Food Addiction: When food is like heroin, only worse- it’s everywhere.

image via Health Freedoms

The American Medical Association just got a lot closer to defining food addiction as a disease.
A new study from Yale University measured the brain activity of women tempted, and then rewarded, with a chocolate milkshake. For all the test subjects, neural activity surged in regions that govern cravings, identical to the neural response of alcoholics and drug addicts when they’re given their drug of choice. In the food addicted, activity fell off in the brain regions involved with self-control, just like the brain response of substance abusers. The findings suggest that setting a chocolate milkshake down in front of the food addicted is just like dangling a dime bag of heroin in front of a junkie.

There are more than 70 million food-addicted adults in the U.S. according to David Kessler, a biostatistician and a former commissioner of the U.S Food and Drug Administration; and they’re sick of being a pop culture punchline. To them, willpower is not enough to just say ‘no’ to french fries; they hope the biological basis of the Yale findings will bring understanding and compassion to their plight.

Food addicts are forced to confront their demons three times a day. Every meal challenges them to resist the pathology of the brain’s reward center. They reel from the constant temptations on the calendar—Halloween candy gives way to Thanksgiving dinner followed by Christmas and New Years feasts. Just when they’ve made it through the back-to-back candy holidays of Valentines Day and Easter, the doorbell rings and it’s the Girl Scouts hawking those damn Thin Mints cookies. How long do you think sobriety would last if a glass of whiskey was placed in front of an alcoholic as often?

Then there’s the pervasiveness of foodie culture, which runs amok on dedicated cable channels, in the food porn everyone is snapping, and in countless tweets and food blogs. For too many, food appreciation has become an obsession. While some of us feel food fatigue, for the food addict it’s a constant, punishing minefield of temptation.

Foodies have created an environment in which celebrations of narcissism and gluttony are socially acceptable, blurring the line between preoccupation and pathology. Disordered, compulsive eating can be hard to spot. It rarely has the rock-bottom, aha moment of other addictions, but instead tends to be a slow, chronic creep of abuse of a substance we’ve indulged in our entire lives.

Are we all food addicts waiting to happen?
CBS News has an online test of addictive behavior based on the Yale Food Addiction Scale underlying the study.

 

 

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