a very healhty diet during the day, and I get my exercise in. - 2/15/2013   11:12:13 AM
  • 18
    I recognized a long time ago that food was my drug of choice. What I question is why food addiction has become so prevalent in the past 30 years. It seems like the more we go to processed foods (for convenience sake) the less nutrition we get and the more addictive we are to empty calories - 2/15/2013   6:29:40 AM
  • BANNERMAN
    17
    Excellent. Thanks for the insight. - 2/15/2013   2:20:44 AM
  • 16
    What an awesome and educational blog! One of the very best I've ever read here on SP. The information is helpful and I now understand some of my impulses, choices and "downfalls" so much better. I can also understand why 100 calorie treats don't work very well for me...they come in a big box with many little bags that can be opened one at a time until they are gone! Cured? Not me. Will I ever be? Probably not, but what I like is that it appears there are strategies to deal with the addiction. Thank you so very much!! I'll be looking for more information by this researcher!! - 2/14/2013   10:13:44 PM
  • 15
    I was a compulsive eater, used to keep eating till my tummy hurt, and use artificial sweeteners and crave something else sweet. Over the last couple of months, I've realised I don't need to eat so much. I've stopped using artificial sweetener and use small amounts of sugar, honey etc. My cravings have become healthier, e.g. yesterday one kiwi fruit was not enough, so I enjoyed a second, feeling my body was probably telling me what it needed. I often serve myself with what looks like a ridiculously small portion, promising myself I can have more if I still feel hungry. Usually the small portion turns out to be enough. I now decline the marshmallow treats we give the children, knowing my peanut butter cocoa oatmeal balls are much tastier - and sometimes I don't even need one of them after the children's group!
    My attitude to exercise has also changed. I used to consider it a necessary evil, to be got out of the way as early as ;possible, preferably before I was awake enough to realise I was doing it. Now I look forward to it, and feel deprived if I don't get as much as I feel I need.
    I do still fantasise about (healthy) food, e.g. what I'm going to eat for lunch, when my attention should be elsewhere. But my attitude has changed, my taste has changed, and my weight is reducing faster than I had dared hope. (No, I'm NOT anorexic!)
    I am hooked on PB chocolate squares to the extent that if I skip my late night snack of a choc square and 1/2 glass kefir (sort of yogurt), I can reckon with sleeping problems.
    I think I did have an eating disorder /food addiction before joining SP, but now I don't. Though I hope the time will come when I shall be less preoccupied with food. - 2/14/2013   3:56:39 PM
  • 14
    This is probably the best article I've ever read on Spark! It was good to have my suspicions about my food addictions validated. I have know for a while now that there are certain foods that are off-limits to me because I cannot eat them in moderation!
    Thanks for the article! - 2/14/2013   3:54:23 PM
  • 13
    Excellent article. I will be re-reading again and again. - 2/14/2013   1:26:21 PM
  • 12
    This is the BEST blog I have read on SparkPeople. I love the advice regarding building a bigger brain and the idea of A - squaring it. Thanks. - 2/14/2013   11:47:44 AM
  • 11
    I have always known (but ignored) that a lot of my eating was in my head. I know I am not hungry, it just sounds and tastes good. So far I am doing well working on this issue - 2/14/2013   11:35:06 AM
  • 10
    One of the best blogs I have read on Spark - thanks for the useful information - I guess I won't be buying any more Peanut M & M's! :) - 2/14/2013   11:02:30 AM
  • 9
    Thank you for validating what I've long know was my problem. I am a food addict and I struggle constantly to maintain healthy eating habits. Also, thank you for recognizing the genetic element that goes with an addictive personality. Yet another reason we should all remember to set a healthy example for our children.
    Martha - 2/14/2013   9:57:12 AM
  • BETH.SWALLOW
    8
    I learned some new things from this article, particularly that I can heal my brain from being an addictive one, through specific strategies. I am currently on an elimination diet of entire food groups, so as to deal with my body's addiction to sugar, under the direction of my MD. I never thought I would go along with such a radical approach, but I cannot argue with results. For 90 days or so, I am eating no sugar or anything that turns into sugar, so what I DO eat is protein and vegetables. I have dropped about 10 lbs. without even trying. I eat the proteins and veggies like a pig, many times throughout the day. My body is being retrained. I feel better, I sleep better at night, I don't fall asleep during the day, and my blood pressure has come down. I am encouraged by the article to build supports around me for those moments of weakness when I want to devour lbs. of chocolate or pasta or ice cream. I will check more into TM to perhaps add into my supports. Thanks for explaining in detail about something I had the gist of but not real facts. - 2/14/2013   9:18:31 AM
  • 7
    I think I'm going to read this book. I think I have a food addiction, and the sugar/salt/fat/refined carbs are definitely what hooks me. However, I have also eaten other seemingly innocuous foods (grapefruit, cabbage, baby carrots, nuts, broccoli, oatmeal) in an out-of-control way when my usual trigger foods were not available. I'm not sure how I'd eliminate all my binge foods when essentially any food could be a trigger for me. But having had experience seeing the cravings for junk and fast food subside when I do without them for a while, I do know that's a good place to start.

