Can't Stop…You May Be Addicted

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Have you ever wondered why it is that when you turn the corner, cravings kick in instantly for the local fast food spot? Or why a day at the mall is not complete without the usual snacks? Does 3:00 pm mean a quick run to your favorite frozen yogurt supplier?

According to Dr. David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration and author of “The End of Overeating,” this behavior can’t be simply attributed to bad eating habits. It’s a powerful addiction, and you might need rehab. Dr. Kessler says that the food industry, much like the tobacco industry, is intentionally designing products high in fat, salt and sugar to get consumers addicted. He estimates that about 70 million Americans struggle with “hyper-eating”.

Through his own observations and studies, Dr. Kessler has found that foods containing fat, salt and sugar stimulate the release of Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in alcohol, drug and cigarette addiction. He explains that over time Dopamine pathways light up at even the slightest food “cue” like a time of day or the neighborhood you are in, regardless if you are hungry. As a result, portion control is almost impossible due to the fact that you are no longer eating for nourishment but for stimulation.

What can we do to break the cycle? Dr. Kessler says that what is needed is a “perceptual shift”. The way we look at food and respond to the urges need to be changed in order to rewire our brains and break the addictive cycle.

Stefania Patinella, Director of Food & Nutrition Programs at The Children’s Aid Society says: “Among the solutions Dr. Kessler offers is a return to eating “real food”—food that is whole and fresh, that is not processed or pumped with sugars and fats, and that is free from misleading advertising. At Children’s Aid, our Go! Healthy programs aim to help children and families discover and develop a love for real, healthy foods. Our cooking classes make healthy foods a cause for family celebration, and our nutrition discussions help children uncover the advertising tricks of the food industry so they can become smart and conscious consumers. Dr. Kessler explains how rewiring our brains and freeing ourselves from food addiction is no easy task, a lesson many American adults know well as they struggle their whole lives with overeating. Better, we think, to encourage healthy habits from the very beginning of children’s lives.”