Latimer: Dealing with food addictions

Evidence is steadily mounting in support of the theory that food can be addictive much like other substances such as alcohol or drugs.

North America’s obesity epidemic spurred questions about why we keep over-eating in spite of the obvious negative effects.

Our waistlines keep growing, rates of serious illness such as diabetes and heart disease keep going up and yet we keep consuming.

We can point the finger at our consumer culture, our urban sprawl, sedentary lifestyles, or the big bad food industry selling us products that are high in tasty but fattening ingredients.

But if eating too much is truly a lifestyle choice, why don’t we just stop?

Research shows it is not a question of a simple choice or self discipline for many people.

A new study out of Memorial University in Newfoundland found one in 20 of us experience actual food addiction.

Examining 652 adults, researchers determined whether addiction was present by having subjects answer questions on a Yale Food Addiction Scale.

If enough symptoms were present and their relationship to food proved to be causing significant distress or interfering with their ability to function, it was considered addiction.

Not surprisingly, food addicts weighed more than non-addicted subjects and also derived more of their daily calories from fats and proteins.

Food addiction was also found in two per cent of the participants who were either underweight or of normal weight.

MRI scans showed the food addicts had different brain responses to food than non-addicts.

When given high sugar or high fat foods, dopamine increases in the brain in much the same way as a cocaine addict’s brain would respond to receiving the drug.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked with reward and pleasure seeking behaviour.

Of course, if food addiction covers one in 20 people, and one in two are over weight, addiction is not the only problem we’re facing in the obesity epidemic.

Dealing with some of the societal culprits can likely go a long way toward changing our culture of over-indulgence.

However, knowing that an addiction is at play for many people, may lead us to finding solutions that are more sustainable and helpful than simply patting a struggling person on the back and telling them to “try harder” or expecting them to be able to follow strict diet guidelines with little to no support.

As with any addiction, recovering from a food addiction is likely a complicated process that will involve good days and occasional relapses.

With time and more research, we may now be able to develop strategies to effectively treat the addiction and give patients a better shot at recovery.

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