Food cravings, food addiction: What can you do to build your self-control?
Published: April 21, 2018
It’s quite likely that many of us have, at some time in our life, experienced a very intense desire for a particular type of food.
It may even be a very specific food of a particular brand. We just have to have it: NOW.
Most likely the food we crave is not one that we want to eat a lot of, but somehow we do despite telling ourselves that we’re only going to have a “small” piece or just a “few”.
Why is it we can’t just stop with a “few”? Why do we have these cravings in the first place? Are we suffering from food addiction?
Craving a particular type of food is not necessarily indicative of a food addiction.
After all, many women experience intense cravings during pregnancy which disappear once the pregnancy is over.
While the underlying reasons for food cravings during pregnancy are not clear, research suggests cravings occur due to hormonal changes.
Other people, particularly women and young children, can experience a condition known as “pica”: a craving for non-food substances such as clay and ice. Pica is thought to be associated with iron deficiency.
But what about the food cravings we experience either from time to time or perhaps daily, and our apparent inability to resist?
The field of food addiction or food dependency research is not yet well developed, but despite the lack of a clinical definition, seven criteria which are used to identify substance dependence can be applied to diagnose food dependency.
As with substance dependence, food dependence is identified when three of the seven criteria are met within one year.
Criteria include: inability to control the action (in this case eating, or eating a particular food), and ongoing attempts to reduce the frequency of the action or stop completely (in this case reduce the amount of food consumed or eliminate the food from your diet).
Although studies with small numbers of people appear to suggest that certain foods may initiate the same addictive processes in the brain as alcohol, tobacco and some drugs, large research studies are necessary to confirm these findings.
Initial research indicates that overeating, in particular large amounts of sugar and fat, may alter your dopamine response prompting you to eat more.
When dopamine levels are high this registers as “reward” which translates to a pleasurable sensation.
Once experienced this sensation is something you want again when a cue, such as the sight or smell of food is present...Follow the link to the full article to learn more.
Whitney, E. & Rady Rolfes, S. (2005). Understanding Nutrition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth
Centre for Science in the Public Interest. Nutrition Action Health Letter (May 2012, April 2013, May 2010)
Inzlicht, M. (18/04/2014). If the spirit is willing the flesh won’t be weak. The Globe and Mail