Is Your Brain Addicted To Food?

Is Your Brain Addicted To Food?

Given the current statistics on obesity and addiction in general, there is rising research about the potential link between the foods we consume and food addiction. There appears to be differences in individuals’ types of responses to environmental cues that influence the reward patterns in the brain.

Focus has shifted to investigating the role that dopamine (a brain chemical messenger or neurotransmitter) plays in the reward system.


Many people persistently overeat despite considerable efforts to not do so! Experts are currently suggesting that our “obesogenic” food environment exposes people to high concentrations of addictive food substances – refined sweeteners, refined carbohydrates, fat, salt and caffeine, thus creating an environment in which they lose control over the ability to regulate intake.

Food Addiction

While there is no official definition for food addiction, some addiction researchers have defined it as:


-Eating too much despite consequences, even those dire to health
-Being preoccupied with food, food preparation and meals
-Trying and failing to regulate food intake
-Feeling guilty about eating and overeating

People with food addiction tend to display many of the same characteristics of those with other substance addictions – they tend to have common brain chemistries and similar experiences of mood altering effects from the consumption of certain foods. In fact the cage tool used for diagnosing alcoholism can be applied to food addiction:


-Feeling the need to Cut down on the behaviour
-Feeling Annoyed with others’ comments and criticisms
-Feeling Guilty about eating
-Feeling a need for the food first thing upon awakening – an Eye-opener

If this paints a dismal picture about the current food environment, what can be done to treat and prevent food addiction? The first thing to remember is that each person’s brain responds differently and it is very important to recognize individual variability, as well as to look honestly at the potential for food addiction based on family history and personal history.


From a food perspective, try the following:

-Increase protein* – 1 gram per kilo body weight
-Increase fiber* – 3 grams or more per serving of grain food
-Decrease sugar and all sweeteners, even sugar-free – 6 grams sugar or less per serving
-Increase monounsaturated fats (olive and canola oils, avocado and nuts) and omega three fats (fish, Decrease saturated and trans fats**)

*Grehlin is a gut hormone that increases appetite. Both protein and fiber inhibit grehlin.


**Leptin is a gut hormone that decreases appetite. A high fat diet, especially one high in saturated and trans fats, will inhibit leptin.

What about Super Supplements?

Supplements are usually a second tier of treatment when it comes to food addiction, but are nonetheless, very important in assisting in the process of creating balance biochemically. A few of the top supplements to consider include:


1. Omega 3 fatty acids – assist in neurotransmitter communication and protection of the nerves in the brain.

2. B complex vitamins – with folic acid ideally in the methyl tetrahydrofolate form for the bioavailable form of folate. B complex vitamins have a variety of functions including the assistance of positive mood and release of energy from food.


3. 5-HTP (Hydroxytryptophan)* – an amino acid that is the precursor to serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, also known for appetite control.

4. Amino Acids- including dl-Phenylalanine, L-Tyrosine, L-Glutamine* – assist with energy, mood and suppression of cravings.

5. Chromium – a mineral that assists in glucose/insulin regulation. Helps with maintaining stable energy and blood sugar.

Note: Caution must be used for people on psychoactive medications. As with any supplement, always discuss with your health care provider to cross-reference supplements and medications for interactions.

While this may seem depressing to some, it actually is good news. Science is in a time of discovery about some of the reasons “why” people have such difficulty managing what should be simple – nourishment of our bodies with food. Food need not be the battle-field that it has become, but making changes toward a healthier diet is indeed a process – a process that need not be judged, but treated with compassion, understanding and a commitment to learn and listen to the language of the brain.


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