Many people have a weakness for foods that harm their health. Being aware of physiological and psychological needs helps to overcome it.
Do you feel that you should stop eating that chocolate bar and you don”t? Do you know that those fries do not suit you but you keep putting them in your mouth? Are you still eating despite being aware that you shouldn’t?
Are these types of conflicts a source of discomfort in your life? Do you consider that you have no control over your eating behavior?
Answering affirmatively to these questions is much more frequent than is desirable. What are the causes of these phenomena and what kind of solutions do we have at our fingertips?
Why do we eat what we eat? The answer to this question is anything but simple, since behind each of our bites there are multiple and very different motivations.
First of all, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that eating is much more than nourishing yourself. It is a complex behavior in which biological, psychological and social factors are present and interact, both internal and external; some of them destabilizing an often precarious balance.
CAN YOU BE ADDICTED TO A FOOD?
Work, physical exercise, personal relationships, television, internet, gambling, drugs, ways of thinking, sex, shopping, food the list of things that people say they feel hooked on today seems limitless. But are we really addicted to them?
Taking a simple definition of what is an addictive behavior, it can be said that it is the compulsive use of a substance or a behavior over which there is no control despite its possible negative consequences.
Most of the time the behaviors are not a problem in themselves; what makes them a problem is their frequency and duration.
Being sad for many hours a day for many days can surely be considered a problem, but being sad for several hours a single day or five minutes each day is probably not a problem for anyone, although colloquially you can say at those times that you are “down.”
It is obvious that when someone says they need chocolate it is not the same as when a person addicted to heroin feels a need for this substance.
It is necessary, however, to clarify that the mismatch between what we would like to eat (and in what quantity and time) and what we actually eat can be very large and occur frequently, but also small and at specific times.
It is important to keep this in mind because many times behaviors that are not are labeled as addictive, and that labeling overstates the problem, makes it greater, or simply creates it where there is none.
You also have to distinguish between different types of addictions.
- On the one hand, there are the so-called chemical addictions, which involve the consumption of substances that contain psychoactive components, that is, that act on the nervous system, altering its functions.
But even in this case, substances such as cocaine or heroin cannot be considered the same as others such as alcohol or coffee, since the former exert a very powerful effect on the nervous system while the latter, in moderate amounts, exert an impact. Much less.
- A second type of addiction is social calls, among which are those related to shopping, sex, the Internet or television. They are behavioral in nature and do not have a direct effect on the brain.
Food is in a very particular position, since food has components that can exert a direct influence on brain chemistry but, at the same time, also have a clear behavioral aspect given its influential psychological and social aspects.
In any case, can food be potentially addictive?
WHY DO WE FEEL PLEASURE IN EATING?
In a general way, our behavior is controlled by the search for pleasant stimuli and the avoidance of unpleasant ones.
In the brain we have tremendously powerful pleasure circuits that drive us, for example, to look for food or a partner.
When we do something adaptively advantageous, like eat or meet an interesting person, the brain secretes a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine activates the pleasure pathways of the limbic system, producing a mixture of euphoria and comfort.
The brain rewards us for being good to ourselves to make sure that we will repeat that behavior even if it takes a lot of effort.
Eating brings great pleasure, and that is what drives us to do it. Pleasure directs behavior: the priority is not eating, but the pleasure that comes from it.
It is an easily observable fact that, when you follow monotonous, bland, fat-free diets … in short, without pleasant taste stimuli, you eat much less.
THE ADDICTIVE POTENTIAL OF FOOD
These circuits are designed for natural stimuli, but they are not prepared for a chemical substance – a drug – to arrive and activate them in a direct way.
If it is activated directly, the brain does not understand it and the booster circuit stops fulfilling the mission on its own. If drugs appear and are abused, the brain delegates its functions in these circumstances.
The addictive process begins when the pleasure circuit adapts to the presence of a chemical that activates it automatically.
In addition, the body adapts physiologically to the external substance, and when it is not administered it causes serious physiological effects, sometimes difficult to bear. Hence the difficulty of giving up consumption.
Dr. David Kessler, former CEO of the US Food and Drug Administration and author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, proposes a hypothesis that highly palatable food excessively activates the mechanisms of reward in the brains of susceptible individuals.
The almighty food industry invests many resources in finding the so-called “ecstasy point” in food, a point at which the maximum pleasure provided by sugar, fat or salt is achieved. In addition, it associates food with everything we want, such as health, love or happiness.
For the purposes of what has been said so far, the foods and drinks of habitual consumption can be considered as natural stimuli. But are they all equally stimulating?
THE POWER OF SUGAR: WHY DO YOU LIKE SWEET THINGS SO MUCH?
Since man has learned to isolate a type of sugar, sucrose , from foods such as sugar cane or sugar beet, its availability and exposure have increased dramatically, and regulating the sweet tooth has become a challenge that not everyone is the winner.
Not uncommon palatability exaggerated so sweet and candy, which affects both children and adults and is now known with the English colloquialism sweet tooth.
There is an evolutionary and a cultural explanation for this preference:
- The first taste. We like sweet things and it is a source of pleasure, and it seems that this is the case since we are born. This is the basic flavor that predominates in our first food, breast milk, thanks to its lactose content, which is a type of sugar.
- Fast calories. Some foods can provide occasional increases in glucose in the blood, as occurs with sugar or other foods whose sugars are rapidly absorbed and reach the bloodstream in a short time after consumption.
