Is Food Addiction the Root of Disease?
The Substance of Life
It could be argued that food is a substance all living creatures need in order to replenish the body of energy and synthesize nutrients into bodily functions. It may also be argued that the human body needs very little of this substance in order to accomplish those tasks.
The amount of food needed may be different for each individual, but there is one thing that's universal for all of us; we must consume the correct amount of each kind of nutrient in order for our bodies to perform those functions efficiently.
We need carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals in order to function optimally. Without getting deep into a science lessen, let's just say that without enough of these nutrients, our bodies are left without anything to convert into muscle mass, brain function, and cell regeneration. Our systems begin to slow down and some systems may even stop altogether. This can exhibit itself in different forms, depending on the person and which nutrients are missing. Fatigue, changes in mood, constipation and other bowel problems, weight-loss or gain, a weakened immune system (getting the cold or flu more than once per year), muscle degradation, and a variety of other symptoms that can develop into a number of different diseases. These effects can take weeks, months, or years to exhibit themselves, but without proper nutrition, a person can count on someday developing at least one debilitating disease.
With the advent of highly processed foods, it has become harder for many people to get the necessary dietary nutrients required to serve them (http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/processed-foods/). When I refer to processed foods from here on, I'm referring to foods that typically come wrapped in plastic or come in a cardboard box, or can, and have been denatured through the use of high heat or added non-food substances such as chemicals, preservatives, or dyes. What are these foods that look nothing like what you'd find growing in the wild? What exactly are those bright, orange, crunchy puffs that eagerly melt in your mouth? Corn, salt, and sugar are a few components, but the rest of the ingredients are a complete mystery to most of us. Even the foods that have ingredients we are able to recognize have been exposed to high heat or fried to a point that has caused them to lose most, if not all, of their nutritious properties. They're turned into mostly simple sugars and bad fats.
Though these foods have been completely denatured, our bodies tend to crave them anyway. Why would our bodies crave something that has little to no nutritional value or worth for us?
Xylitol - The perfect sugar substitute
Food Dependency Vs. Addiction
I've read studies that are leery about labeling any "food" substance as addictive. Instead, they say the substance has been proven to develop a "dependency" in the subjects that consume them. To say someone has a dependency on food is misleading. We're all dependent on food. An addiction to food is a completely different matter. A Princeton article that did say sugar was shown to be addictive in lab rats quoted the same studies, but readily admitted they discovered an 'addiction'. When the test rats were denied sugar and exhibited withdrawal symptoms that led them to abuse alcohol as a substitute (http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S22/88/56G31/index.xml?section=topstories).
Though the above study doesn't necessarily prove the same happens in humans, anyone who's ever broken a sugar addiction knows it's a very real thing. I'm one of those people.
Breaking a sugar addiction may sound like a simple thing to do; especially if you're not really the type of person who likes sweets, but when we take a step back to view the bigger picture, we find that sugar isn't confined to the refined white stuff that's in pastries, ice cream and candy. Starchy carbohydrates turn into sugar in the body, so eating a slice of white bread; any white bread, whether there's added sugar in it, or not, is the same thing as the refined sugar in the doughnut you turned down. It doesn't stop with bread. Pasta, Asian noodles, white rice...potatoes...yes, potatoes, all turn into sugar in the body. These are foods most of us love, and many of us crave. None of the foods I listed have any significant nutritional value (except the potato if eaten closely to its natural state), and therefore doesn't serve any purpose in our diet, whatsoever. They're pleasure or comfort foods we use to satisfy something other than our health; it satisfies our addiction.
If our bodies are lacking in a specific nutrient, this could indeed cause cravings, but if we're craving something we know won't benefit our bodies, like refined sugar or bread, for instance, there's most likely an addiction. There's a very simple way to test this. If a certain food is being craved, such as a donut or a bowl of pasta and you feel this means your blood sugar is probably low, eat a bowl of fruit instead. If the fruit satisfies your craving to the point of not wanting the donut or bowl of pasta anymore, your craving was blood-sugar oriented. The following article has a list of how to satisfy natural cravings that aren't associated with an addiction (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/what-your-food-cravings-really-mean.html). If you're still craving the sugary food, you might want to consider that your cravings are driven by something other than missing nutrients.
