On Crack and Ice Cream, Part 2

This is drugs on your brain
Let’s review what we learned in Part1:

Drugs hijack the reward system of the brain in a way that floods the synapses with a super intense signal. In response, the post-synaptic neurons will decrease the number of receptors for that signal. This creates a situation where more signal is needed to create the same high (i.e. tolerance) and a normal amount of signal leads to nasty effects (i.e. withdrawal).

So ‘what does this have to do with my weight?’ you might ask.

It turns out that sugar, fat, and salt stimulate the same parts of the brain as cocaine, alcohol, and tobacco. Let that sink in for a moment. This means that your brain responds to sugar, fat, and salt as if they were an addictive drug – literally.As we said in part one, the more potent a drug is, the greater the liklihood for abuse and addiction. The same is true with foods. The potency of sugar, fat, and salt has increased dramatically over the past decades leading to situation where addiction-type behaviors related to eating are on the rise. This increase in potency is a major reason for the catastrophic rise in obesity (see my post “How Bad is the Obesity Epidemic“) as more and more people are showing the signs of addictive behavior in their relationship to food.

The condition that is most illustrative of this is Binge Eating Disorder. BED is similar to bulimia nervosa, except BED is characterized by repetitive and uncontrollable episodes of overeating without purging. Unfortunately, in spite of the guilt and knowledge of the harmful effects of the overeating, the behavior continues. The continued use, in spite of a negative result is one of the defining characteristics of addiction. This is why BED is thought to be similar to drug addiction. Going back to what we learned about tolerance, the same principles apply with overeating. The binges in BED tend to be high in sugar content and diets high in sugar have been shown in animal models to lead to increasing food intake over time. In other words, it takes more sugar to get the same psychological rewards (aka tolerance). Sugar is also known to cause pronounced withdrawal symptoms when removed from the diet similar to withdrawal from addictive drugs.

This information is so important because it leads to a powerful change in attitude towards weight loss. If you are very overweight you have to approach food with serious respect. You have to know how powerful the hold of these substances can be on you. When you have this level of respect you will be able to change your behaviors to be in line with the seriousness of the problem.

The specific actions you can take are as follows:

1. Whatever food is your drug, don’t have it available.

2. Avoid environments that can lead to bingeing (i.e. any environment with unlimited access to food, like buffets).

3. Don’t eat right out of the bag, box, etc. Pre-measure out good portions into a bowl before hand.

4. Calorie count.

5. If you feel you have binge eating disorder check out overeaters anonymous who have a long track record of success.

6. Get a buddy to help you. When the temptation is strong, call them before you binge.

7. When you do fall off the wagon, read my post “Falling Off the Wagon” before you get too down on yourself.

So, getting back to the ice cream addiction I mentioned in part one, I banned the cold creamy goodness from my house and over time, the cravings eased a bit. I have now been (mostly) ice cream free for a few months. Next step – cookies.

Vote in the poll below to let me know what your addiction is.

Wilson G. Eating disorders, obesity, and addiction. European Eating Disorders Review 2010;18:341-51.
Davis C, Carter J. Compulsive overeating as an addiction disorder: A review of theory and evidence. Appetite 2009;53:1-8.
Yanovski S. Sugar and fat: cravings and aversions. Journal of Nutrition 2003;133.
Avena N, Rada P, Hoebel B. Evidence fo sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience
and Biobehavioral Reviews 2008;32.

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