Over the past couple of years, despite resistance to the food addiction paradigm, many different researchers have been making the connection between obesity and addiction. In a series of programs about addiction, National Public Radio brought listeners the tidings from Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobiology Ralph DiLeone, who spoke of the long-term changes that overindulgence in hyperpalatable foods may cause in a person’s brain.
For the pre-civilized human, out hunting and gathering in nature’s tough and competitive environment, there was useful survival value in finding high-calorie sweet or fatty foods for the body, and our brains evolved to reward these finds by providing lots of pleasure signals. Then along came such recreational drugs as cocaine and made use of that helpful mechanism. Di Leone is quoted as saying:
Drug addiction is really hijacking some of these pathways that evolved to promote food intake for survival reasons.
From this, he concluded that eating behavior needs to be addressed early in a child’s life, when those pathways are still being carved out, and that the methods developed to treat drug addiction could be adapted to treat the condition that has come to be called food addiction. In the summer of 2011, DiLeone discussed these ideas at the Yale School of Medicine’s Resident Grand Rounds series in a talk called “The Psychology of Food and Addiction.”
For its series on addiction, NPR also utilized the talents Farai Chideya, author of a novel called Kiss the Sky. Booklist‘s reviewer said of it:
With the help of a slick new manager who is also her latest love interest, Sky decides it’s time to give herself over to her music. But the same demons that feed her creativity work to undermine her stability as she battles addictions to food and alcohol. The band sets out on tour, with stops along the way in the South, home to her large and loving family, while Sky vents about her weight and her lover.
Chideya interviewed a 66-year-old recovering food addict called “Vic,” who had joined Overeaters Anonymous 17 years before. As a young woman, Vic would take massive amounts of food to bed with her for secret binges. She described herself as a “volume eater” — not particularly picky — though she could go through gallons of ice cream in a day. In those out-of-control times, she fooled herself into thinking that such a treat as a stick of butter on top of a chocolate bar was a wonderfully innovative creation.
Eventually, Vic could not fit into clothes. She couldn’t wait to get people out of the way so she could be alone to eat, and friends obliged by steering clear. Describing her life then as “bankrupt,” she gives a disturbing and frightening picture of an overeating hangover — sweating, with raw nerves and a head that felt like it was “stuffed with concrete cotton.”
Eating kept her from thinking about her condition, although it was the very thing that has caused and perpetuated that sorry condition. But inside, Vic says, part of her was screaming, “Please stop, please stop eating.” Recovery, when it came, was “release from a self-imposed prison,” and eventually she found herself doing unprecedented things like smiling for no reason and being smiled back at by strangers. Needless to say, this recovering food addict is convinced of the need for awareness among the general public.
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Source: “Overeating, Like Drug Use, Rewards And Alters Brain,” NPR.org, 12/01/10
Source: “Battling Back From A Food Addiction,” NPR.org, 09/18/2008
Image by star5112, used under its Creative Commons license.