It was Christmas time, 1977 and Kay Sheppard knew that something was wrong when she looked in the mirror and saw herself eating candy out of a box that she had hidden in her dresser drawer. She had purchased the sweets to give to her father as a Christmas present – five times – and she had eaten all five boxes in the same fashion.
The overweight Florida mother of two had previously made countless trips to the grocery store buying cookies, chips and other goodies for her family only to find herself eating the junk food on her way home. The horror of her image in the mirror eating her father’s candy, however, was an epiphany.
Kay began to think of herself not as a dieter but as an addict in recovery addicted to sweets, carbohydrates and any and all sugary, fatty, salty processed food. Not unlike an alcoholic trying to give up drinking one day at a time, she began the daily struggle of giving up highly processed simple carbohydrate foods.
She stopped focusing on her weight and instead concentrated on her addiction to food. Kay’s approach has been so successful that, today, she is a licensed mental health counselor with three best selling books on food addiction who conducts workshops for food addicts worldwide. You can check her out at http://www.kaysheppard.com/.
It’s only taken three-plus decades for science to finally catching on to what Kay Sheppard knew intuitively. The theory that the brain responds to high-fat, high-calorie foods much the same as it does to drugs is beginning to gain traction with the National Institute on Drug Abuse funneling nearly $6 million into research on the topic in 2011.
Scientists are beginning to study what they call “highly palatable” foods such as sodas, ice cream, French fries and pepperoni pizza and scrutinizing just how much these types of food appeal to our palate and how hard they are to resist. Experiments in animals and humans has shown that, for some, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also activated by foods that are rich in sugar, fat and salt.
The most compelling case for food addiction comes from studies with animals, where researchers are examining the biochemical changes that occur when animals are fed a diet of highly palatable foods. In experiments at the Rockefeller University, neurobiologist Sarah Leibowitz injected rats with those chemicals and found that it led the animals to eat more fat. “The more you eat, the more you want,” she says.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Leibowitz’s research is that the changes that occurred in the brains of the rats in her experiment may be passed on. Her study showed that pregnant rats on a high-fat diet gave birth to offspring with neurological alterations in their hypothalamus – the part of the brain heavily associated with appetite. Hmmmm?
Ever find yourself with your hand in the bag of chips munching mindlessly as you drive home from the food market or experience your car pulling inexplicitly into the drive-thru lane at a local fast-food joint without your help? You just may be a food addict.
As America runs away with the contest for being the fattest nation on the planet, millions of dollars are being poured into scientific research to study our relationship with what scientists call “highly palatable” food – cookies, chips, peanut butter, ice cream, cheeseburgers, fries and a myriad of candy – you know the list.
While researchers debate the theory that, for some people, highly palatable foods stimulate brain receptors that are also linked to alcohol, cocaine and heroin addiction, let’s take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of food addiction.
The organization Food Addicts Anonymous – whose mantra is “Recovering together one day at a time from the biochemical disease of food addiction” – says, “Food addiction manifests itself in the uncontrolled craving for excess food that follows the ingestion of refined carbohydrates, primarily sugar and flour substances that are quickly metabolized and turned into sugar in the bloodstream.” Their website – http://www.foodaddictsanonymous.org/ – goes on to address the physical, emotional, social and spiritual symptoms of food addiction.
Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP an expert on health, fitness and nutrition from the Peeke Performance Center for Healthy Living has develop a food addiction quiz based on research done at Yale’s University’s Rudd Center for Food and Science & Policy. You can take the quiz at http://www.drpeeke.com/PopQuiz.htm.
In an article published on the Huffpost Healthy Living website this past October, Dr. Peeke lists six ways to beat food addiction. Here they are:
Take the test. First you need to find out if your relationship with food is a healthy one. Take Peeke’s Food Addiction Quiz mentioned above and find out.
Know your staples from your treats. Our brains are rigged to seek out the delicious reward of natural carbs like berries and veggies and healthy fats from avocados and olive oil. You need to be able to ascertain the difference between the taste rewards from those foods and the highly processed “hyper-palatable” foods today’s manufacturers have created.
Rein in your reward center. When hyper-palatable foods compete with natural foods, your brain gets hijacked. Don’t start your day off with a sugary, fatty, salty pastry washed down with a sugar-loaded Grande coffee drink.
Recognize the “False Fix.” In her book, “The Hunger Fix,” Peeke labels hyper-palatable foods as the False Fix. The constant hyper-stimulation of the brain’s satiety receptors results in the need for second and third portions for you to feel satisfied.
Know your enemy. Make a list of all your False Fix foods and identify the persons, places and things that enable your food addiction. Gaining control over food addiction is about making healthier and sustainable lifestyle changes.
Remember that food addiction is real. A growing body of evidence by world-class scientists is making a compelling case for its existence.
Cord Prettyman is a certified Master Personal Trainer and owner of Absolute Workout Fitness and Post-Re-hab Studio in Woodland Park. He can be reached at 687-7437 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.