    I also find the dopamine connection interesting. Up until two years ago, I had been on an antidepressant for years that is supposed to act on dopamine receptors. I never found it particularly effective as an antidepressant, which is one reason (aside from cost) that I stopped taking it. But I have had a much harder time staying in control of my addiction since stopping the medication.

    At this point, I'm willing to try anything! - 2/14/2013   8:52:12 AM
  • 6
    Very clear to me that I have food addiction, because I turn to food when I'm stressed. I've always envied those who don't eat when stressed. This usually happens at night when I'm alone and not distracted. Even when I'm full, I continue to eat. No one would ever expect it. I'm averaged size 8, and maintain my weight through exercise and making adjustments to what I eat -- but make no mistake. I KNOW i'm an emotional eater. - 2/14/2013   8:30:25 AM
  • 5
    JIMINI, have you tried the chair exercises? They are good exercises for people with limited mobility. The arm bike is also good. I know there's one for the feet, but can't remember what it is. Senior moment here. Hang in there. You will make it. - 2/14/2013   8:10:48 AM
  • 4
    My journey with sparkpeople has helped me in so many ways. My struggle with weight is so complex. I just turned 60, struggling with a divorce and have numerous disabilities...some life threatening. Im not giving up but I never had a weight problem ti I started on a lot ofdifferent meds which keepnme alive. Unfortunately, the side effects include serious weight gain and increased appetite...add to that anxiety and depression and u have all th ingrediantes for a viscious food addiction. My weight is nearly impossible to control. I used to weigh 140... I now struggle to stay at 170. My calorie intake is only 1200-1500/day. I am much less active thru the cold weather because my asthma keeps me inside. Until I get thru my divorce and resume a normal life I face the danger of becoming addicted to food for comfort and shelter. Thanks to articles like this and the support from my sparkfriends I am dedicated to get thru this dilema. So thanks and know together we will all succeed. It may take awhile but with knowledge and support it is possible. Peace, Scott.
    - 2/14/2013   2:37:18 AM
  • 3
    I have a food addiction. I never really thought so but just seriously thinking about the questions on the quiz makes me realize that I do. I think I'll read her book... - 2/14/2013   2:26:14 AM
  • JIMINI
    2
    I have eaten lo-cal for so many years I very rarely feel hungry. I have never adhered to diets that recommend not eating whole categories of food - my GP suggested that I go with Atkins, not acceptable - whole grain carbs, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit are good nutritious foods. I do not eat 'whites, highly processed foods etc., etc. I do not exercise enough, especially in winter. I broke my leg last winter tripping over a skunk that my cat invited into my living room (concrete floor) for a play date. I used to be quite reckless as a child and teenager and favoured demanding physical activities - ballet, bicycling, diving, gymnastics, horseback riding, swimming and so on. Now, as an 'old lady' I find little I can do and still stay safe. I have no sidewalk beside my house; my balance is so compromised that in winter I do not dare leave my house. I will welcome any suggestions to help me remain healthy and functional.
    - 2/14/2013   12:23:04 AM
  • 1
    I have long felt that my weight problem begins and ends with my head. I'd like to learn more about meditation and mindfulness. Can anyone recommend any resources? I have a couple of meditation podcasts that are good for taking a short 'time-out', but I'd like to learn of practices or methods that have been helpful to others. - 2/13/2013   7:46:29 PM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›


Join SparkPeople.com

x Lose 10 Pounds by January 30! Get a FREE Personalized Plan