Addiction: the darker side of food cravings, or… is it?


Intense food craving are very common. Chances are you too probably have one from time to time. Yet most individuals don't think of food craving as being something dangerous, apart from an occasional feeling of guilt about some extra weight on the waistline. Food cravings aren't in the same department as substance abuse. Or are they?

Addiction is frequently referred to as a compulsive physiological and psychological dependence on a habit-forming substance, even in the light of harmful consequences of their use. It can often be coupled with the presence of withdrawal symptoms, which often can include anxiety and unstable or negative moods. Everybody recognizes this definition when it's applied to drugs. Interestingly, at the very least some facets of it can be found in relation to food craving.

Habit forming nature of food craving

Desire for food for food can be of two differing types: from the stomach, and while it began with the mind. The 1st type involves an authentic feeling of hunger, the stomach sending signal towards the brain, requiring a fresh portion of nutrients. In such a scenario it usually is not important which meals are consumed, it is the fact of intake itself that means something. The other type of appetite works on the contrasting physiological system, one that's closely related to the three areas of the brain that a responsible for pleasure rewards. It is this second type which is usually denoted with the term "food craving", and not the first one.

The mentioned three brain areas, namely hippocampus, insula and caudate, are involved in the same circuitry as drug-induced gratifications. Like cocaine, as an illustration. Basically, food craving are frequently not associated with real nutritional needs physiologically; rather they are often triggered by depressed emotional states. The feeling of food induced satisfaction develops from a release of opiate family hormones (such as dopamine or serotonin), a brain areas involved with that process have been "spotted" to be active within the drug abuse related studies. Finally, the possibility physical harm in the form of obesity and an array of associated diseases is obvious at the same time. A pretty grim picture, you would say, however what about the withdrawal effects? There cannot be an addiction without them, right?

Needless to say, you wouldn't notice any withdrawal from a bit of chocolate, however for a number of people the problem is much more serious. Individuals suffering from conditions like binge eating disorder (BED), bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, often manifest the symptoms of withdrawal, similar to those common to drug users. This really is just one more parallel between compulsive eating and substance abuse the modern medicine draws.

The counter-argument: not every pleasure is addiction

Despite the fact that the similarity in physiological and psychological mechanisms is great, the vast majority of food craving cases doesn't deserve the label of the addictive behaviour. Regardless of the many commonality, some variations in neurotransmitter use incited by drugs and intense food compulsion are already demonstrated. Also, it's not at all the discharge of pleasure hormones as such that identifies the addiction. Pleasure rewards associated with dopamine release happen for the period of quite many regular activities, from playing an incredible bit of music to a passionate night of making love. These are generally pleasures, not addictions.

The main element element that distinguishes between addictive and pleasurable behaviour is the level of control and awareness. If you remember, the original definition of addiction included the term "compulsive". Gratification and joy are very important facets of life, and shouldn't be avoided, provided that it is you who controls the desire for pleasure, rather than the opposite way round. Nevertheless, the tale sketched above is essential in concentrating our attention to the thin line between normality and compulsion in some eating behaviours. Even though under regular conditions food cravings should not be a matter of extreme concern, they still are to be managed at least to some degree.

Some degree of control can be had with a sensible, balanced diet. Natural Health products can also assist with certain types of food cravings. The product AppleSlim Xtra, comprising apples and other natural fruits and vegetables has been shown to be of some help in this matter.

Daniel Miller - About the Author:

Daniel Miller lives in the UK and is a nutritionist and a consultant in natural health. He is a very healthy 60 year old and lives by the sea with his wife and very big dog.

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