While on the subject of sugar, I think it's important to discuss one of the most common items people in the U.S. are addicted to, and that's soda and diet soda. Knowing that sugar is addictive it's easy to see how soda in general would also be addicting, but with diet soda, it's the sugar replacement, Aspartame, that's the addiction culprit, and it's suggested that it's not just addictive, but highly addictive (http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/the-causes-of-diet-soda-addiction/). I first began suspecting that Aspartame was a dangerous substance when a friend of mine began suffering horrendous headaches and complained of feeling 'strange' and 'out of it'. He had a very healthy diet (vegan), except for his weakness for diet sodas. He weaned himself off them and the symptoms soon went away. Years later, a family member who had suffered for a long time with cluster migraines, couldn't find any medication that eased her suffering. If I'd known back then that the flavored water she loved to drink had Aspartame in it, we could've rid her of those migraines much earlier. She stopped getting the migraines when she stopped drinking the flavored water. In my opinion, drinking regular soda is much 'safer' than drinking diet.
Fat is another component I've suspected for some time was just as addicting as anything else; having had a serious cheese addiction myself. According to Scientific American, high-fat foods can have the same effect as a heroin or cocaine addiction. The article goes on to suggest that over-consumption of these foods could be spawned by the lower levels of a specific receptor in the brain; the D2 receptor, and this could be genetic in nature (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/addicted-to-fat-eating/). Though the above mentioned article was referring to obesity and over-eating in general, the propensity for eating for pleasure dictates that the person would reach for foods laden with bad fats and sugar.
Don't be mistaken that fat is something we can eliminate from our diets like refined sugar. Fat is a macro-nutrient we all need to survive, but like sugar, not all fats are created equal. Even certain saturated fats can be, and are, healthy.
Avocados, nuts, seeds, and plant oils all have high levels of saturated fats in them, but for some reason they won't clog our arteries or make us obese. Again, without getting into a science lesson, plant fats and animal fats are molecularly very different from one another. The way the fats are prepared also play a huge roll in how they affect us on a cellular and pleasurable level.
If I cut up a zucchini and sprinkled some olive oil on it, I'd have a very healthy snack. If I took that same zucchini and dipped it boiling olive oil for thirty seconds, I just changed that healthy food into a nightmare that would satisfy the pleasure centers in my brain, but have no nutritional value for my body.
It's my personal opinion that frying foods simply isn't healthy, but I've read articles by others who suggest certain types of frying (deep), with oils that have a high-heat tolerance are healthy as long as there isn't any batter or breading involved. I think any food exposed to high-heat strips it of its nutrients and shouldn't be used as a regular part of the diet. With that being said, if a person chooses to fry or cook in oil, it's important to make sure you choose an oil that doesn't degrade or become toxic when heated. A safe oil is coconut or palm oil, but there are a few others. Olive oil should never be used as a cooking oil.
I believe that animal flesh is addicting, too. Yeah, I'm going to take the fun out of everything! I can't say that meat is unhealthy for everyone, but the way it's usually cooked definitely is. Fried, breaded, grilled to a crisp...this is not healthy, and probably what makes it so addicting. I think we're just so used to having meat, nothing seems to taste right without it. Go without it for a few days and hunger becomes insatiable. Having given up meat in 1992, I experienced very strange hunger sensations all the time. I convinced myself I was starving, even though I was eating vegetables and fake meat products (the few that were available), constantly. I know it was completely psychological because it passed after a few months. I started eating fish again in 2011 after cancer treatments because I was craving it. I tried many alternatives to get the same nutrients available in fish, but nothing worked. Whatever I was lacking, only fish was able to satiate it. I believe fish is the only meat that's healthy for us, but only our own bodies can tell us if we truly need that steak or chicken breast. The only way to know is to give it up for a few months and see how we feel. I always recommend that if someone is going to eat meat, to limit it to only a few times per week, and stay away from deli meats that have nitrate in them. Bacon and other fatty or fried meats should seriously be avoided. We're talking about breaking addictions here, and there's little doubt that eating bacon is only feeding an addiction. If you don't believe me, read this (http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/03/28/fatty.foods.brain/index.html).
