When I was invited to attend the Food Addiction and Obesity Summit in Brainbridge, Washington in 2009 I had no idea that it would change my life forever. This conference intrigued my curiosity for research and shaped my approach to treating binge eating disorder, obesity, eating disorders and addiction.
The Summit invited 1/3 researchers and scientists, 1/3 medical doctors and 1/3 healthcare clinicians who work with patients with eating disorders. See a list of presenters here. At the end of each day, participants broke into small groups keeping the same ratio of scientists, doctors and clinicians to discuss the findings of the day’s presentations. The conclusions and recommendations from these breakout sessions were featured in the summit proceedings. It was amazing to watch the process as each member discussed similar results within their own disciplines. The researcher presented his results, the medical doctor and clinicians discussed similar results in their patients, and the scientists explained how these human behaviors and symptoms were mimicked in their trials with animals.The combined research, experience and knowledge provided so much more awareness about how refined foods are causing food addictions and our obesity epidemic.
Throughout the years I have received criticism from other professionals who don’t subscribe to the addiction philosophy. They believe everything in moderation is ok. In my many years of treating people with disordered eating I know for a fact that not all people can drink alcohol in moderation and I believe there are some people who have a similar problem with some foods. Throughout the years I have treated some patients who cannot have just one of their binge foods without succumbing to the cravings for more food. I have given research articles to my Registered Dietitians and shared in social media about this to no avail. They rejected the information in part because of the research published in the Nutritional journals reputing the fact that sugar could be addictive for some people. I investigated further and found that big corporations, who had a lot to lose, funded the published nutritional research they were reading.
Michele Simon, president of Eat, Drink, Politics, an industry watchdog-consulting group, published an exposé of the close financial relationships between food and beverage companies and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) formerly known as the American Dietetic Association.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have more than 72,000 members, the largest professional organization for nutrition in the world. Most members hold credentials as Registered Dietitians (RDs). A closer look at some of the leading Nutritional journals show that major food corporations fund the parent companies of these journals. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics partners and sponsors include Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Hershey, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, and Truvia®, to name a few.
Major food corporations not only fund the research studies, they also sponsor their conferences and provide continuing education units to AND members. I am concerned about big corporations that sponsor scientific studies when there are such conflicting interests. How does the journal deal with research papers suggesting that consuming some of their sponsors’ products may be harmful to ones’ health if they are receiving funds from these big corporations?
The ramifications of eliminating highly processed foods are staggering. Can you imagine going into a grocery store and there were no processed foods? The store would have empty isles except around the perimeter. The convenience stores would be empty. The cost to major manufacturers of processed foods is beyond comprehension. Most Americans are not even aware of the impact these highly processed; sugar dense foods are having on their emotional, mental and physical health. Awareness is the key to changing our mindset in America. Other countries are ahead of us in promoting healthy eating. How did we get so far behind? The answer is, consumption of these foods are a big business with huge profits! The industry refers to their profit makers as having a high “crave ability factor.”
There is a new textbook that was just published titled Fructose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sucrose and Health. This textbook shows scientific studies thatagain say that sugar is not a problem. The textbook’s editor, James M. Rippe, MD is Founder and Director of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute. If you check the Integrity In Science website it states “The various divisions of Rippe Lifestyle Institute work with a diverse group of clients and research sponsors from Fortune 500 companies. Among these sponsors are Kellogg Company, General Mills, and various pharmaceutical companies.” Most people would not check this out.
The Summit speakers were pioneers in their field with years of research behind them. These Scientists and Researchers validated a phenomenon that those working with eating disordered patients or people in recovery from overeating and food addictions have known for years.
