The Problem and SOLUTION to Food Addiction

Written by Cherise Peterson, certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist through National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
Go to NASM.org and validate credentials by entering certificate ID 1170096191.

Do you like food? Most people do like food as they know it feeds their body and their body needs food to be able to function.

Do you feel like you are going to die without food? Are their certain foods that you feel like if you don’t have them you will certainly not make it? Are your cravings crazy, like if you don’t have something now, you could do something crazy type of thought?

icecream on pineapple
ice cream craving?

If you said yes to any of those questions, then you possibly have a food addiction. There’s a big difference between eating because its what you need to do to help your body survive and eating because you are literally addicted to food. Now there are different types of food addictions and I will explain why.

But before I explain types, what is addiction? It is described as  where someone’s brain chemistry has been altered to compel them to repeat a substance or activity despite harmful consequences. Addiction can have some serious consequences more than just the addiction itself, including weight gain and health issues that stem from either the weight gain or the intake of overly processed foods.

A lot of processed, pre-packaged foods are loaded with things that can cause addiction. Sugar in general is one of these big ones. People are addicted to how certain foods taste and this is because of unhealthy fats like trans fats. Sugar and unhealthy fats are added to food to help give it taste. When reading a nutrition label, look to see what type of fats are exactly in the processed food. It should list Total Fat as the main category and then underneath that list saturated fats, and possibly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, but not always. Now also does the Total Fats add up to what they sub categories say? Generally if not there’s been a trans fat added in some how as they are not required to list them. Under the ingredients its usually listed as Hydrogenated Oil. Now do not confuse healthy fats with unhealthy fats and saturated fats are fine in low amounts. (See my article on Health Fats 101.)

As I mentioned before, sugar is another thing added to boost taste. Sugar is considered the crack of nutrition. Why? It is shown to be just as addictive as crack. Unlike crack, it is legal. Now there are things like natural sugar (found in fruits and veggies) and unnatural sugars (table sugar).

cereal cereal bowl bowl milk
 sugar coated cereal – processed, simple carbohydrate

Carbohydrates are another one people tend to be addicted to. This is because processed carbohydrates do not sustain fullness as complex carbohydrates or proteins.

We know that table sugar is bad for your health, but do you also realize that artificial sweeteners are just as addictive as regular table sugar. That’s why they are made they way they are. Non-nutritive sweeteners (aka artificial sweeteners) are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. A miniscule amount produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, without comparable calories. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes. This is why if you have an artificial sweetener addiction when you try to eat something that isn’t as sweet, it doesn’t taste as good to you. the use of artificial sweeteners can make you shun healthy, filling, and highly nutritious foods while consuming more artificially flavored foods with less nutritional value. They also may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As a result, we may crave more sweets, tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food, and gain weight.

An excess amount of any type of macronutrients can lead to weight gain and over all lead to health issues. If you are trying to lose fat, keeping your protein levels at 50% of your calorie intake will help preserve, build and repair muscle. Carbohydrates should be around 30% and fat no more than 20% with only up to 10% being from saturated fats and no trans fats. This is specifically if you are trying to lose fat/weight. Also limit the sugar intake as well. There are foods that have carbohydrates but are not loaded with sugar.

Another key, besides keeping your macronutrients in check, is meal prepping. This will help curb you from those temptations that may come around. Being prepared is key to helping curb any type of temptations and cravings. Keeping it a whole, non-processed foods diet helps. You can prep food for 3 days like my husband and I do to keep food fresh and your options open or a weeks worth at a time, if you know for sure that you won’t want anything other than what you prepared. Sometimes prepping in longer intervals and can lead to you wanting something else so you stray away from the meal prep. This is why we recommend prepping for 3 days at a time instead of week.

meal prep
meal prep

Fourth helpful tip, remember those pre-operative diets that you go on. You were probably told that you were being put on one for one or two options: 1)to shrink your liver size and the adipose tissue (excess fat) in the abdominal area or 2)to lose some weight before the surgery. There is a third reason. The diet that you are placed on post-operatively can be slightly demanding. Your body is going to go through food withdrawals including withdrawing from things like sugar, this diet is to help you get ready for this because generally a post operative patient goes on either a liquid diet or a soft foods diet but this is in very, very, very small amounts of food. Not all patients have a pre-operative diet, but I would highly recommend pre-operatively studying what and how much you exactly will be intaking after surgery and by starting this ahead of time it helps you prepare for the post-surgery requirements.

Sticking to your diet also will help with these cravings. Not saying “I will just chew on this, and then spit it out.” You will still retain some of the ingredients through saliva that is swallowed as your saliva contains chemicals that help with food breakdown. Also a lot of these high sugar foods, like what is in processed foods, may not agree with your new bariatric stomach. While dumping is not as common in patients who get the gastric sleeve, it can still happen. And from what I have seen when my husband was in his first few months post surgery, dumping is not something that you want to go with.

So in take away, solutions to your food addictions are:
1) watch your macronutrients to make sure you are getting the correct amount because too much and even not enough can cause issues.
2) meal prepping
3) being prepared
4) if you are in the pre-operative stages, the pre-operative diet you are placed on is there for a reason if you have one, if you don’t look into the post-operative diet requirements.

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