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Food Addiction: Could It Explain Why 70% of Americans Are Overweight?
Posted By Mark Hyman, M.D. On December 7, 2010 @ 9:00 am In Detox, Family Health, Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating, Weight Loss | 5 Comments
Our government and food industry both encourage more “personal responsibility” when it comes to battling the obesity epidemic  and its associated diseases. They say people should exercise more self-control, make better choices, avoid overeating and reduce their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks and processed food. We are led to believe that there is no good food or bad food — that it’s all just a matter of balance.
This advice sounds good in theory, except for one thing: New discoveries in science prove that industrially processed, sugar-, fat- and salt-laden food (food that is made in a plant rather than grown on a plant, as Michael Pollan would say) is biologically addictive.
Imagine a foot-high pile of broccoli, or a giant bowl of apple slices. Do you know anyone who would binge on broccoli or apples? On other hand, imagine a mountain of potato chips or a pint of ice cream. It’s easy to imagine those vanishing in an unconscious eating frenzy. Broccoli is not addictive, but cookies, chips and soda absolutely can become addictive drugs.
The “just say no” approach to drug addiction hasn’t fared to well, and it won’t work for our industrial food addiction , either. There are specific biological mechanisms that drive addictive behavior. These behaviors arise out of primitive reward centers in the brain that override normal willpower and overwhelm our ordinary biological signals that control hunger .
It is because these substances are all biologically addictive.
Now consider this: Why is it so hard for obese people to lose weight despite social stigma and health consequences such as high blood pressure , diabetes , heart disease , arthritis  and cancer , even if they have an intense desire to lose weight? It is not because they want to be fat. It is because certain types of food are addictive.
Researchers from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity  validated a “food addiction” scale. Here are a few of the points on the scale that are used to determine if you have a food addiction. Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, you may be an “industrial food addict.”
Based on these criteria and others, many of us, including most obese children , are “addicted” to industrial food. If you examine your behavior around and relationship with sugar , in particular, you may find that many of the criteria above apply to you!
Here are some of the scientific findings confirming that food can, indeed, be addictive:
Remember the movie Super Size Me , where Morgan Spurlock ate three super-sized meals from McDonald’s every day? What struck me about that film was not that he gained 30 pounds or that his cholesterol  went up, or even that he got a fatty liver. What was surprising was the portrait it painted of the addictive quality of the food he ate. At the beginning of the movie, when he ate his first supersized meal, he threw it up, just like a teenager who drinks too much alcohol at his first party. By the end of the movie, he only felt “well” when he ate that junk food . The rest of the time he felt depressed , exhausted, anxious, and irritable and lost his sex drive , just like an addict or smoker withdrawing from his drug. The food was clearly addictive.
These problems with food addiction are compounded by the fact that food manufacturers refuse to release any internal data on how they put ingredients together to maximize consumption of their food products, despite requests from researchers. In his book The End of Overeating , David Kessler, M.D., the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, describes the science of how food is made into drugs by the creation of hyperpalatable foods that lead to neuro-chemical addiction.
This binging leads to profound physiological consequences that drive up calorie consumption and lead to weight gain. In a Harvard study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, overweight adolescents consumed an extra 500 calories a day when allowed to eat junk food as compared to days when they weren’t allowed to eat junk food. They ate more because the food triggered cravings and addiction. Like an alcoholic after the first drink, once these kids started eating processed food full of the sugar, fat and salt that triggered their brain’s reward centers, they couldn’t stop.
Stop and think about this for one minute. If you were to eat 500 more calories in a day, that would equal 182,500 calories a year. If you have to eat an extra 3,500 calories to gain one pound, that’s a yearly weight gain of 52 pounds!
If high-sugar, high-fat, calorie-rich, nutrient-poor, processed junk food is indeed addictive, what does that mean? How should that influence our approach to obesity? What implications does it have for government policies and regulation? Are there legal implications? If we are allowing and even promoting addictive substances in our children’s diets , how should we handle that?
I can assure you, Big Food isn’t going to make any changes voluntarily. They would rather ignore this science. They have three mantras about food.
Unfortunately, this is little more than propaganda from an industry interested in profit, not in nourishing the nation.
