Even though we may not be aware of it, most of us are afflicted with food addiction.

We hear a lot about addictions to nicotine, alcohol, street drugs and even prescription drug addiction.  There is a much more common addiction that may be doing more damage to health than the obvious ones.  Even though we may not be aware of it, most of us are afflicted with food addiction.  This subtle addiction may be the most harmful of all.

When we have food cravings, we are often down on ourselves and may even say we have been “bad”.  The person with food addiction knows what s/he should be eating but seems to have no control.  According to many researchers who have been studying food addictions for at least thirty-five years, food cravings are biological and have nothing to do with gluttony or being weak-willed.  Just as some people are able to drink a bit of alcohol without craving more, some people are able to eat a small amount of food without wanting more.  Many cannot.

Unfortunately, skilled engineers, hired by the processed food industry, work night and day experimenting with chemicals which they add to foods to make us crave more.  They study the effects of chemicals on the taste buds and actually learn what chemicals make us want to over-eat—and they sell more.

Noted psychiatrist, William Philpott wrote about his research and expeience with food addiction in the eighties.  In his book, Brain Allergies, he said that people with mental disorders can be suffering from cerebral swelling caused by foods to which they are addicted.  I have seen this in full force with a family member so I know the truth of brain allergies.  Elimination of the offending foods can produce remarkable results.  The problem is the ill person craves the very foods that make him/her sick.  They are addictive allergies, according to Philpot.  The alcoholic has an addictive allergy to alcohol.

Nutritional researcher, Neal Barnard, M.D., president and founder of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, wrote the book, Breaking the Food Seduction.  The chapter titles enticed me to want to read it: (1) The Seduction Begins: How Foods Addict You; (2) Sweet Nothings: The Sugar Seduction. (3) Give Me Chocolate or Give Me Death; (4) Opiates on a Cracker: the Cheese Seduction; (5) Sizzle: the Meat Seduction.  Then there’s a chapter called “The Foods that Love You Back” as well as several on the seven methods he advocates for breaking addictions. 

Bernard tells of research at the University of Michigan where twenty-six volunteers were given a drug called naloxone, which stops heroin, morphine, and other narcotics from affecting the brain.  It blocks the effects of chocolate as well.  They concluded that chocolate’s appeal comes not from its smooth creamy texture but from the addictive nature of the opiates it contains.  When given naloxone, the desire for chocolate was blocked just as it is with the stronger drugs.  He says, “for all intents and purposes, chocolate is a drug—not necessarily a bad one and not a terribly strong one, but strong enough to keep us coming back for more.”  For people who took naloxone, “a candy bar was not much more exciting that a crust of bread.”

Similar discoveries were made about cheese and other dairy products.  They contain chemical compounds no one ever suspected were there—mild opiates that are released during digestion.

Many other books are available with different theories as to why we have food addictions which result in obesity and all the disorders that result.  Some say it is psychological and we are trying to fill an emotional or spiritual void with food. 

After reading these books for years and working with my addictions, I have observed and learned some things on my own as I try to apply what I have read.

Nine times I have participated in a two week cleansing program which takes a total approach to health—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  More than anything else I have tried, this program has helped me overcome cravings for  foods.  It is a total raw foods program (vegetarian, of course) and each time leaves me enjoying raw fruits and vegetables more.  The addiction I had to sugar is gone.  I still have my usual cravings for peanut butter (natural without any sugar or other additives) and ice cream.  I rarely bring peanut butter into the house and never ice cream.  If I do have them convenient, they constantly call my name.

Dr. Barnard’s chapter on sweet nothings surely addresses keeping the blood sugar stable as a way of breaking addictions.  He says that the simple change of eating a breakfast of old fashioned oatmeal, instead of instant, can keep some people from wanting sugary snacks mid-morning.  Other authorities say carbohydrates, like oatmeal (steel cut oats are better), initiate cravings and that a high protein breakfast of eggs, protein shake, meat, etc will prevent them.

As with most everything concerning food, there are many theories about addictions.  It may be that we are different and each of us has to do our own detective work.  When you say “I LOVE” referring to a food, you can suspect that you have an addiction to it.  Try eliminating those foods for two weeks and you may be surprised at the good results.

(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at janicenorris34@yahoo.com)