Tuesday, November 27

Hyperpalatables and Food Addiction

Here it comes.  That irresistible urge.  The overwhelming need to fulfill your deepest desire.  It's a dream full of chocolate-covered deliciousness.  It's...your food cravings!

Maybe it's your inner Cookie Monster seeking a sugary fix. Or, perhaps you just NEED to sink your teeth into a juicy burger.  Would you like fries with that?  Of course! The salty crunch hits you with delight. You grin with happiness. But wait. You want more.

Your brain, or more specifically the dopamine in your brain, is urging you to seek rewards.  That happy grin you experience when biting in to your favorite food is exactly what the dopamine wants. Dopamine doesn't care if your body really requires food or not, it simply seeks a smile.

Food addiction has been a hotly contested topic in nutrition circles. Does food addiction even exist?  Can't people just control their cravings? New research shows that not only does food addiction exist, but that some foods might be even more addictive than cocaine!!!

Just Say No to Sugar
Overcomsumption of hyperpalatables - sugary, starchy, fatty or salty foods - interferes with the flow of dopamine in your brain.  Calorie-dense junk food smothers the reward that you feel after biting into your favorite food treats, leaving you wanting more.  And so begins the endless cycle of feeding a craving that can only be satisfied by eating more.

In modern times, we've become addicted to hyperpalatable foods like sugar-sweetened drinks and salty, starch-based snacks.  Literally addicted.

In the last few years, breakthrough research has opened our eyes to the complex nature of hyperpalatables and food addiction.

New studies shows that consumption of sugar-sweetened foods can induce the same long-term changes in neurochemical brain activity that chronic drug users experience.  Other researchers are finding that sugar is even more addictive than serious hard drugs like cocaine and heroin.

It's a pretty safe bet that we'll soon be faced with "Just Say No to Sugar" campaigns.

But kicking the hyperpalatable food habit isn't easy. In animal studies, rats have shown signs of withdrawal when their sugary diet disappeared from their cages. They got angry, fought with other rats and even became addicted to other drugs when offered.

Humans aren't that different.  How would you feel if someone stripped that half-eaten bag of potato chips out of your hand?  You would throw a fit just like the children on Jimmy Kimmel when their parents told them they at all their Halloween candy.

Luckily with the new body of knowledge surrounding food addiction and potential causes, help is more readily available through specialized nutritionists, doctors and Food Addicts Anonymous.

If you're looking for ways to be proactive about reducing the need for hyperpalatable food rewards, here are some tips:
  • Avoid contact with your favorite hyperpalatable foods.
    Just as an alcoholic can't drink in moderation, you, most likely, will have a hard time eating just one of your favorite treats. Encourage colleagues to keep your favorite foods out of your sight.  Don't bring home foods from the grocery store you know you will ravage...even if your significant other wants you to buy it.
  • Rationalize your cravings
    When you find yourself craving a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels, try telling yourself that "it's the dopamine talking". Then, ask yourself: "Will I regret not eating this food 24 hours from now?" Chances are you won't.

  • Identify Stress
    Stress is toxic. I've never met someone who reached for a fresh salmon salad after a horrible work commute, a bad argument or a stressful day.  It's the hyperpalatable foods that we "de-stress" with.  Identify your sources of stress by writing them down (it's okay if it's a long list).  Choose one source of stress that you can better control over the next 30 days and tackle it.
  • Get a natural dopamine high.
    Breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, walking and working out all release dopamine naturally. Checkout Natalia Sedo's guest blog about relaxation for other wellness tips.

 Jill Tomich is an ACE-Certified Health Coach and co-founder of Ultimate Bootcamp. While writing this article, she avoided eating sweet potato chips by making a hot cup of herbal tea.

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