Life Lessons

Life Lessons: Is food addiction real?

When you think of addiction, usually alcohol or opioids come to mind, but can you also be addicted to food?

While food addiction is not a recognized medical condition, some foods have been found to trigger the same “pleasure centers” in our brains as drugs.

In fact, one study done on lab rats found that Oreo cookies activated more pleasure-center neurons in the brain than cocaine or morphine. This research could potentially change the way obesity is treated.

Which foods can you simply not resist? Pizza? Chocolate? Potato chips? Those three foods topped the list on the Yale food addiction scale. No surprise that beans, carrots and cucumbers are considered among the least addictive.

Several studies have found that foods high in fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates stimulate the brain in the same way as drugs or alcohol which may explain why we can’t resist them despite knowing how bad they are.

Registered dietitian Lauren Ott says some people respond to unhealthy foods the way an alcoholic responds to liquor. 

“Food is so closely tied to emotions, and so you almost become a coach and a counselor than a dietitian," she explained.

Ott's approach to weight loss is similar to drug rehab. It includes counseling, stress management and classes to help people change the way they think of food.

“It’s been really, really successful so far and I’m really excited to see, hopefully, how this changes the face of some of our weight loss programs," she said.

Researchers agree that the same methods used to stop smoking, drinking and drug use should also be used to fight obesity. Right now, more than one third of US adults are obese, and telling people to “just say no” to unhealthy foods doesn’t appear to be working.

An Oxford University study found it’s not just how food tastes that makes certain foods addicting, it’s also how they sound. Yes, we eat with our ears, too.

Take potato chips. For example, you can’t eat just one, right? Researchers say that’s because we associate their crispy, crunchy, crackly sound with freshness, and it makes chips seem more appetizing. The same goes for the fizzy popping sound of a soda.

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