Food addiction is the new big thing. The Food Addiction Institute—yes, there is such a thing—defines it as, “a disease which causes loss of control over the ability to stop eating certain foods.” The University of Massachusetts just held its second annual conference on the topic, and there is a clinical assessment tool—the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS).
How common is it? In a study of more than 500 students at the University of Michigan who were assessed using the YFAS, 7% had a full-blown food addiction and 92% reported “addictive-like” behavior toward some foods.
The one food they were most likely to be addicted to? You guessed it—PIZZA!
Next (in order): Chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries, cheeseburgers, nondiet soda, cake, cheese, bacon and fried chicken.
Here’s why these foods are so addictive—and what you can do about it…
PROCESSING FOOD SO IT ACTS LIKE A NARCOTIC
What these foods all have in common is that they’re all highly processed so that they have concentrated amounts of refined carbohydrates (often including sugar) and fats and sometimes salt. According to the Michigan study, addictive foods tend to be high in “glycemic load”— they raise blood sugar quickly—and fat, which makes them taste really good. (Salt is another compelling flavor-booster.) Scientists call these foods highly “palatable.”
Pizza has got it all—white flour that spikes blood sugar, added sugar in dough and the sauce, plenty of fat in the cheese and plenty of salt. Oh, yes, plus an actual narcotic—dairy foods, and especially cheese (but not yogurt) contain a natural opiate called casomorphin. The compound hasn’t been well studied, so we don’t know how much it contributes to pizza’s addictive properties, but it’s in there.
“Sugar (or refined carbohydrates) and fat rarely occur in the same food naturally,” the researchers note, “but many palatable foods have been processed to have artificially elevated quantities of both (e.g., cake, pizza, chocolate).” Like “drugs of abuse,” they conclude, “these highly processed foods may be more likely to trigger addictive-like biological and behavioral responses due to their unnaturally high levels of reward.”
In other words, Big Food is good at making “foods” that act more like addictive drugs. What is the medical community’s reaction to problems caused by druglike foods? Why, drugs, of course!
USING DRUGS TO FIGHT FOOD ADDICTIONS
With these addictive processed foods all around us, it’s no surprise that some people have problems with overeating—even bingeing. So now, the pharmaceutical industry has a solution. Earlier this year, the first-ever prescription drug for a brand-new affliction, binge eating disorder (BED), was approved by the FDA. What is it? A stimulant drug! It’s called lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse), and it is approved for moderate-to-severe BED in adults. The drug is already in use as an ADHD drug for children and adolescents, and now Big Pharma is spending big bucks to promote it to doctors.
We’re not doctors, so it’s not for us to say whether some people may have this new disorder that requires a new drug. But it seems that we’ve come to a pretty bad place if the only way to survive our toxic food environment is to take amphetamines to curb appetite.
FINDING A WAY OUT OF THE FOOD-ADDICTION MAZE
There is a different path—real food, minimally processed. Get off the processed food treadmill. Get more of your fats from nuts, for example, where it arrives with fiber and nutrients, rather than chips that are just starches and salt. Get more of your sugar from fruit, where it also arrives with fiber and nutrients, rather than from soda that has nothing else, except perhaps caffeine.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, a healthy real-foods diet can still include moderate amounts of pizza…if you can handle it.
Here’s are some key Bottom Line stories to help you find the path out…
• Curb Your Carb Cravings (video)