“Food Addiction”


Note: Please see the updates on healthism here. Flexibility, social connection, enjoyment of health, and not obsessing on perfection of diet is what makes health a means, not an end.

Do you know what the “Dorito Effect” is?  The phrase, “Bet you can’t just eat one,” may be based more on science than self-control. Mark Schatzker, an award-winning journalist, provides the latest support to this theory in his newly released book. He argues that we may all be involved in a mass dietary manipulation experiment and may not even know it!

Specifically, our food may be more of a science experiment-gone-bad than a source of nourishment. Schatzker’s emphasis is on how the nation’s epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes may not be tied to any specific macronutrient (fat, carbs, protein), but more to the addictive properties of processed foods and flavorings that have flooded our food supply. Furthermore, as junk foods have increased in amounts of enticing flavoring chemicals, our nutritious food grows blander and less nutritious, making our chickens less tasty and our veggies less appealing.

Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-wining reporter for The New York Times, further explained how our taste buds may be hijacked, in a 2013 article highlighting his book, “SALT SUGAR FAT: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.” Moss states, “By concentrating fat, salt and sugar in products formulated for maximum ‘bliss, Big Food has spent almost a century distorting the American diet in favor of calorie-dense products whose consumption pattern has been mirrored by the calamitous rise in obesity rates. Entire food categories were invented to support this strategy…”

If you don’t want to use the phrase food addiction, this may be the creation of what Dr. Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration, termed, “conditioned hypereating.” He states that, that overeating is the result of “a biological challenge made more difficult by the overstimulating food environment that surrounds us,” rather than willpower.

Similarly, Steven Witherly’s publication, “Why Humans Like Junk Food”, details food pleasure theories and principles including the six most prominent listed below:

1. Taste Hedonics (salt, sugar, and umami)

2. Dynamic Contrast (food arousal and surprise)

3. Evoked Qualities (when food sensory properties evoke past memories)

4. Food Pleasure Equation (Food Pleasure = sensation + macronutrients)

5. Caloric Density (humans like food with a CD of about 5.0)

6. Emulsion Theory (taste buds love foods in emulsified forms)

Witherly further goes into details in sequential chapters regarding why we like 18 of our favorite foods. He provides exquisite examples of  the reasons why we prefer corn tortilla chips, sandwich cookies, vanilla ice cream, butter, gourmet coffee, popcorn, donuts, garlic, toasty sandwiches, hamburgers, southern fried chicken, diet vanilla soda, French fries, spices, chocolate, artichokes, pizza, and of course, why we eat dessert last! (Hungry yet?)

For example, the combination of caloric density, cheese protein (providing pleasurable casomorphins), seasonings (to increase salivation), the melt-in-your-mouth effect (which enhances dynamic contrast and evoked quality of the “crunch factor”), and the intense amount of taste activity (making your taste buds never bore!) provides some of the reasons biochemistry may trump willpower for corn tortillas.

These palatability factors are also probably one of the reasons why snack food lovers spent $374 billion on snack foods annually between 2013-2014. Interestingly, the same survey of 30,000 consumers from 60 countries also reported that global respondents say that fresh fruit is the one snack they would choose over many other snacks and that when the munchies hit, foods with natural ingredients were rated as very important in 45% of global respondents. Still, buying trends reported a bit of a different story,  “Confections—which include sugary sweets, such as chocolate, hard candy and gum—comprise the biggest sales contribution to the overall snack category in Europe ($46.5 billion) and the Middle East/Africa ($1.9B). Salty snacks contribute more than one-fifth of snack sales in North America ($27.7B), refrigerated snacks comprise almost one-third of snacks in Asia-Pacific ($13.7 billion), and cookies and snack cakes make up more than one-fourth of total snacks in Latin America ($8.6B).”

Yes, mom was right, actions may speak louder than words….but, what if your actions are literally being manipulated.

In the next blog, I’ll review more on the biochemistry that links food to addiction. The first step to change is always awareness, especially when breaking an unhealthy pattern. If you find yourself eating foods you know aren’t good for you, you may want to start to  consider the following: the impact of emotions, stress, blood sugar fluctuations, and (lack) of healthy veggies in your diet on your choices. Do an little experiment. What if you start replacing foods that are addictive for you with foods that make your body healthy and your mind feel great.  Does this decrease your cravings?

‘Till next time!


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