We all know that obesity is an epidemic but one of the things that are concerning is what the projections are. It is projected that by 2030, 85% of adults will be overweight or obese. This figure is despite all the nutrition programs, all the diets and all the struggles’ people have had, we have not even made a dent in the crisis that’s coming. The very crisis continues to increase healthcare costs. The projects for healthcare costs related to obesity will increase by 15% in the next decade.
Now when we think about weight, it’s important to realize that 20 to 30 percent of a lot of who we are is genetic and the rest of it is based on several factors. A part of that is the environment. But really when you think of the cause of obesity that is environment related, it has to do with access to food. What kind of food is easy to access? It has to do with the portion sizes, as they have gotten larger and larger. Even though people feel that they are eating lower fat as a percentage, they’re eating more calories from fat than they’ve done ever before. There’s less physical activity and we have this advent of highly addictive foods.
What is Food Addiction?
Essentially the definition of it is the loss of control over overeating. People feel like they’re unable to stop, even though they’re still having negative consequences, which may be diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes and yet they can’t give up those sugary and high-fat foods.
We hear people say that food addiction is remarkably similar to addiction to drugs and the reason for that statement is because the reward pathways in both are similar. So, when animals get fed junk food or drugs, the same pathways occur. What ends up happening is those animals, in our case humans, want to consume those kinds of food repeatedly. We want to get that stimulation, the constant activities of those pathways so that we don’t have to experience withdrawal.
This concept of food addiction is so strong, that in rats when they’re fed highly addictive foods, foods that are rich in refined carbohydrates and fat, not only do they gain weight, but they also have this tendency to want to keep eating even though they may be full and despite the fact that they may know for a fact that they might get a shock. So, these experiments are unfortunately done with animals where the animals are designed to go for these foods, but they know that every time they try to eat that high-fat food they’re going to get chopped, but they keep doing it. If you take that high processed and carbohydrate-rich food away and you try to give them healthy food, the rats refuse to eat, and they end up starving themselves.
This is the same concept in hums as we are so addicted to these foods that we keep going after them. The only difference here is that because we have such easy access to these foods, there’s no reason for us to cheat.
Addictive Food Characteristics
The first characteristic that they have is that the foods are rarely ever in their natural state. So, think of grapes that are non-addictive versus wine, which is once again processed into forming wine. You can think of foods such as fruits that have sugar or nuts which have fat. They’re not addictive by themselves but you take them in processed foods such as cake, pizza, and chocolate, which are rich in carbohydrates and fat, and they automatically become highly addictive.
So, the take-home message here really is that the environment that you’re in, the access to food that you have, matters. So, if you find yourself having junk food in your home then tell yourself that you can’t have it. You cannot have junk food inside your home because it is going to end up in your mouth.
Even though food addiction is not officially a diagnosis in DSM-5 (a book for the standard classification of mental disorders), food addiction is very real. It is a huge problem, and we must recognize it and it is similar to drug addiction. One of the best ways to minimize this is by making sure you don’t have those foods in your house. If you do that you are less likely to consume them. Create barriers, making it harder for you to get that food. If it means going out for fast food, wait 30 minutes. You can have the food that you want, you just must wait 30 minutes. In those 30 minutes, you have to eat something healthy, like an apple, and then if you want to have junk food go for it.
Realize that people with food addiction experience a loss of control and it’s hard for them to be able to give that up despite having negative consequences. So, what we can do to help them is to make the distance between them and the foods that are addictive, as big as possible. The harder it is to get those foods, the less likely they are to have those foods. The easier it is to have healthier choices, the more they are to consume healthy food. Also, keep in mind that the highest proven foods are the ones with the highest amount of added fats and sugar. Wholes food, plant-based diet is ideal because it’s naturally low in fat and refined carbohydrates. It is incredibly nutritious for you, it’s good for the planet, and it’s good for your overall health.