Are you addicted to food? Are you a compulsive eater? Part 1

  • Shikha Sharma, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Oct 10, 2015 21:58 IST
(HT Photos/ K Sasi)

While we are all aware of drug, nicotine, alcohol and other kinds of addictions, we don’t often recognise that food can also cause habit-forming tendencies.

Addictive-eating behaviour is hard to recognise because, well, it’s food. We think of food in terms of healthy and junk, but we don’t see it as addictive. And like most addicts, food addicts tend to be in denial.

We are all wired to addiction in one way or another. For example, to become very good at any task, you have to practice it regularly for several hours. Without an addictive mindset, it is hard to stay motivated and disciplined.

Your brain helps by forming and establishing nerve paths to make that task easier. It also releases a ‘pleasure hormone’ that gives you a high and motivates you to continue doing that task. This creates a habit, and a habit can create an addiction.

Food addictions usually occur because the foods stimulate hormones that make us happy and/or alert. We are particularly susceptible to two hormones.

Dopamine: When you are addicted to food, you are actually hooked to dopamine, a pleasure hormone. Dopamine is released when you eat sugar, refined carbs like maida, sooji, cornflour, rice flour and potato starch, and alcohols.

Adrenaline: Some foods make you more alert. They trigger a surge of adrenaline. These include caffeine and tobacco. Coffee and tea can wake you up, which is a pleasurable feeling if you are bored or drowsy.

After a few years of consuming addictive foods, your nerves form multilayered pathways in your brain and your action becomes automated. You no longer have conscious control over it: it goes into the realm of the unconscious. And even when you try to control it, it’s tough because your weak conscious mind tries to fight your more powerful unconscious mind, and often fails. As a result, you become frustrated, and begin to binge.

This is part one of a two-part series.Next week: How to break food addiction.

From HT Brunch, October 11

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