Dr. Gabor Maté: Emotional Eating and Addiction
Is Food Addiction the Root of Disease?
I've read studies that are leery about labeling any "food" substance as addictive. Instead, they say the substance has been proven to develop a "dependency" in the subjects that consume them. To say someone has a dependency on food is misleading. We're all dependent on food. An addiction to food is a completely different matter. A Princeton article that did say sugar was shown to be addictive in lab rats quoted the same studies, but readily admitted they discovered an 'addiction'. When the test rats were denied sugar and exhibited withdrawal symptoms that led them to abuse alcohol as a substitute (http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S22/88/56G31/index.xml?section=topstories).
Though the above study doesn't necessarily prove the same happens in humans, anyone who's ever broken a sugar addiction knows it's a very real thing. I'm one of those people.
Breaking a sugar addiction may sound like a simple thing to do; especially if you're not really the type of person who likes sweets, but when we take a step back to view the bigger picture, we find that sugar isn't confined to the refined white stuff that's in pastries, ice cream and candy. Starchy carbohydrates turn into sugar in the body, so eating a slice of white bread; any white bread, whether there's added sugar in it, or not, is the same thing as the refined sugar in the doughnut you turned down. It doesn't stop with bread. Pasta, Asian noodles, white rice...potatoes...yes, potatoes, all turn into sugar in the body. These are foods most of us love, and many of us crave. None of the foods I listed have any significant nutritional value (except the potato if eaten closely to its natural state), and therefore doesn't serve any purpose in our diet, whatsoever. They're pleasure or comfort foods we use to satisfy something other than our health; it satisfies our addiction.
If our bodies are lacking in a specific nutrient, this could indeed cause cravings, but if we're craving something we know won't benefit our bodies, like refined sugar or bread, for instance, there's most likely an addiction. There's a very simple way to test this. If a certain food is being craved, such as a donut or a bowl of pasta and you feel this means your blood sugar is probably low, eat a bowl of fruit instead. If the fruit satisfies your craving to the point of not wanting the donut or bowl of pasta anymore, your craving was blood-sugar oriented. The following article has a list of how to satisfy natural cravings that aren't associated with an addiction (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/what-your-food-cravings-really-mean.html). If you're still craving the sugary food, you might want to consider that your cravings are driven by something other than missing nutrients.
While on the subject of sugar, I think it's important to discuss one of the most common items people in the U.S. are addicted to, and that's soda and diet soda. Knowing that sugar is addictive it's easy to see how soda in general would also be addicting, but with diet soda, it's the sugar replacement, Aspartame, that's the addiction culprit, and it's suggested that it's not just addictive, but highly addictive (http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/the-causes-of-diet-soda-addiction/). I first began suspecting that Aspartame was a dangerous substance when a friend of mine began suffering horrendous headaches and complained of feeling 'strange' and 'out of it'. He had a very healthy diet (vegan), except for his weakness for diet sodas. He weaned himself off them and the symptoms soon went away. Years later, a family member who had suffered for a long time with cluster migraines, couldn't find any medication that eased her suffering. If I'd known back then that the flavored water she loved to drink had Aspartame in it, we could've rid her of those migraines much earlier. She stopped getting the migraines when she stopped drinking the flavored water. In my opinion, drinking regular soda is much 'safer' than drinking diet.
Fat is another component I've suspected for some time was just as addicting as anything else; having had a serious cheese addiction myself. According to Scientific American, high-fat foods can have the same effect as a heroin or cocaine addiction. The article goes on to suggest that over-consumption of these foods could be spawned by the lower levels of a specific receptor in the brain; the D2 receptor, and this could be genetic in nature (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/addicted-to-fat-eating/). Though the above mentioned article was referring to obesity and over-eating in general, the propensity for eating for pleasure dictates that the person would reach for foods laden with bad fats and sugar.
Don't be mistaken that fat is something we can eliminate from our diets like refined sugar. Fat is a macro-nutrient we all need to survive, but like sugar, not all fats are created equal. Even certain saturated fats can be, and are, healthy.
Avocados, nuts, seeds, and plant oils all have high levels of saturated fats in them, but for some reason they won't clog our arteries or make us obese. Again, without getting into a science lesson, plant fats and animal fats are molecularly very different from one another. The way the fats are prepared also play a huge roll in how they affect us on a cellular and pleasurable level.
If I cut up a zucchini and sprinkled some olive oil on it, I'd have a very healthy snack. If I took that same zucchini and dipped it boiling olive oil for thirty seconds, I just changed that healthy food into a nightmare that would satisfy the pleasure centers in my brain, but have no nutritional value for my body.
It's my personal opinion that frying foods simply isn't healthy, but I've read articles by others who suggest certain types of frying (deep), with oils that have a high-heat tolerance are healthy as long as there isn't any batter or breading involved. I think any food exposed to high-heat strips it of its nutrients and shouldn't be used as a regular part of the diet. With that being said, if a person chooses to fry or cook in oil, it's important to make sure you choose an oil that doesn't degrade or become toxic when heated. A safe oil is coconut or palm oil, but there are a few others. Olive oil should never be used as a cooking oil.
I believe that animal flesh is addicting, too. Yeah, I'm going to take the fun out of everything! I can't say that meat is unhealthy for everyone, but the way it's usually cooked definitely is. Fried, breaded, grilled to a crisp...this is not healthy, and probably what makes it so addicting. I think we're just so used to having meat, nothing seems to taste right without it. Go without it for a few days and hunger becomes insatiable. Having given up meat in 1992, I experienced very strange hunger sensations all the time. I convinced myself I was starving, even though I was eating vegetables and fake meat products (the few that were available), constantly. I know it was completely psychological because it passed after a few months. I started eating fish again in 2011 after cancer treatments because I was craving it. I tried many alternatives to get the same nutrients available in fish, but nothing worked. Whatever I was lacking, only fish was able to satiate it. I believe fish is the only meat that's healthy for us, but only our own bodies can tell us if we truly need that steak or chicken breast. The only way to know is to give it up for a few months and see how we feel. I always recommend that if someone is going to eat meat, to limit it to only a few times per week, and stay away from deli meats that have nitrate in them. Bacon and other fatty or fried meats should seriously be avoided. We're talking about breaking addictions here, and there's little doubt that eating bacon is only feeding an addiction. If you don't believe me, read this (http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/03/28/fatty.foods.brain/index.html).
Now that we have a little bit clearer picture of why and how foods are addicting, let's explore what the addictions are doing to us.
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