It should not be forgotten that the millions of neurons present in the brain have as their only fuel another type of sugar, glucose, of which this organ consumes between 100 and 120 grams per day or, what is the same, between 20 and 25% of body energy expenditure.
- Symbolic value. In addition to these sensory gratifications related to survival, we learn to associate sweetness with many symbolic values, since in our culture it evokes many desired things. Sweet are good dreams, the honeys of success, caresses, kindness, delicacy, childhood, tenderness, kindness or la dolce vita.
CHOCOLATE, THE GREAT TEMPTATION
The great cocktail of substances in chocolate makes it more than just a blood sugar- raising food.
Of its more than three hundred components, it is believed that two could be responsible for its success: theobromine , like caffeine, stimulates the central nervous system and the respiratory system, and anandamide ( ananda in Sanskrit means happiness) is a derivative of the Arachidonic acid made by the brain that binds to the same receptors for the active ingredient in marijuana. And to that is added the sweetness of its fat.
Chocolate thus visits the brain”s pleasure centers, as shown by neuroimaging studies. However, it cannot be said that he is addicted.
“I CAN”T LIVE WITHOUT COFFEE”
Other foods or beverages have psychoactive substances among their components, such as coffee.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that binds to adenosine receptors, a neurotransmitter that slows nerve activity. Doing so prevents pre-sleep relaxation.
The organism thus enters a state of alert that is accompanied by the release of adrenaline, which maintains the tension in the muscles and the brain.
At the same time, it manipulates dopamine production, investing the other effects with a feeling of well-being.
But this chemical reaction is still not comparable to that caused by certain drugs that are addictive. So, although it is not advisable to abuse coffee, it can be taken in small doses or on special occasions, to enjoy it, fight sleep or as a small stimulus, without causing problems.
ARE YOU REPLACING SOMETHING FOR FOOD?
Eating satisfies multiple needs, both physiological and psychological. For this reason, it is one of the axes on which our life revolves and our brain recognizes it as a pleasant stimulus.
But there are situations in which food can perform functions that are not its own. These are surrogate functions.
The perception of loss of control is very common today. But the need to feel that you control and govern your life program is something deeply ingrained in the human being and a fundamental piece of mental balance.
In fact, stress is only experienced by the perception of lack of control. Probably for this reason, we are currently witnessing a wide manifestation of behaviors that act as substitutes for control and its associated well-being.
Eating can be one of them. It can become an outlet for anything you don”t like, such as fear or uncertainty.
Thus, for example, it may happen that, after a time subjected to threatening and stressful situations, at some point the brain “asks” us for something good, as if it were saying: “I have worked a lot lately, I need a reward”. At this point you take whatever you like and take more of it because you need something to calm yourself down.
Although in the short term pleasing the brain with food after an effort can be beneficial, the truth is that in the medium and long term it is not a good decision.
The lawful search for control and pleasure is done in this case through a wrong strategy, because adopting food as a source of substitute pleasure and control does not contribute to facing the basic problem and, furthermore, it is added the own discomfort that generates dysfunctional eating.
ADDICTIVE BEHAVIORS MORE THAN ADDICTIVE FOODS
Situations associated with the “relief” that is obtained by eating and, therefore, the stimuli that can awaken the desire to eat are becoming more and more frequent. In fact, spending a lot of time trying to get the addictive substance and increasing your use over time are common elements that appear in the definition of addiction.
This type of dynamics exerts a funnel effect : since the intended solution does not obtain the expected results, one falls into the trap of thinking that we must eat more, and one enters a dynamic of “more of the same” that can end up converting the act of eating on an unstoppable urge .
If you are aware of this situation, you will be able to observe how within you two voices emerge with opposite messages: one that pushes you to eat on the one hand and the other that warns that something is wrong by acting that way. The conflict is served.
It does not matter whether cream, peanuts, soft drinks or jam are the foods involved. It is important to realize what is happening.
Loss of control in relation to food is manifested harshly in a feeling of not being able to stop dysfunctional behavior, in increased addictive behavior, in interference with other aspects of life and in its use at the cost of other forms of reinforcement.
On the other hand, it must be taken into account that addictive eating behaviors are often expressed in cycles: many people do not experience them during the day but at nightfall they give free rein to their desires; or they feel them during the week at work but not outside of it.
In others, their appetite is expressed outside the home or at parties. The rituals that are associated with certain consumptions are just another unsuccessful attempt at control.
HOW TO REGAIN CONTROL OF WHAT WE EAT?
Behind addictive behaviors there is usually a loss of perception of control. True well-being is based on things that are within reach and that depend on oneself.
Seeking compensation through other behaviors ends up creating vicious circles from which it is not easy to get out.
Some ideas can help:
- Depositing control and well-being in something external increases dependency and vulnerability.
- It is advisable to be careful: it is easier to change addiction than to go from dependence to autonomy.
- With patience you have to create habits that are incompatible with addictive behaviors: design goals and plan how to achieve them, play sports, get used to savoring food, diversify sources of pleasure, stay in touch with yourself.
- Measures can be adopted that help promptly : not buying certain foods, making access to them more difficult, changing routines, looking for alternative behaviors in times of crisis, reinforcing favorable behaviors.
- The process of changing an addictive behavior is often long and full of ups and downs. Relapses are part of the process. The important thing, therefore, is not to give up.
About The Author
VirallyMedia Editorial Staff
Our team of expert writers and researchers are dedicated to bringing you the latest trends, news, and best practices in various fields, including but not limited to business, technology, health, lifestyle, entertainment, and more. We strive to create informative and engaging content that is easy to understand and relevant to your needs.