by Sean Croxton
Food addiction is the real deal.
To speak of a dependency on sugar in the same breath as cocaine and alcohol addiction seems a bit odd, but biologically they cannot be more similar.
The brain needs a fix.
The neurochemicals that are over-amplified and imbalanced by street drugs and booze are the very same ones that are triggered by sweets and other processed foods.
Some experts and addicts even say that food addiction can be harder to kick than a bad cocaine habit. Scoring some coke requires a dealer. Cookies, donuts, and bread are literally everywhere.
On this week’s episode of UW Radio, Dr. Vera Tarman, M.D. showed us just how real food addiction really is.
There’s a reason why so many of us just can’t so no to sugar, why we can’t stick to our diets no matter how hard we try, and why a great proportion of the 60,000 thoughts we have every day have to do with food.
There’s a good chance that these behaviors are all in your head.
Your brain, that is.
It’s been hijacked.
As I prepared for my broadcast with Dr. Tarman, I became familiar with a simplified version of how this hijacking takes place. Check it out…
There are three regions of the brain — the bottom, middle, and top.
The bottom region — where the brain stem and cerebellum are — is responsible for life-sustaining activities such as breathing, the beating of the heart, and the digestion of food. This stuff happens automatically, which is why we don’t have to think about breathing every few seconds. Imagine how much that would suck.
To get an idea of how powerful and important this area is, just think about what happens when you hold your breath. At some point your brain overrides your commitment to turning blue by forcing you to give up and take a deep breath. Like I said, it’s responsible for life-sustaining activities. No air. No life.
The middle portion of the brain is known as the limbic system. This is where all of the emotional, instinctual, and motivational stuff takes place. It’s all about getting you to do the things that are going to keep you alive, like finding food for nourishment, sex for reproduction, and shelter for safety. It moves you away from pain and toward pleasure.
Lastly, we have the top of the brain, or the frontal lobe. Here is where our ability to think, rationalize, and reason comes from. It can look forward into the future and backward into the past. Our appreciations for art, community, family, and the many things we value are made possible by this particular region.
When these 3 areas are functioning properly, all is well. For example, the brain stem (bottom) may be ready to digest food. This activates the limbic system (middle) to look for food. Since the brain runs on sugar and consumes a high proportion of energy compared to the rest of the body, it wants an energy-dense meal with plenty of glucose. It is the reasoning ability of the frontal lobe (top) that keeps us from heading straight to the ice cream shop for dinner. It keeps the limbic system in check.
It’s like what we learned about government way back in grade school — there are 3 branches that have checks and balances to keep any one branch from getting all dictatorial.
Once these checks and balances go offline, things get out of control.
The biology of addiction works the same way. Once the neurochemicals — serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins — in the middle part of the brain become over-amplified and out of balance by way of alcohol abuse, drug use, or consumption of processed foods, it hijacks the frontal lobe’s ability to keep it in check.
In other words, that trip to the ice cream shop sounds like the best idea ever.
Waffle cone. Two scoops. Sprinkles, please.
That’s the super-simple, easy-peezy, no-frills version of addiction. To get the more in-depth, truth-bombing explanation, press the PLAY button below.
In this episode, Dr. Tarman covers the following topics and more:
* The best ways to get a natural serotonin high
* What dopamine has to do with why looking forward to the holidays is usually more exciting than the holiday itself
* How the medical definition of addiction has changed recently, even using the word “spiritual”, a word we seldom hear in medicine
* How long it takes for sugar cravings to go away
* Whether natural sugars and sweeteners are good substitutes for sugar addicts
* 10 questions that will give you some insight as to whether you are a food addict
* How dieting can be a gateway to drugs
* Why support is so critical to conquering food addiction
* Why Dr. Tarman believes complete abstinence from addictive foods is far more effective than moderation (WATCH the video below)
Be sure to visit Dr. Tarman’s website at www.addictionsunplugged.com.
UW Radio will be back next week with THREE shows!!!
See you tomorrow. Friday Fun Day is back!
Great post, been Paleo/sports nutrition/bodybuilding dieting for a year. The sport nutrition/bodybuilding side requires more starchy carbs, which facilitates minor sugar addictions and bacterial imbalances.
I’m working more on carb cycling, I’m just not ready to sacrifice all my carbs (necessary for muscle growth and optimum performance) in favor of health yet.
Have an awesome day,
This is a great post. I really like the fact that you bring in the psychological aspect of food addiction. Often one addiction can lead to another – and if you’re not careful, attempting to curb your food addiction can lead you to abuse of diet pills, anorexia or some other unhealthy outcome. A food addiction, like any other addiction, needs special treatment.
Sean, I think I love every single episode of yours, but this one was particularly earth-shattering for me.
I’ve been trying to self-recover from yo-yo anorexia/bulimia for about a decade, using the “eat anything in moderation” approach, and failing over and over and over again. I’ve tried to take a mostly paleo/real food/low carb approach for years but cave for occasional cookies or whatever, and that starts the fail cycle (and 14 years in, I truly did not enjoy any part of it anymore).
Thanks to this episode with Vera, it’s finally clicked for me: I just can’t touch the trigger foods! Been clean food only and binge free since the episode aired, and the change in satiety, health, mental clarity, and optimism is unbelievable. Thank you Sean for your intuitive hosting and Vera for explaining exactly how my brain is working when I’m eating the wrong, addictive foods; and for clarifying that it’s not ME or my “self control” that is the problem, it is the FOOD that is doing horrible things to my neurochemicals! Some of us just can’t handle ‘just one [insert favorite piece of junk]’ anymore, and I’m fully comfortable with that reality now, knowing specifically what the alternative does to my brain and health.