You sent me a couple of questions that I’d like to answer.
In addition to the more obvious addictive foods, such as sugars, saturated fats, and processed flour, virtually any food can result in addiction for susceptible individuals. This can occur due to various food sensitivities (sometimes called “allergies”, a controversial term with respect to foods). The so-called “allergic” reaction results in a neurochemical cascade that may trigger an addictive response, so some people with food sensitivities end up addicted to the very foods that make them feel worst.
Regarding the elimination diet you asked about, I may use that at times for suspected food sensitivities. Other food addictions hinge on general neurochemical responses (by all) that are problematic for some due to predisposing factors, based on family history. That can often be determined via questionnaire. If more specific information is necessary (by blood test, for example), I refer to an M.D.
Food addiction is definitely real. I think it is much more challenging to deal with than drug addiction because at least one makes a choice to take a drug to satisfy the addiction. Food labeling practices today make it challenging to try to eliminate foods that we may experience adverse affects from. Sugar is a big food addiction as Joan states – but just as big of a problem and equally responsible for obesity, chronic diseases and brain disorders is MSG and the precursors that convert to MSG (glutamic acid). It’s hidden, ubiquitous and I guarantee we all are addicted to one degree or another to that little molecule. It excites our neurons and tells our brains that whatever food we are eating that contains MSG is yummy.
Food addictions have a neurochemical, thus physiological, basis, making them absolutely real. Those who claim they are something else tend to be unaware of the neurochemistry/physiology of addiction and/or the neurochemical effects of foods.
Genetic predisposing factors may be involved, including family history of alcoholism, diabetes, hypoglycemia, hypertension, and more. There are non-genetic predisposing factors, as well, including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder (which alters neurochemistry) and body type. It does no one a service to encourage them to regard an addictive response to specific foods (sugar or saturated fats, for example) as if it were not an addiction when the brain response is often as genetic as eye color. We each got what we got. The good news is that changes in diet can alter neurochemical levels and result in beneficial modifications in cravings, appetite, mood and food preferences.
My dissertation was on Psychoactive Nutrition in the Treatment of Women with Binge-Eating Disorder (1999). Controlling sugar intake was found to have a profound effect on bingeing and craving. I would be happy to answer any questions.
Joan S. Kent
Ph.D., Psychoactive Nutrition
M.S., Exercise Physiology