Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Eating food is a biological necessity to provide the basic components of nutrition for survival. It is universally agreed that human beings require around 2000 calories obtained mainly from carbohydrates, some from 50 gm of protein and 50 gm of fat besides essential amino acids, essential fatty acids and micro nutrients like vitamins and minerals. What happens if the calorie intake overshoots the required level? That will be the beginning of the modern day disease "Obesity". When calories that go in are more than that which is burned by the body for various biological functions, excess is stored in different parts of the body resulting in progressive increase in body weight. Why should humans eat more than that demanded by the body? It is here that there is no consensus among the scientists. Recent studies are showing that eating can become a disorder or addiction like alcohol or drugs for many people due to a variety of factors and situations and chucking this addiction is more difficult than other substance abuses because of the omnipotence of calorie rich foods all around. Here is a revealing report on this interesting issue from a psychiatric point of view.

"Can we classify food as an addiction? Persistent use despite problems related to the use of the substance... check. Compulsive and repetitive use... check. Cravings... check. Withdrawal? There is certainly withdrawal -- just ask anyone who has tried to change his or her diet cold turkey. This is why it is so difficult to make healthier food choices and cut off the foods that we crave. The hypothesis that food is an addiction is currently being studied by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Research is showing that there are similarities in the way the brain responds to drugs and highly-palatable foods. Certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine and serotonin, are released in response to certain drugs, and the same pathways seem to be cross-linked with certain foods. The addictive nature of foods is important to understand because we are sometimes too eager to blame obesity on lack of willpower or fortitude. Yes, we make choices, we can choose not to smoke, we can choose not to take drugs, but we cannot choose "not to eat." If we are genetically susceptible to addiction and we are given the right trigger, such as an overwhelming stress or in our life that causes us ongoing anxiety, then we will connect certain foods to those pathways in the brain that release those "feel good" neurotransmitters and we have a full-blown addiction. The thing about food addiction is that, unlike drugs, alcohol or smoking, food addiction is not yet frowned upon by society. It's still "okay" to be addicted to food, plus it's cheap, readily available in large quantities, it's packed with high density carbs and fats, it's promoted all over the media, and it is legal! What an ideal substance to abuse, right? In my many years of treating people with weight problems and with my own experience as a recovering binge eater, I identified certain recurrent factors that affect overeating. These factors fit together in a specific order to create a cycle that explains why we overeat and why it's so hard to break the habit. If we never manage the triggers, we're bound to repeat this cycle. Even after a "successful" diet, we'll gain the weight back".

A raging debate is going on between industry stalwarts and health pundits regarding the responsibility for curtailing consumption of so called junk foods being turned out by the food manufacturers. While the industry feels it is the responsibility of the individual consumer to make informed choice of foods from the aisles of super markets based on the information provided on the label, critics point out the deceitful practices of many industry players in camouflaging their patently bad foods as good ones, making the food cheaper than good ones and promoting their products through incessant and misleading advertisements. However with the new findings that eating food can be an addiction, it is apparent that those who over indulge will have to be treated on par with those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Food industry must realize its responsibility to such a society where there are millions of food addicts and a deliberate policy of shifting its food portfolio from less healthy foods to more healthy ones can deny these new class of addicts easy access to them.


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