Thought of eating consumes you? You may be a food addict

Thought of eating consumes you? You may be a food addict
High fat content is a significant predictor of problematic eating.
Photo: The New Paper

It is no wonder people like to indulge in gastronomic delights when they are in a food haven like Singapore.

But if the idea of eating starts to consume you, you may have a problem.

According to the Food Addiction Institute, a food addiction refers to a biochemical dependency on food.

Food addicts experience physical craving, mental obsession and a distortion of basic instincts and will.

This is different from binge eating disorder, a psychological disorder derived from unresolved trauma and family dysfunction, or a lack of cognitive feeling and behavioural skills to deal with difficult emotions.

MALFUNCTION

Food addiction is classified as a process addiction - one which involves a malfunction of the brain reward system.

When the reward system is activated, our body releases dopamine.

Some people get addicted to this pleasant rush and seek out certain foods that give us these good vibes.

The cravings may be accompanied by guilt or deprivation.

Food addiction can be diagnosed through the Yale Food Addiction Scale, developed by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

The criteria include:

  • Substance often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to lower or control substance use
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use the substance
  • Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfil major role obligations at work, school or home
  • Continued use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance
  • Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous

According to a 2015 study, processed food is associated with behavioural indicators of an eating addiction.

Highly processed foods are altered to be particularly rewarding through adding fats or refined carbohydrates like white flour and sugar, said researchers at the University of Michigan and the New York Obesity Research Center.

A high glycemic load (GL) - measure of blood sugar spike after consumption - is also indicative of whether a type of food is associated with addictive-like eating behaviours.

Previous research suggests foods with higher GL may be capable of activating reward-related neural circuitry - much like addictive substances - and increasing craving and hunger.

A higher fat content is also a significant predictor of problematic eating.

Previous research also shows that fat may enhance palatability in the mouth.

The way out of food addiction is to get to the root and figure out what is triggering the need for comfort food, said experts.

Consider seeking help at a centre qualified and experienced in treating food addiction, like The Cabin Singapore.

Swop the calories for these healthier options

The more processed your food, the more it leaves you wanting more. Here is how you can have your cake and eat it too.

PIZZAS

Ditch the salami and opt for pizzas with fresh ingredients.

Go easy on the cheese too, as the crust is already highly processed.

If you are making your own pizza, try using a crust made of cauliflower, a vegetable commonly used in place of carbohydrate staples.

COOKIES

A great deal of butter and sugar go into every disc of buttery goodness you pop into your mouth.

Be a smart cookie and bake your own version so you can control the amount of fat and sugar that go in.

ICE CREAM

Portion control is key when it comes to ice cream.

Rather than owning a pint at home, head for an ice cream parlour for a scoop if you have to. Or better still, make your own healthier but equally creamy alternative with blended frozen bananas.

BREAKFAST CEREAL

Behind a box of cereal's promises of whole grains and fibre is its high sugar content.

Look for a brand that contains no more than 4g of sugar a serving.

FRIED CHICKEN

The crispy, salty and deep-fried breading is what leaves you wanting more.

fjieying@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Mar 20, 2017.
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