The Reality of Food Addiction
Who hasn’t had a bad day at work that seemed better after indulging in a favorite dessert? While an occasional cheat meal is okay, it’s possible to cross the line from sporadic indulgence to food addiction.
Food addiction is when someone has a physical and emotional dependence on a reward-based food. Typically, this includes foods that are high in sugar, fat, carbohydrates, or caffeine. Let’s take a look at how food addiction works and what you can do to overcome it.
How Does Food Addiction Work?
Eating high-sugar, high-carb, or high-fat foods activates the same reward centers as drugs, releasing the pleasure-focused neurotransmitter, dopamine. As laid out in this study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, addiction can be broken down into three stages:
Binge and Intoxication:
Aside from triggering the reward response in the brain, food addiction also activates associative learning mechanisms. In other words, you are teaching yourself to associate happiness with certain foods.
Researchers believe that it’s not the food itself that you become addicted to; it’s the anticipation of receiving that food. Once you finally get your hands on that food-based reward, you binge or eat too much, causing yourself to feel overstuffed.
Withdrawal and Negative Affect:
Over time, the pleasure that someone feels when taking drugs becomes less as the body releases less dopamine. Yet, they cannot stop taking the drug because of the withdraw effect it has on the body.
Food addiction happens in the same way. Most people who are addicted to food no longer receive the same pleasure from the food they once did but can’t bring themselves to stop. This is because the body is addicted to the process of obtaining the food. If this behavior stops, then withdraw symptoms begin and this could include depression, mood swings, antisocial behavior, etc.
Preoccupation and Cravings:
Researchers suggest that due to the inability to produce healthy levels of dopamine, someone who is addicted to drugs has the impossible task of saying no them. In those with addiction, the body and brain are hardwired to crave the drug, and this is what preoccupies their minds throughout the day.
For those addicted to food, these cravings are interrupted by consideration for how to get the foods or when the person will be able to indulge. As mentioned above, the person is feeding off of the anticipatory response – the consideration of finally getting that food – and this fuels cravings, which eventually leads to binging and the cycle starts again.
Risk Factors of Food Addiction
Similar to drug addiction, there are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of becoming addicted to food:
- High levels of daily stress
- Hormonal imbalances such as men with low testosterone and women going through menopause
- High levels of inflammation
- Genetics, or a family history of addictive behaviors such as drug use
- High-risk lifestyles, especially if you are always around unhealthy but tasty foods
- Insomnia: getting less sleep increases ghrelin (hunger hormone) and decreases leptin (satiety hormone)
Acupuncture for Food Addiction
A healthy diet and exercise program form the foundation of overcoming food addiction. With that said, acupuncture may also be able to help.
Studies show that acupuncture can help support breaking the chain of food addition by influencing body chemistry in the following ways:
Hormones: One study found that acupuncture reduced insulin levels while improving leptin (satiety hormone) levels.
Insomnia: Studies show that acupuncture improves sleep time and quality. This can reduce levels of ghrelin (hunger hormone) and increase levels of leptin (satiety hormone).
Cravings: One study showed very promising results for reducing food cravings. This reduction in food cravings resulted in weight loss and better cardiovascular health.
Ready to Try Acupuncture for Food Addiction?
Let’s chat more about how acupuncture can help to reduce cravings, improve body chemistry, and achieve your weight loss goals. Give us a call at 773-878-7330 to learn more about how our acupuncture experts can help.
- Rogers PJ. Food and drug addictions: Similarities and differences. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2017 Feb;153:182-190. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2017.01.001. Epub 2017 Jan 4.
- Volkow ND, Koob GF, McLellan AT. Neurobiologic Advances from the Brain Disease Model of Addiction. N Engl J Med. 2016 Jan 28;374(4):363-71. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra1511480.
- Chen JA, Chen JA, Lee S, Mullin G. Potential role for acupuncture in the treatment of food addiction and obesity. Acupunct Med. 2018 Feb;36(1):52-55. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2017-011366. Epub 2017 Dec 9.
- Zhao ZM, Liu CL, Zhang QY, Zhang BB, Guo JH, Yuan AH, Cai H. Acupuncture Treatment Reduces Body Weight Possibly by Down-regulating Insulin and Leptin Resistance, and Up-regulating Soluble Leptin Receptor Level in Prediabetic Patients. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 2018 Aug 25;43(8):506-11. doi: 10.13702/j.1000-0607.180184.
- S. Yeo, K. S. Kim, S. Lim. Randomised clinical trial of five ear acupuncture points for the treatment of overweight people. Acupuncture in Medicine, 2013; DOI: 10.1136/acupmed-2013-010435.