Thursday, June 14, 2007
Addicted to food?
I have a confession to make. When I was at my heaviest, I was able to sit down and eat an entire medium, thin crust pizza by myself. Now, I'm not very proud of that. It was a horrible way to eat, and I have learned from my mistakes over the years. But I've often wondered why my behavior was so irrational. Why would someone who knows that consuming an entire pizza is nutritional suicide still do it? Who's to say. But I always did it when I was stressed, or sad, or bored. Even though I was wolfing down thousands of calories and hundreds of grams of fat in one sitting, it made me feel good, for a little while. And that was the catch - for a little while. Then I'd realize what I had done, get angry with myself and start the whole process over again.
Was I addicted to food? Were tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese my drugs of choice? Some doctors these days think so - that food has become as addictive to some people as alcohol or cigarettes to others. What a lot of researchers are finding is that obesity, which once was thought to be a condition of the gastrointestinal tract - the stomach - now may be more of a psychological or neurological issue. Yep, that's right: The brain may be the culprit. Certain physicians believe that something in the brain of an obese person reacts to food, just as it would to other addictive substances. Food addiction is kind of a new term used to describe the compulsive or excessive craving for food to comfort the soul. Not only can this addiction be characterized by eating abnormal amounts of food (an entire carton of ice cream in one sitting, for instance) but the foods these "addicts" crave are not very healthy. When was the last time anyone said, "Gosh, I'd love to have a raw carrot right now!" or "I could really go for some steamed broccoli!" Not going to happen. Nutritionists have found that most people who are overweight tend to crave high-fat, high-calorie foods, which pack on the pounds. Studies have also shown that certain people who undergo bariatric surgery turn to other addictive habits after their operation, trading one addiction for another. So it becomes a vicious cycle. How to stop it? Doctors don't know, but they are researching ways to curb these cravings.
Some experts say addiction is not the root of obesity and that food addiction is an overused term. They note there isn't enough research to prove that people are addicted to food and that people who turn to other addictions after treating their obesity with surgery may have addictive personalities, but that's not the driving force for obesity. These physicians say most obese people just don't know how to eat properly. They binge, they cut back, they go on diet after diet after diet. They splurge, feel guilty - the whole nine yards. They're not in control of their eating patterns. Obesity experts find that behavior modification and nutritional guidance usually help many obese patients lose enough weight to help them avoid certain illnesses, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. So it's really more a life change than treating addiction.
As for my pizza indulgence... I don't do it anymore. With help from my nutritionist and a wonderful gym, I have lost enough weight to leave the obese category. But still there are days when instead of thinking of whole grain cereal and raisins, my head keeps telling me that a nice sausage biscuit would be good. But I know now how to tell my brain that that's not the best thing for me, and instead, I set my kettle on the stove to warm up water for my instant oatmeal.
Do you think you might be addicted to food? Do you think behavior modification is the way to handle obesity? Let us know.
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