The biggest sham in food industry strategy and government food policy is advocating and emphasizing individual choice and personal responsibility to solve our obesity and chronic disease  epidemic. We are told that if people just didn’t eat so much, exercised more and took care of themselves, we would be fine. We don’t need to change our policies or environment. We don’t want the government telling us what to do. We want free choice.
But are your choices free, or is Big Food driving behavior through insidious marketing techniques?
The reality is that many people live in food deserts where they can’t buy an apple or carrot, or live in communities that have no sidewalks or where it is unsafe to be out walking. We blame the fat person. But how can we blame a two-year-old for being fat? How much choice does he or she have?
We live in a toxic food environment, a nutritional wasteland. School lunchrooms and vending machines overflow with junk food and “sports drinks.” Most of us don’t even know what we’re eating. Fifty percent of meals are eaten outside the home , and most home-cooked meals are simply microwavable industrial food. Restaurants and chains provide no clear menu labeling. Did you know that a single order of Outback Steakhouse cheese fries is 2,900 calories, or that a Starbucks venti mocha latte is 508 calories?
When added together, environmental factors (like advertising and lack of menu labeling) and the addictive properties of “industrial food” override our normal biological or psychological control mechanisms. To pretend that changing this is beyond the scope of government responsibility or that creating policy to help manage such environmental factors would lead to a “nanny state” is simply an excuse for Big Food to continue its unethical practices.
Here are some ways we can change our food environment:
We can alter the default conditions in the environment that foster and promote addictive behavior. It’s simply a matter of public and political will. If we don’t, we will face an ongoing epidemic of obesity and illness across the nation. For more information on how we can manage the food crisis in this country , see the diet and nutrition  section of drhyman.com .
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Article printed from Gaiam Blog: http://blog.gaiam.com
URL to article: http://blog.gaiam.com/blog/food-addiction-the-reason-70-percent-of-americans-are-overweight/
URLs in this post:
 Image: http://blog.gaiam.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/FoodAddiction.jpg
 battling the obesity epidemic: http://drhyman.com/food-addiction-could-it-explain-why-70-percent-of-america-is-fat-2499
 food addiction: http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-handle-soft-addiction
 control hunger: http://life.gaiam.com/article/10-ways-deal-hunger-pangs-while-dieting
 cigarette smokers: http://life.gaiam.com/article/kicking-smoking-habit-naturally
 high blood pressure: http://life.gaiam.com/article/fighting-silent-killer-how-prevent-and-treat-high-blood-pressure
 diabetes: http://drhyman.com/topic/diabetes-pre-diabetes/
 heart disease: http://drhyman.com/why-cholesterol-may-not-be-the-cause-of-heart-disease-485/
 arthritis: http://drhyman.com/how-to-stop-attacking-yourself-9-steps-to-heal-autoimmune-disease-1778/
 cancer: http://life.gaiam.com/article/yoga-cancer-patients-and-survivors
 Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity: http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/
 obese children: http://life.gaiam.com/article/target-childhood-obesity
 sugar: http://life.gaiam.com/article/sugar-sugar-or-not-health-guide-7-common-sweeteners
 cut off from sugar: http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-detox-caffeine-sugar-and-white-flour-7-days
 Super Size Me: http://www.gaiam.com/product/super+size+me+dvd.do
 cholesterol: http://drhyman.com/topic/cholesterol/
 junk food: http://life.gaiam.com/article/inside-processed-junk-food
 depressed: http://drhyman.com/topic/depression/
 sex drive: http://life.gaiam.com/video/sex-drive-clash-no-problem
 The End of Overeating: http://www.theendofovereatingbook.com/
 children’s diets: http://life.gaiam.com/article/food-allergies-and-inflammation
 exercise: http://life.gaiam.com/category/mind-body-fitness/cardio-toning
 chronic disease: http://life.gaiam.com/guides/health-conditions-solutions-guide
 eaten outside the home: http://blog.gaiam.com/blog/6-ways-to-find-eco-friendly-restaurants/
 small farmers: http://www.gaiam.com/product/the+real+dirt+on+farmer+john+dvd.do
 better food in our schools: http://life.gaiam.com/article/schools-offering-healthier-lunches
 how we can manage the food crisis in this country: http://newsletter.ultrawellness.com/eo/signup/1167
 diet and nutrition: http://drhyman.com/topic/diet-nutrition/
 drhyman.com: http://drhyman.com/
 article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/food-addiction-could-it-e_b_764863.html
 The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/living/
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