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Food Addictions and What You can do to Fight Back

What are people more likely to become addicted to, a bowl full of kale salad or potato chips? Highly processed foods are loaded with sugar, fat, and salt in combinations that keep you coming back for more. The Food Industry aims to make hyper-palatable foods to get individuals to buy their food and overindulge in it. It is thanks to our evolution that we are drawn to these foods. The ability to store calories allowed for energy during times of scare food, and foods like sugar and fat indicate a high caloric content.

Everyone has cravings, for me I love chocolate, but how do we know when we have a craving and when it is an addiction? Signs of addiction, not necessarily food, include: repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit, consuming the substance despite known adverse effects, tolerance to the substance develops, etc. Do you think that you might have a food addiction? Check out the Yale Addiction Scale at the end of this article for an idea of whether or not you might be addicted to food.

There are several explanations as to why some foods can be addictive. Sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that is also released when other addictive substances are taken. People develop a tolerance to sugar, and require more sugar to feel satisfied. This is similar to individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol and require more to have the same sensation. Withdrawal symptoms can sometimes occur when individuals stop consuming sugar. These symptoms can include low mood, lower energy, headaches, and flu like symptoms.

Stress plays a role in food addiction as well. When we are stressed, we release stress hormones that cause us to crave sugar, salt, and fat. Why are comfort foods, comfort foods? Well, serotonin is released when we consume sugar and carbohydrates. Serotonin has a calming effect, and this may help to explain why we’re drawn to sugar and carbohydrates to help us feel good.

 Tips to help battle food addictions:

1) Eliminate sugar and artificial sweeteners from your diet. These can trigger cravings and can reinforce the desire for sugar. Some studies suggest artificial sweeteners may leave you craving more sugar.  You can start slowly by eliminating all pop or stop having a dessert after your dinner.
2) Stress Reduction. With the strong stress connection, curbing stress will help you to curb your food cravings. Figure out what works for you to reduce stress and make time every day to do it.
3) Balance blood sugar levels. Once you have a sugar crash, your body seeks out more sugar to get that sugar high that it had before. Balancing blood sugar helps prevent the ups and downs that come with overconsumption of sugar. Incorporate protein and healthy fats with eat meals and avoid skipping meals to help balance your blood sugar.
4) Get 7-8 hours of sleep. Getting adequate sleep is important for keeping you stress low. It’s also important because a lack of sleep can increase cravings.
5) Make healthier choices. Providing your body with the nutrients it needs will help to lessens sugar cravings. If you do have a sweet craving, choose fruit instead. Remember to balance it with some protein and fat to avoid blood sugar spikes.
6) Assess your emotional state. Food cravings can occur to help you feel better. It’s possible you’re feeding your feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, etc. with food. Book and appointment with myself or another healthcare practitioner to discuss this if you think this is the case.

Yale Food Addiction Scale sample questions:

1) I find that when I start eating certain foods, I end up eating much more than planned.
2) I find myself continuing to consume certain foods even though I am no longer hungry.
3) I eat to the point where I feel physically ill.
4) I find that when certain foods are not available, I will go out of my way to obtain them. For example, I will drive to the store to purchase certain foods even though I have other options available to me at home.
5) Not eating certain types of food or cutting down on certain types of food is something I worry about.
6) I experience significant problems in my ability to function effectively (daily routine, job/school, social activities, family activities, health difficulties) because of food and eating.
7) I have consumed certain foods to prevent feelings of anxiety, agitation, or other physical symptoms that were developing. (Please do NOT include consumption of caffeinated beverages such as soda pop, coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc.)
8) My food consumption has caused significant psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, self-loathing, or guilt.
9) Over time, I have found that I need to eat more and more to get the feeling I want, such as reduced negative emotions or increased pleasure.
10) There have been times when I avoided professional or social situations where certain foods were available, because I was afraid I would overeat.

(Note: This is a sample of the scale. There are more questions and this sample doesn’t diagnose you with a food addiction.)