After back to back interviews this week, with two separate individuals, both looking to lose more than 60 lbs of excess weight and both being self-proclaimed “food-a-holics,” I presumed that addressing food addiction might be a helpful subject to tackle for my readers. After all, nearly 60% of the emails that I receive about nutrition and meal planning ask specifically about whether there is such a thing as a food addiction and if so, how might one break it.
Like with all addictions, using a substance, be it alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, pornography or yes, even fatty foods, as a means to release stress or to provide immediate physical and/or emotional gratification, is a complicated pattern to break. Studies show that food, particularly high calorie foods consumed repeatedly over a long period of time, activate the same pleasure centres of the brain as highly addictive drugs. Making “overuse” or binging behaviour more prevalent since with each act, the exposure to the substance needs to be increased, making it more difficult to satisfy the craving each time.
While reading this month’s copy of Maclean’s, I stumbled upon an interesting article that summarizes this very subject, and backs it with research done by two men, Paul Kenny and Paul Johnson. Normally, I wouldn’t go to great lengths to repeat the findings of rat studies, but the results found by these two gentleman simply baffled me, and support my belief that the key to weight loss starts first with nutrition, and then exercise.
Kenny and Johnson, two researchers, published in the Journal of Nature Neuroscience, performed a study with a group of lab rats. The rats were provided with all sorts of unhealthy, fatty and sugary foods. During the study, the rats were exposed to junk food only, but were also later given healthy food, in addition to the foods high in fats and in sugars. Not surprisingly however, these rats opted only for the junk food, even when other healthy options were available. Yet what’s even more intriguing, is that when the fatty, sugary foods were taken away as part of the experiment, the rats, now obese, preferred to starve themselves for days rather than to eat the healthy foods that were still provided to them. (A Magic Calorie Ride, MacLean’s, January 17, 2011)
The power of junk food is enormous! It’s the reason why there are over a “billion served” at fast food restaurants. Like any addiction, you need to approach it with a support system in place and a good plan of attack. I too, grew up on numerous cans of cola per day, and fast-food-Fridays. It took me a long time to see myself through to where I am now, eating simply clean, healthy food from the earth….and not food from factories. Digging yourself out of a hole that can only get deeper is hard work and could be the biggest life-challenge that you’ll ever face. But the change is worth it! Making the decision to make a change is the first step. Getting help and support is the next.