The topic of food addiction has gained some attention in the recent past. Our talented dietitian, Dana Notte, wrote two excellent blogs The Truth About Sugar Addiction & What You Can Do About It (Part I and Part II) and presented a webinar that were wildly popular and well received.
It makes perfect sense to me that these are popular topics. What we know is that food addiction is more of a behavioral issue than a physiological one, that we feel addicted, and we feel that we can’t stop. Our participants will often report that they feel like they can’t stop, or they feel withdrawal-like symptoms especially when they stop eating sweets, or that they really do feel good when they eat that food. Notice a pattern? The feelings.
While food, especially sugar, can cause these feelings, it’s quite different from addictive substances like cocaine, heroin, tobacco, or even caffeine. What studies point to is that brain changes are seen mostly in those that binge on such foods. And we at Green Mountain know that most often, binge eating is a consequence of restrictive eating (aka…dieting).
But here’s the truth about all this…the truth of the matter is that nothing will do it like food.
Really. That’s the truth. Eating in that way lights up the pleasure centers of the brain. It’s like a freight train pounding into the reward centers of the brain and lights them up like floodlights at a football stadium. But then, it crashes down and shuts off those lights. The downside is that at the end of eating in that way comes guilt, shame, disgust, pain.
The food works…until it doesn’t. Somewhere along the way, those floodlights came crashing off.
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When Food Doesn’t Work Anymore
Part of the process of letting go of this way of eating is grieving the loss of food. Mourning the floodlights in the pleasure centers of the brain. Again, not much will do it in the same way.
However, there are other ways to light up the pleasure centers of the brain. But not with flood lights, instead with twinkle lights, little lights, so you need a lot of them.
We know that things like good music, a warm bath, a massage, talking to a friend, watching the ocean waves, a crackling fire, making art, making music, dancing, getting a pedi or a mani, meditation, etc., etc., etc., these things also light up the pleasure centers of the brain. But again…just a little bit at a time, so you need lots of them.
I know, I know, I can see some eyes rolling and thought bubbles above your heads that read, “Yeah, right. When I want to eat a tub of ice cream, I’m supposed to light a candle and that’ll fix the problem?”
No, a candle alone won’t do it, you need more than just a candle. We need to add lots of ‘twinkle lights’ to those parts of the brain. And yes, those alternatives WILL do it…ish. Those things also light up the reward centers of the brain. We DO feel good listening to good music, or watching the ocean waves.
See, the hard truth is that eating in that way ISN’T really doing it. We wind up (remember) feeling guilt, shame, disgust, pain, etc. So it’s not really doing it.
But when we add some alternate options, it may not necessarily be as pleasurable as eating was AT FIRST, but we don’t end up feeling guilt, shame, disgust, pain, etc. after lighting a candle, talking to a friend, taking a bath, meditating, etc.
Instead we end up with pleasure…less pleasure perhaps…but pleasure nonetheless. And certainly not pain.
So this holiday season, as you may be getting ready to light your holiday lights, consider also adding twinkle lights to the reward centers of your brain. LOTS of them.