There has been some exciting work that has come out of the 2009 Food Addiction and Obesity Summit. Dr. Mark Gold and Kelly Brownell, PhD., wrote and published the Food Addiction Handbook, a great resource for professionals. There were many other books that were influenced by this mindshare including Diets Don’t Work® by Rebecca Cooper, The Fat Switch by Dr Richard Johnson, and many research publications by Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, Eric Stice, PhD., Elliott Blass, PhD. and Jeffrey Grimm, PhD. Of special interest was Serge Ahmen, PhD. a Scientist from the University of Bordeaux, France,whose research showed that sugar can be more addictive than cocaine.
The movie Fed Up (#FedUpMovie) was just released and many of the people from the 2009 conference were featured in this documentary. The movie exposes how our food supply is destroying our nation and the big corporate money of lobbyists is preventing our government from doing anything about it. It is time to wake up, if it is not too late already.
We the people need to take action! This is our last hope for a prosperous, healthy future for the next generation. Those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s thought we would make a difference in our world. We may have got sidetracked along the way, but now it is time to make our difference and leave this world a better place. You can start with taking the sugar challenge to see if you may have a problem, then help your loved ones and neighbors. Learn more about this yourself. A good place to start is www.sugarawareness.com where you can find research and other people’s’ experience with this addiction and recovery. If you need help please call 800-711-2062.
Over the years I have been asked if there is such a thing as food addiction. First, let’s look at what is an addiction? Here is one definition: An addiction causes people to engage in a recurring activity that causes harm to the person. It is often described as a compulsion to engage in some specific activity to produce mood-altering experiences, and this experience has life-damaging consequences.
Addictions often have both physical and psychological components. There is discomfort upon quitting the addiction. Most people would not overindulge in anything that hurts them physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. With addiction, one or more of these areas are negatively affected.
Now look at how addiction can relate to food. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your eating behavior create a problem in your life, but you continue to do the same thing over and over?
- Do you eat to change how you feel?
- Do thoughts of food, weight and body size enter your mind at unrelated times? Do you feel out of control with your eating?
- Are you afraid to start eating something because you are afraid you cannot stop?
- Do you obsess about eating certain foods?
- Do you find yourself eating when you had resolved not to eat?
- Do you eat more than you want to?
- Do you use other activities or substances to stop your eating behaviors?
Not long ago, there was a potato chip ad that challenged, “Betcha can’t eat just one!” Many took on the challenge and lost. Food manufacturers have done an exquisite job of recognizing and tapping into our cravings. Why does this challenge some of us and not others?
It is a widely accepted fact that some people are more susceptible to becoming addicted than others. Some have a hereditary disposition to becoming dependent on mood-altering substances. Sometimes people are self-medicating, stuffing their feelings or are deficient in emotional regulating skills.
Any behavior engaged in repeatedly can become a habit. A habit is simply an activity that you do so often that it becomes a part of your routine. Most people observe that any activity repeated for about a month becomes a habit. It is important to be aware of the habits that we are forming. This can be used as a positive, life-enhancing activity or the building blocks of an addiction.
Even our thinking becomes habitual. Our negative self-talk can become so well established that we don’t even realize that we are beating ourself up or that it is having an effect on our life. It takes work to create a good habit, but it makes life easier. Bad habits are easily formed but make life harder.
Common Food Addictions
I have never met a client who was addicted to broccoli. Why? Although broccoli is good for your body, it does not produce mind-altering effects like some other non-foods. Isn’t it interesting that the most common food addictions are comprised of manufactured fats, chemicals, salt and/or sugar?
Many of us have our favorite food, but what makes food an addiction? If we apply our previous addiction definition of craving, obsessive thinking, and compulsion even in the face of harmful effects, we may come up with a list. See if any of these foods cause a problem for you:
|potato chips||ice cream||processed snacks|
It is important to note that broccoli and other whole foods usually are not addictive, but this list can be expanded. Looking at these items, we can see some similar ingredients – sugar, carbohydrates or white flour.
