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


Intense food craving are incredibly common. Chances are you too probably have one from time to time. Yet most people don't consider food cravings to be something dangerous, aside from an intermittent feeling of guilt about some extra weight around the waistline. Food cravings are generally not within the same department as drug addiction. Or are they?

Addiction is usually referred to as a compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance, even in the light of harmful consequences of their use. It is often joined together with the existence of withdrawal symptoms, which can include anxiety and unstable or negative moods. All people recognizes this definition when it is applied to drugs. Interestingly, at the very least some facets of it are located in relation to food craving.

Addictive nature of food craving

Appetite for food can be of two different sorts: from the stomach, and while it began with the mind. The 1st type involves an authentic feeling of hunger, the stomach sending signal into the brain, requiring a new portion of nutrients. With this scenario it usually does not matter which meals are consumed, it is the fact of consumption itself that means something. Another type of appetite works on the very different physiological system, one that is closely related to the three regions of the mind that a responsible for pleasure rewards. It is primarily the second type that is usually denoted with the term "food craving", rather than the first.

The mentioned three brain areas, namely hippocampus, insula and caudate, are involved with the same circuitry as drug-induced gratifications. Like cocaine, for example. Put simply, food craving usually are not related to real nutritional needs physiologically; instead they can be triggered by depressed emotional states. The sensation of food induced satisfaction develops from a release of opiate family hormones (for instance dopamine or serotonin), a brain areas involved in that process are already "spotted" to be active in the substance abuse related studies. Finally, the possibility physical harm in the form of being overweight and a plethora of associated diseases is obvious too. A pretty grim picture, you'd probably say, however what about the withdrawal effects? There can't be an addiction without them, right?

Obviously, you wouldn't notice any withdrawal from some chocolate, however for some people the situation might be more serious. Men and women experiencing conditions such as binge eating disorder (BED), bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, often manifest the signs of withdrawal, much like those common to drug users. This is another parallel between compulsive eating and drug abuse the modern medicine draws.

The counter-argument: not all pleasure is addiction

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

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

Some degree of control may 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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