Now that we have a little bit clearer picture of why and how foods are addicting, let's explore what the addictions are doing to us.
The Consequences of Food Addiction
Yes, certain foods are very addicting and just like a drug addiction, this is not healthy for us. Over time, these addictions can cause our bodies to go completely out of whack. With a food addiction, we're starving our bodies of the important nutrients they need by feeding it denatured foods and foods that are laden with chemicals. In response, our cells have little choice but to mutate and change into something other than what they're supposed to be. This is where disease is born and allowed to fester into a nutrition-deprived malignancy (http://www.four-h.purdue.edu/foods/Diet-Related%20Diseases.htm).
Science is just on the beginning fringes of how our diet relates to most illnesses. I believe it's the culprit in nearly every disease our society is suffering from, and if you do an Internet search on nearly any disease, you can be sure to find an article, or study, or something that links that disease to poor diet. In the same breath there are stories all over the place of people suffering from such disease that turned it around with diet.
Some of the diseases I know of that have been reversed or managed through diet are; anemia, high blood-pressure, diabetes, metabolic disease, auto-immune disease (http://autoimmune-paleo.com/the-best-diet-for-autoimmune-disease-2/), IBS, cancer, obesity, and a slew of other diseases doctors still believe are incurable.
Of course there are other factors that can aid or trigger a disease, but a weakened immune system is the door that allows disease full access to run rampant and take control. An optimally healthy diet is the number one way to kick start the immune system and stave off disease(http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system). The same is true in reverse. Boosting the immune system with diet can reverse many diseases after they've begun.
Breaking the Addiction
Breaking our food addictions is important if we want to remain, or become, healthy. Consuming foods that not only lack any benefit for us, but cause damage to our bodies over time just isn't logical, Cutting or limiting the addicting foods from our diet will not take away from the pleasures of eating, but developing any one of the nasty diseases a poor diet can cause, can take away the pleasure of everything else.
Being a nutrition counselor, I've discovered that getting people to change their diets is just a sliver easier than trying to get them to change their eye color. People just don't want to give up that one, wonderful, enticing, joyous, happy-maker, which is unhealthy food. Hey, I've been there. I'm someone who spent most of my life struggling with my weight, my food addiction, and my health. It's taken a couple of decades for me to figure it out, but now that I have figured it out, it's become a lot easier. And it can for anybody. Even if you think you don't have the time, or energy, or whatever else is preventing you from starting, you can do it. It starts with a decision and a plan, then you move on to implementing the plan; step by step.
I'll be honest, it isn't easy, at first. It takes a lot of practice and determination as well as research. We're not all the same and since we all have different dietary needs, experimenting with different diets is the only way to know which one will work long term for any individual. I cured a cancer metastasis with the raw diet, but it isn't a diet I can do permanently. On normal days I have five to six servings of vegetables and one or two servings of fish. Since I don't eat dairy, or other meats, I tend to need more fish than most people. This works for me and keeps me healthy. It might not work for someone else, but lots of veggies as uncooked as possible seems to be a good start for most people.
As far as breaking the addictions, replacing what we're addicted to with healthy alternatives of the same foods, is the best way to get used to living without them.
For instance, a pizza addict, like myself, might want to buy a head of cauliflower and mush it up into a flat crust. There are recipes online that show how to do it and it's so much more delicious than it sounds. I spread some homemade pizza sauce on top with sprinkles of vegan mozzarella cheese, throw it in the oven, and there you go! A pleasure food that is still pleasurable, but the exact opposite of unhealthy!
