Women More At Risk for Food Addiction?

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • A new study suggests that women with weight issues appear to be more impulsive than average in a food-psychology test, suggesting that they are “instinctively stimulated by images of food,” and the women also seemed to have greater difficulty engaging their will power.  Some of the women in the study also reported still craving foods despite having eaten recently. 


    Take a moment to think about the typical drug addiction model.  There appears to be individuals who can engage with narcotics and other drugs in a controlled fashion, occasionally or socially, or just on the weekends, while other individuals become addicted to drugs after just one or two exposures.  One has to assume that those with what appears to be an addictive nature are primed in some way, through genetics, body physiology, emotionally or otherwise.

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    Whatever the cause, they appear to be very susceptible to the drug impact, especially the pleasure-inducing or escapism feature.  They have little ability to fight off the desire for constant use.  Over time, we also know that many of these individuals will require more and more of the drug(s) in order to achieve the same pleasurable high.


    So it’s not surprising that certain people are “at risk” of becoming addicted to food, particularly the kinds of food that initiate pleasurable neurotrasmitters, similar to those associated with gambling, smoking and drug use.  In particular, these foods are very fatty, salty or sweet--like a cheeseburger, pastries and baked goods, sweetened and blended drinks, and pizza. 


    In the actual study, women were exposed to images of food items like those just described, and non-food items like socks, a shoe, drinking mugs, flashed on a screen.  The women were told to “click as quickly as possible on either the food or non-food items” as they appeared.  It was immediately noted that those women with weight issues (yo-yo dieting, binge-eating) performed the task with less proficiency.  Two sets of testing were done – just after meals were eaten, and three hours after meals were consumed.  Some of the test subjects reported “feeling cravings” induced by the images, right after eating and also three hours after eating.  The fact that they had just consumed a full meal did not mitigate the cravings induced by the food images. 


    One of the professors involved in the research extrapolated that these women with heightened cravings seemed to be primed to binge eating, with a set instinctive, psychological predisposition to the binge format of eating.  He acknowledged that within eating disorders there may be different nature versus nurture instigators.  Certainly some people may overeat to comfort themselves, while others may turn to food out of boredom or out of habit.  At the other end of the spectrum is the person who is diagnosed with anorexia, who exhibits beyond human control over the need to eat.


    The takeaway

    The one takeaway message would seem to be that you need to recognize if you fit this type of feeding pattern and vulnerability.   If you do, you need to create a home environment with little temptation.  That could require keeping only a day’s worth of food in the home, seeking counseling therapy, possibly considering drug therapy, and enlisting the help of family and friends to buddy up and help you when cravings hit.  Learning to swap out eating for a different behavior is also part of the necessary treatment.  The hardest part of the process is accepting that you may fit this profile and then seeking appropriate help.


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    Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience.  Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts.  Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch? Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at www.healthgal.com.

Published On: June 19, 2014