Food Addictions and Cravings
For some people, food addiction is very much like drug addiction. The chemicals in our engineered food can create a biochemical dependency that cannot be controlled by willpower alone. Just like certain drugs can lead to chemical addictions in the body and brain, ingesting sugar, flour, and wheat in all its forms can be triggers to our bodies causing us to crave more.
There is a lot of scientific proof related to these cravings, but I know we’re more interested in solutions, so we’re going to focus on actionable tips you can use to overcome these cravings. And, yes, you can overcome them!
Addiction: No One Wants To Admit To This Ugly Word
Before we get any further, we need to define a simple yet powerful word: addiction. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
You can be addicted to food, alcohol, drugs, people, work, exercise, sex, gambling, shopping, social media—and so on. In short, addiction simply refers to a behavior over which you have no control.
The Power of Sugar, Flour, and Wheat
Did you know that flours made from grains like wheat create reactions in your blood sugar not unlike eating pure sugar? That’s why breads, pastas, and pastries all can trigger cravings in a similar way. Sugar does not just contribute to weight gain through is triggering the release of insulin (a fat storing hormone); its effects go much deeper than that. For many, sugar, flour, and wheat are very powerful psychoactive drugs that wreak havoc on the body, and the mind. This means these chemicals and foods may alter how we feel and behave—in the same way that more “powerful” drugs like alcohol and cocaine do. Most people never realize that their depression, or mood swings, or even mania-like emotions could be a result of the sugar, flour, and wheat we eat. Even though we’ve all experienced the “sugar rush” or “sugar high” we still don’t think of ourselves as abusers of drugs when we overeat sugar, flour or wheat.
There’s a body of research showing that certain foods, such as those that contain sugar, create the same responses in the brain’s dopamine receptors as alcohol and other addictive substances. Further, research shows that sugar actually surpasses cocaine as a reward.
Unfortunately, the number one symptom of addiction is denial and no one wants to admit that they are a drug addict and their drug of choice is food (or at least highly processed and refined foods.) Many recovered drug and alcohol addicts have said that it was harder to get off these addictive foods than it was to get off drugs and alcohol.
Think about that for a minute.
Does that give you an idea of just how powerful the addiction can be to these substances?
Realize that it’s not your fault. Sugar, flour, and wheat have been sneakily added into our foods for a long time. But understanding is power, now that you’re aware of the lure of these foods and food additives, you can take steps to help yourself.
A craving is a powerful desire for something. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say probably 100% of women have experienced food cravings. But research shows that at least 70% of men do too.
You may think or have likely heard that your cravings are all in your head, but cravings are,in fact, very real, biological responses. The hippocampus, insula, and caudate – three regions in the brain – are responsible for cravings and tend to be even stronger than the brain’s pleasure and reward center.
When you’re stressed, anxious or upset, this is the moment when you crave emotionally-satisfying foods. You may cave in to those cravings, and while eating it may seem like your anxiety and stress seem to melt away. This is why emotional eating has such a strong “reward” factor. Additionally, consuming sugar, flour, and wheat raises serotonin, one of our body’s natural chemicals that maintains mood balance and has a calming effect.
Volume As a Trigger
Also keep in mind that large volumes of food, even healthy food, can trigger cravings for some people. Because eating large amounts of food causes a change in your dopamine levels (one of the brain’s chemicals), can trigger further appetite for the very food that stimulated the dopamine level in the first place.
In order to treat food addiction—or any addiction, actually—you must change your lifestyle. For us it means not only changing the foods that we eat but also the amount that we eat.