A few weeks ago while I was home folding laundry, The Dr. Oz Show had a topic that peeked my interest. It is a topic I struggle with understanding everyday as I work with my clients who are trying to lose weight; “Can you be addicted to food?” (There are 3 segments, I suggest watching at least the first one.)
I have been thinking about this show and topic for weeks now. Each day I met with clients who are struggling with weight loss and beating themselves up about it. Yesterday I met a women who even declared herself a “sugar addict”. She described these feeling of uncontrolled urges, and an inability to stop once she has too much sugar. I thought about her all day yesterday. Was her desire to gorge on sugar a trained behavior or emotional eating response? Could this women have a true “addiction” to sugar? Lo and behold when I woke up this morning the headlines screamed this: “UCSF scientists declare war on sugar in food”! The debate is on!
At the beginning of my career as a dietitian if you asked me “Can you be addicted to food?”; I would have said absolutely not! Food choice is all about willpower and behavior! However in 2009 I read an article in one of my favorite newsletters (Nutrition Action Health Letter) called Why We Overeat by Dr. David A. Kessler. This article hit home for me and opened my eyes to the idea that there are perhaps “chemical or biological” cues that may drive some of our food choices and lead us to overeat.
Behavior or Addiction? Which is it?
Myself, I am more of a moderate when it comes to this topic. I think it is both and here are a few reasons why:
- Triad of Overeating: – Salt- Fat- Sugar causes a dopamine spike and stimulate brain activation (addiction)
- Anticipation and cues around food can cause the arousal and become part of the memory and desire for certain foods (behavioral)
- Hypereater (overweight/obese) once the activation of the brain is started it may not shut-off, sending signals to keep eating sugar, fat and salty foods (addiction)
- Children at age 2-3 years old are able to compensate calorie intake, but once exposed to salt,fat,sugar they lose the ability to compensate their calorie intake and eat more according to their environment (behavioral/addiction)
- Deprivation can increase the reward value of food unless you can find a substitute you will desire more (behavioral/addiction)
- You can learn new values for certain food and retrain your desires (behavioral)
- Not everyone had issues with overeating food (behavioral/addiction)
What Can You Do?
Whether you feel you are addicted to sugar or feel your eating issues was due to behaviors you learned from your childhood, that doesn’t matter right now to me. What does matter is I know you and I eat way too much sugar and it is affecting our weight and health! Most Americans get more than 22 teaspoons — or 355 calories — of added sugar a day. There are the obvious places like candy, soda, cookies and white products (white bread, rice, pasta). But sugar can be lurking in foods that we consider “healthy” like wheat breads, salad dressing and yogurts. I use an awareness exercise with my Wellness Groups that really hits home! It is known as the No Added Sugar Challenge. When I first did this exercise/challenge along side one of my groups, I lost 5 pounds and found there was lots of hidden sugar in my day to day “healthy” food choices. This exercise opened up my eyes and clients’ to all the hidden sugar in ours diets that could be affecting our health and weight!
My challenge for you is to follow the No Added Sugar Challenge for 2 weeks! Observe how good you feel, eating whole, unprocessed foods. See what happens to your weight. You might even be surprise how much hidden sugar is in the food you eat and start to make some new food choices! By no means do I think you will never have sugar or desserts again. This exercise is to create awareness and help you make better choices in the quality of food products you bring into your home and put into your body. Good luck and let us know how it goes!!