I've always loved apple pie. I bought a little microwave crock that I use to make sugar-less apple pie. I cut an apple into wedges, sprinkle some xylitol and cinnamon on it, and cook it for a few minutes in the microwave. Before I even taste it, the smell of baked apple pie permeates the house. It is very satisfying.
Xylitol is my favorite sugar replacement for baking. It's a sugar alcohol with glycemic index of 7, and behaves as a complex carbohydrate in the body. Here is an informative article on the benefits of using xylitol (http://www.xylabrands.com/en/xylitol-landing-page/consumer-home/what-is-xylitol/). It looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, but is only a sugar alcohol and just doesn't act like sugar in the body at all.
While transitioning away from bread, try eating sprouted breads. They're a lot like whole wheat breads, but usually cooked at a much lower temperature. There are many different brands out there, some are better than others, so it might take some experimentation before you find one you prefer. I used sprouted bread when I did the raw diet. Though it's not considered a raw food, it doesn't stray far from the mark.
Breaking a soda addiction may be more complicated than anything else, but what I would recommend is replacing it with Kombucha tea. It's fermented, so the flavor of it will take some getting used to, but there are tons of different flavors to choose from, and nearly every grocery store carries it. I think the grape one tastes a lot like grape soda. It has the fizz and carbonation, along with the sweetness from organic cane sugar. Can sugar isn't as refined as white sugar and 'healthier' than the sugar in soda, and definitely healthier than Aspartame. I find Kombucha very satisfying, though in the beginning I hated it. The best thing about Kombucha is it's loaded with probiotics; the healthy bacteria our intestines need to balance the flora and fauna.
Nearly anything in the world you can think of that's considered an unhealthy food can be made in a healthy way, simply by replacing a view ingredients. Even with the raw diet, anyone with a high-powered blender and dehydrator can make corn chips, pizza, crackers, lasagna, coconut cream pie, chocolate bars, nut-butters and cheeses...The preparation time isn't bad for most of those foods, aside from the time it takes to dehydrate the crackers and chips, and it can all be very fun and exciting to spend the time creating something that isn't only going to make us healthy, but was what we ourselves made with our own, two hands!
Juicing is another great way to help break the food addiction cycle. You can put any vegetable or fruit in it you want, and it can very filling and satisfy the 'sweet' flavor we like. The healthiest juicers are those that masticate, or press; such as the Champion juicer, which is my favorite, or for the optimally healthy juicer, I recommend a press juicer, such as the Green Star.
There's nothing wrong with a centrifugal juicer except they do more damage to the plant's cellular wall than the other two kinds of juicers. The masticating juicers mimic chewing and damage the cell walls much less. The presses do very little damage and the juice can be stored longer without losing its nutrients as quickly.
My final piece of advice for anyone trying to break a food addiction is three-fold. Number one, always go grocery shopping with a list of everything you plan on buying, and two, NEVER go grocery shopping hungry. In fact, it's best if you never let yourself get hungry at all. Eating a healthy snack every two to three hours can stave off hunger and control the cravings of addicting food. The third thing is simply not to go into the section of the store where your addiction lies. If you're addicted to sugar, stay away from the bakery (including the bread aisle). If you're addicted to processed foods, stay away from the cookie and cracker aisle, etc.
Remember that in the studies I quoted above, these food addictions have been compared to cocaine and heroine addictions. Some of us may know or have heard stories of how difficult breaking a cocaine or heroine addiction can be. It can take years for someone to break their habit, and the same is true with food. As I've mentioned above, I still eat something that isn't the epitome of healthy food, but I don't let it grab a hold of me. I know that eating something that isn't good for me isn't going to kill me if I have it rarely, but it can be a slippery slope I keep myself forever vigilant about. If I want a slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, I'll give myself a small slice of it. I know it isn't going to taste as good as it used to when I was addicted to sugar, but it will still be enjoyable. It's even more enjoyable because I'm not a slave to it anymore.
Have you broken a food addiction or would like more information on how? Please send me your comments below. Good luck, and happy healthing!
Do you believe you have a food addiction?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.