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Few would dispute the addictive potential of cigarettes, cocaine and booze, however when it comes to food, critics abound. Despite the fact that millions of people continue to eat themselves into early graves, despite massive weight gain, critical health issues and against doctor’s orders, there is a belief that “food addiction” is a bogus diagnosis.
But more emerging research suggests that our population has, in fact, evolved into a community of food addicts. At the heart of our crisis: An obesigenic, or obesity-inducing, food environment, filled with fatty, sugary, salty foods that prey on our brain’s reward systems, says Richard A. Grucza, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University.
In his book, The End of Overeating, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. David Kessler identified these types of foods “hyperpalatable.” Last year, while working on a story for Ladies’ Home Journal about the biochemical reasons we overeat, I interviewed Joe Frascella, PhD, director of the Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, on the topic. He told me that the deliciously dreamy blend of fat and sugar found in chocolate acts like candy cocaine in the brain, setting dopamine -- the same feel-good brain chemical which makes people feel high after skydiving -- on fire. It works along the same pathway that gets people hooked on drugs or booze, Frascella, explained. It also helps explain why, if given the choice between, say, a banana and a Butterfinger, most people would choose the latter: The more concentrated the flavor, the bigger the dopamine surge.
That makes sense -- no one has ever been tempted to binge on four pounds of raw kale or eat broiled salmon until they vomit. It’s the chips, the ice creams, the candy bars that pave the way towards Overeaters Anonymous.
Various studies have also shown that adults with a family history of alcoholism are up to 40 percent more likely to be obese than those with no alcoholism in the family. It seems, then, that individuals who drink -- or eat -- to excess share similar characteristics, like lack of impulse control. And both are triggered by stress.
If you chow down to escape your feelings, eat in secret or feel hopeless about your relationship with food, you may be a food addict. (Take this quiz to identify other warning signs.) Seek out a therapist specializing in eating disorders or join a local support group for help.
What are you think? Do you think it's possible to be addicted to food? Chime in below!