Food addiction and how to combat it

Forget Crack, Gambling, or Alcohol…….FOOD is the biggest addiction. It is everywhere we go and is all around us. In everyones house there are cupboards full of it, when we step foot out of the front door we notice convenience stores on every corner, takeaways on the next street, and buy two get one free deals in the supermarkets.

We laugh with it, we cry with it, we basically link food to every emotion a human has. We have to eat it to survive, and yes we all love it, but how do we control our food addiction? As food is needed to be consumed we can’t stay away from it like a gambler staying away from the casino, or an alcoholic staying away from the pub. We need to work on the emotional connection we have with food.

This can be tricky as our food habits tend to be cemented in the early years of our lives. Our parents lay the foundations to our eating habits, we build the walls, and sometimes we need to just knock it all down and start again. This however can be extremely difficult. Now I am not talking about eating lots of broccoli as the addiction, but consuming high palatable foods. Sugars, excess fats, or salts can trigger the brain to want more and more, therefore giving you a craving which if you keep giving in to would become an addiction.

We have all heard of ‘cold turkey’ when it comes to addiction. It is where you completely remove the problem which in this case is sugar, fats, or salts. If you take salt out of your diet then you will no longer crave salt. Research shows that consuming salt triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the brains pleasure centre, making salty foods as addictive as nicotine and alcohol. As with any addiction, eating salty foods makes you crave more.

The same goes for Sugar. Various studies have been completed to see how addictive sugar really is. A test with rats showed that they picked sugar over cocaine even when the rats were already hooked on cocaine. This may seem a bit daft to include but my point is to show you that even though it may not feel like a problem, over the long term it is. The brain works in exactly the same way which is why you need to treat food addiction just as seriously as all of the other addictions people struggle with.

High fat foods have the same effect on the body. Consuming foods such as bacon, sausages, cheesecake, or toast caked in butter can trigger the release of dopamine in the brain which makes us feel good mentally. All these foods may make you feel good mentally but do they make you feel good physically?

Now that we have discussed each drug like substance separately, let’s talk about what happens when you put all of these together.

  • Would you be addicted to eating sugar cubes on their own?
  • Would you be addicted to eating spoonfuls of butter on their own?
  • Would you be addicted to eating salt on its own?

The answer is no. You will more than likely pull a strange face, heave, or spit it out. Now, if you put all of these ingredients in to a bowl and mixed them all together to produce a salted caramel cheesecake, would you spit it out or just want more and more?

The answer is that you will more than likely want more and more until you feel like you are about to explode. This is because putting these ingredients together creates foods that would fit perfectly well in Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory. As these foods are heavily addictive you would end up like Augustus Gloop, a boy that can’t avoid the temptation of the sweet and fatty snacks that are on offer.

He is the perfect example of someone who finds these highly palatable foods made up of sugar and fats extremely addictive. His mother and father indulge his eating habits with sweets and pieces of sausage which is why it is important if you are a parent to provide your children with nutritious foods instead of highly addictive ones.

The crazy thing is that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was written by Roald Dahl in 1964, yet food addiction is still not getting the publicity needed to help educate others and tackle the problem.

It is not just these three ingredients that are addictive when it comes to food, there are other factors that you need to think about.

  • What is it you love about a doughnut?
  • What do you like about crisps?
  • Why can’t you stop eating popcorn in the cinema?

When you mix fats, sugars, and salts in to a variety of foods, it is not just the ingredients that play a part in making them highly palatable. It is the appearance of the food you see and you end up drooling with saliva just by the site of the doughnuts. If something looks tempting to eat then you will more than likely eat it even if you weren’t planning to.

It is the way the food feels in your mouth through certain textures. A bag of crisps are addictive through the fats and salts it contains but if you put a nice crunch to it and offer them in small bit sized pieces then you will be able to graze on them all day without feeling full.

The texture plus the convenient size of foods plays a big factor in how much we can eat. Before you know it you have eaten all of your large popcorn before the film has even started.

Have you ever eaten your main meal and felt full, but the moment someone mentions dessert you don’t even think about it and start eating the dessert on offer? This is due to a thing called sensory specific satiety. Your body may feel full on a savoury level after your main course, however on a sweet level it hasn’t been satisfied.

Finally, the final component of our food addiction is reward. It’s easy to say ‘Hey cut these foods out’, however, if we do not reprogram our brain to reward ourselves in a different way, then we will constantly be reaching for these highly palatable foods every day.

Highly Addictive Foods

  • Ice Cream
  • Chocolate
  • Cookies
  • French Fries
  • Fizzy Drinks
  • Cake
  • Cheese
  • Bacon
  • Fried Chicken
  • Crisps
  • Pastries

How do we combat the issue?

First of all we need to remove these foods from your diet. If you consume too much salt for instance then you need to remove all added salt from your weekly food intake. Like drugs, you build up a tolerance to salt and will start to add more and more to your food over time as your taste buds will change and be unable to be satisfied by the smaller, original amount.

One of the best ways to do this is to cook your meals from scratch; this way you know what is in your food. Most packaged foods contain added sugars and salt, along with all ready meals so avoid these foods if you can.

This should be an obvious one, but also avoid fast foods as the fats, sugars and salt added to these foods is ridiculous. If you are looking to season your foods then use various herbs and spices such as paprika, cumin, oregano, or coriander.

Drinking more water would help. When you consume too much salt, your body tries to dilute it by holding on to as much water as it can. You may notice a bloated feeling when this happens. To help your body dilute the excess salt, drink water. The same can be said for sugar as drinking water can lower blood sugar levels by diluting the amount of glucose in the blood stream.

Exercising more will help you feel better. This will encourage you to eat the right foods as exercising more changes your mindset to the way you live your life. Being more active can only be a good thing. It changes your lifestyle by getting you up and out of the house. Doing more exercise changes you both physically and mentally.

Finally, what you need to do is stop using food as emotional therapy. I know it’s easier said than done. Try to reward yourself in different ways such as treating yourself to a massage or a trip to watch your football team play. Talk about your problems with close friends or family rather than eating them away. Speaking about these things will make you feel better than holding it all in. It will also train you to speak about your worries or problems rather than covering them up with short term fixes such as unhealthy eating, drinking, or drugs.

In conclusion, food addiction is a big big problem. It can cause heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and various other health issues. It needs to be tackled head on to improve your health and wellbeing. The foods you eat create the person you are. If you consume a healthy balanced diet then you will be a healthy person. If you overindulge in certain foods then you will have a lack of energy and won’t be as productive with your time.

Food addiction is a problem that everyone should be aware of and you should take it seriously. Overindulging in high fat, sugars, and salty foods is damaging your overall health and more should be done to tackle this ongoing issue.

As more of these foods are on offer now than ever before, it is important to think before you eat.

  • Do you really need it?
  • What are the nutritional benefits?
  • Can it damage your overall health?
  • Will it help me achieve my goal or will it hinder my progress?
  • How could I reward myself in a healthier way?
  • Could I talk about my worries rather than use food as emotional therapy?

Hopefully you now have a greater understanding of this ongoing problem and you can now take a moment to reflect on the situation and question whether you or someone else is struggling with a food addiction. We all struggle with food addiction in some shape or form so never be scared to admit that it’s a problem for you.

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