Written by: Kevin Cann
Losing weight is never an easy task. There are a number of lifestyle factors that we must change in order to achieve the goals that we desire. Beginning an appropriate exercise program, eating better, and better managing our stress are all factors in a successful weight loss program. One aspect however is often overlooked and in some cases not even recognized and that is the addiction that we have to certain foods.
Maybe we fail to recognize it as a society because the majority of us are addicted in some way to a certain food. Watch any episode of the A&E show Intervention and the one thing that the addicts all have in common is they deny they even have a problem. At the beginning of any dietary intervention we need to address the things that may derail us from the program. A big example of this is with people who travel a lot for business. Developing a preparation system for when they are on the road is key to the program’s success. We all need to sit down and address how we feel about certain foods. After doing this myself I was able to determine that I was addicted to salty foods. I can easily resist them, but if I have one I will end up overindulging. I will literally have a conversation in my head rationalizing the choice to overeat a food that I know is unhealthy for me. This is the sign of an addiction.
Dopamine and serotonin tend to be the major players in the addiction of numerous drugs and alcohol. A study performed by McBride proved that alcohol elicits a response from both of these neurotransmitters and are correlated with addictive behavior and alcohol (McBride, 1991). A study done by Gessa showed that marijuana elicits a response from cannabinoids, our neurotransmitters that control cravings, and that these cannabinoids regulate mesolimbic dopamine (Gessa, 1997). Even cigarettes have been proven to elicit a response of serotonin and dopamine (Staley, 2001).
So how does this apply too food? Sugar also elicits a response from both serotonin and dopamine. A Wurtman article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explained the mechanisms behind the release of serotonin. Tryptophan is a precursor for the release of serotonin. This study confirmed that high-carbohydrate diets leave excessive tryptophan in the blood and this leads to an increase in serotonin (Wurtman, 2003). Nicole Avena published data in 2008 that proved that sugar elicits a response from dopamine as well as cannabinoids (Avena, 2008). To be sure that the brain responds the same way with drug use Dr. Gold decided to check brain images of people that were constantly overeating. He determined that the images were similar to the brain images taken from people addicted to drugs (Gold, 2011). In 1994 Noble showed that obese individuals had the same dopamine gene markers as alcoholics and drug addicts (Noble, 1994).
This gives us the proof that certain foods will make us feel good by releasing serotonin and dopamine and also make us crave them by releasing cannabinoids. Understanding these concepts can give us a better understanding on how to treat food addiction. Drewnowski at the University of Washington actually tested the opiate blocker Nalaxone on food cravings. His study was successful in stopping binge eating (Drewnowski, 1995). In some serious food addiction cases this may be a reliable option to treat binge eating.
Kriz is a specialist that deals in treating people with overeating addiction. His research suggests that binge eating is caused by physical cravings. The characteristics of binge eating are as follows; eating when not hungry, uncontrollable eating, feeling guilty about eating too much, and frequently dieting without losing weight. Kriz believes in treating the physical cravings first and this means avoiding problematic foods completely while attempting to lose weight (Kriz, 2002). This even means artificial sweeteners as they too have been proven to elicit a similar neurotransmitter response.
In conclusion, we need to realize and accept the fact that foods have an addictive quality to them if we ever want to be successful in long term weight loss goals. As healthcare practitioners we need to understand this as well and develop a course of action to treat the food addiction in clients. This is where we need to focus our counseling skills and find what works best from person to person. Hopefully as more awareness of this problem comes out more people will be aware of it and better strategies of dealing with it will be developed.
Noble, Ernest (1993). D2 Dopamine Receptor Gene and Obesity. www.foodaddictionsummit.org. Retrieved on February 20, 2012.
Kriz, Kerry (2002). The Efficacy of Overeaters Anonymous in Fostering Abstinence in Binge-Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa. Doctoral Thesis University of Virginia Polytech Institute 2002.
Gold, Mark (2011). Obesity and Addiction. University of Florida Medical Center. Retrieved on February 20, 2012.
Drewnowski, A (1995). Naloxone, an opiate blocker, reduces the consumption of sweet high-fat foods in obese and lean female binge eaters. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Retrieved on February 20, 2012.
Avena, NM (2008). Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent Excessive Intake. Neuroscience Biobehavioral Rev. Retrieved on February 20, 2012.
Staley, Julie (2001). Sex differences in b-cit spect measures of dopamine and serotonin transporter availability in healthy smokers and non-smokers. Synapse. Retrieved on February 20, 2012.
McBride, WJ (2001). Serotonin and dopamine systems regulating alcohol intake. UK Pubmed. Retrieved on February 20, 2012.
Gessa, GianLuigi (1997). Cannabinoids activate mesolimbic dopamine neurons by an action on cannabinoid CB receptors. European Journal of Pharmacology. Retrieved on February 20, 2012.
Wurtman, Richard (2003). Effects of normal meals rich in carbohydrates or protein on plasma tryptophan and tyrosine levels. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Retrieved on February 20, 2012.
Kevin is owner of Genetic Potential Nutrition. He is a holistic nutritionist, wellness coach, and strength coach. He works with people fighting illness, to competitive athletes. Check out his site at www.geneticpotentialnutrition.