Carbohydrates are our major energy-producing food. We need carbohydrates like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and beans. Note that different types of carbohydrates turn into sugar at different rates in your body. For addiction purposes, let’s look at refined carbohydrates. These are the ones that spike your insulin level, and then drop you onto the blood-sugar rollercoaster. Even the blood sugar drop causes cravings, bingeing, depression, lethargy, irritability and drowsiness.
But there is more going on than just blood sugar fluctuations. During functional MRIs, scientists have observed that refined carbohydrates light up the reward system of the brain for some people – just like an addicted person using their drug of choice.
It is a good idea to think it through when you are tempted to consume one of these products. Do I really want to feel that way afterwards? Do I want to battle the incessant cravings again? This is one rollercoaster I choose not to ride. There are too many other factors that occur that triggers overeating. There is one sure way to eliminate this physiological response. Don’t put these blood sugar spiking foods in your mouth.
Food and Other Types of Addictions
Food addictions can progress to other addictions, starting with appetite suppressants and diet pills. Many patients at Rebecca’s House Eating Disorder Treatment Programs have progressed to methamphetamines, cocaine, speed and heroin to curb their appetite and stay skinny.
There are many forms of addictions, but let’s look at how we may be addicted to a few commonly ingested legal substances. Alcohol is probably a good place to start. Many people do not have a problem with alcohol, and they can drink normally without any consequences. They don’t obsess about it or try to control their intake. It has no power over them.
Then there are others who become alcoholics. They will tell you of the constant thinking about drinking, not drinking, getting their next drink or recovering from the effects of their last bout of drinking. This is the hell an active alcoholic lives with. The person may quit drinking only to find the obsessive thinking and surfacing feelings are too much to bear.
Is this anything like our compulsion to eat? Have you experienced that numbed out feeling during eating? Do you eat to make the feelings or thoughts go away? When something upsets you, do you look for comfort in food? I have had people tell me that they are thinking about food, weight, diets, body image, exercise, and so on about 95% of their waking hours. Does this make sense? Not for someone who has no problem with food. However, if you are trapped in the obsession of a food addiction, you know what I am talking about. Does eating really fix the situation or feeling, or does it often compound the problem?
Over the years, I have seen a great number of people recover from alcoholism only to switch to a food addiction. They use food in a similar way to how they used alcohol. I don’t need to go into the debate of which is better; I just want to point out the similarities.
I especially see people who are recovering from alcoholism also being addicted to sugar. That makes so much sense. Alcohol is metabolized in the body as sugar. Although it may not have the same devastating effects short-term, sugar can and does kill. Refined sugar is in almost everything now, even in some brands of potato chips!
You can get scientific articles about sugar addiction and download a Sugar Awareness assessment at www.SugarAwareness.com.
If you can relate to any items discussed in this article, you can get a free eating disorder assessment by calling 800-711-2062 or visit www.RebeccasHouse.org.
Admitting that you have a food problem is the first step. Then you can find solutions. Most eating disorders start with restricting food or dieting. Read the Keys Study on www.rebeccashouse.org under articles. It is amazing what happened to the subjects. This study was done before most people knew that eating disorders existed.
Today scientist have found that cyclical bingeing and food deprivation (i.e. yo-yo dieting) actually changes the brain chemistry. There are also some foods that share the same neuropathways in the brain as alcohol or drugs. Some people are predisposed to crave foods that may lead to food addictions, eating disorders, and obesity.
These people develop food allergies and food addictions. If they have certain foods or drinks they start binging. The addicting substances most often seen are sugar, white flour, and fats. Fast foods have all three.
One easy way to find out if this is your problem is to record how you feel after eating fast foods. Pay close attention to craving more food, mood changes, and fatigue. This could be a clue. If this is your case you can decide to have fast foods knowing how you will feel later. Thinking it through, you may not want to experience the aftermath of a binge. Over time this becomes a no brainer.
Some people need help to sort this out. Many people with food addictions and/or eating disorders enter a treatment facility so they have a safe place to resolve the food issues and build a new foundation for healthy living.