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Could that food craving be an addiction?

Published May 28. 2011 09:01AM

"You're not going to be happy with me," a good friend said near the beginning of a recent training ride. "I cracked. Did I ever crack."

Since that's a cycling term used when you can't keep pace, and we were at the front of a relaxed group of 12 riders, I knew there was more to the story.

"You know I've been doing really well on that diet." I nodded. "Well, one of my meetings last week lasted longer than I expected, and I absolutely was starving coming home, so I stopped for coffee at a convenience store to hold me over."

We reached an intersection and our focus became the traffic. Once we started pedaling again, I said, "And?"

"And I had my coffee all right." My buddy paused. "Along with a half dozen cream-filled doughnuts."

The story surprised me. While I know my buddy loves food (and good beer), he loves cycling, too. So after winter and spring weather that kept him from riding as often as he's used to, he was 15 pounds over his best cycling weight, definitely motivated to drop it, and had nearly reached his goal.

So what made him down the half dozen doughnuts?

According to Dian and Tom Griesel, authors of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast, and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust, one of the elements that caused my buddy to eat the final five doughnuts was the first one.

In an article found at Medical News, Tom says, "Modern foods are deliberately designed to stimulate and excite our taste buds and brains." That's because they all contain refined carbohydrates, refined sweeteners, unnaturally high amounts of manufactured oils , salt, and a "cornucopia of artificial chemicals, dyes and additives that make these packaged items lethal to our health and addictive to many."

Now this isn't the first time this column has claimed unhealthy food can be addicting. In 2009, for instance, I shared follow-up research done at Princeton University that confirmed their 2002 study with rats that suggested sugar is as addictive as cocaine.

In both cases, after being given large amounts of sugar and then denied it, the rats' teeth chattered and exhibited anxiousness. The rats were also found to be secreting dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gets released in humans when they take most illegal drugs.

After digesting the second Princeton study, Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said "[Some] people get strong urges to consume sweets, and these cravings border on addiction. . . . When the sweets are taken away, the people don't feel right."

The Princeton studies in the past focused solely on sugar. Research recently done at Yale and slated for August publication in Archives of General Psychiatry found the link that the Griesels suggest, that the addiction comes from a combination of added elements including sugar.

This study took 48 young women some lean, some a healthy weight, some obese and checked their brain activity when eating. The subjects that exhibited addictive-like eating behaviors similar to what my cycling buddy did that day with the doughnuts were found to have brain activity that mimicked the those who suffer from substance dependence and ingest it.

In other words, it appears possible that if you put more than enough a ketchup on your French fries or can't keep your hands out of the bag of potato chips or pretzel tin, you could be experiencing a high that's similar to the one someone feels when he or she pops a couple too many painkillers .

This is not to say that everyone who uses ketchup or likes potato chips or pretzels is hooked, but the scenario serves as a caveat.

It's quite possible that two thirds of adult Americans are overweight simply because the relatively new processed foods we are eating in considerable amounts is, at least, to some degree addicting.

Therefore, you need to be conscious of your eating habits. They should not be taken lightly.

Consider your eating patterns and decide if your bad ones are based on convenience and comfort or if you could be, to some degree, hooked.

And if you fear you are and stop eating that food, you need to be patient. Not only could you be battling what very well be withdrawal, but you're battling an established habits, one that's probably years in the making.

Luckily, research has documented repeatedly that a new pattern if consciously pursued can become a habit in three to four weeks. Until then, unfortunately, it's not uncommon to feel "off" or "not with it" because of the change.

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