"I want that piece of chocolate cake "¦…I need that cake"¦.I can’t live without that cake"¦…It’s just too tempting"¦.," says your inner voice, as you view that big slice of cake sitting on a plate in your refrigerator, left over from last night’s dinner party. But wait, you already indulged last night and you promised yourself that you would save the leftover for your sister who missed the party. So why do you find yourself opening and closing the frig, several times, only to break down and finally inhale the cake in seconds. Just the crumbs remain as evidence that there was a huge slab of chocolate layer cake just moments ago. And then the feeding frenzy continues"¦…Familiar experience? And are you shocked that once again, despite your best intentions to withstand the temptation, you lost the challenge? Well, a new study suggests that certain foods may trigger addictive behavior, similar to drugs like cocaine or the nicotine in cigarettes.
Researchers are beginning to realize that unless you have a superman-like willpower, you may not be able to withstand the control of certain foods. Those foods may play with your brain’s appetite-control center, and actually reset satisfaction levels, making it harder and harder to provide the ultimate level of pleasure that the prior eating experience established. That means you are propelled again and again to eat more, and to rarely withstand the powerful lure of these foods. Some experts say that food is fuel so it can’t be addictive, even if you happen to adore or crave certain specific foods. Dr. David Ludwig, a nationally known obesity expert, thinks otherwise. He and his colleagues have spent time studying the impact of food on the brain, and looking at specific foods’ impact on the brain activity involved in pleasure.
The starting point for the research used the GI or glycemic index, a measurement of a food’s impact on blood sugar levels. A high GI food spikes blood sugar levels quickly and dramatically. It makes sense that some of the same foods that significantly raise blood sugar, also might "pleasure the brain," in a very heightened fashion. The team made two milkshake that had the same protein, calories, fat and carbohydrate content, but one was significantly higher in its GI value because of the specific carbohydrates ingredients added. The obese patients that consumed the milkshakes with the higher GI value had a significant blood sugar spike, followed by a rapid drop in blood sugar. Most compelling were the brain scans of those participants. It showed that the nucleus accumbens (a specific part of the brain that senses pleasure) was activated, and appeared to show similar activity the nucleus in someone who has a drug or gambling addiction. So highly processed or refined carbohydrates may trigger powerful cravings, even when people are feeling quite satiated. And after multiple exposures to these foods - especially in childhood - it may be harder and harder to refuse these foods or manage appropriate portion sizes of these addictive foods, and you may also find yourself eating larger quantities in order to achieve the same "high." It’s not hard to see how this phenomenon can nudge your weight, dramatically.
Some lessons to be learned? If you have trigger foods or foods that seem to overwhelm you and prod you into eating way too much without the ability to control portions, then you may indeed need to steer clear of these foods entirely. Or you might need to strategically eat them away from home, by sharing a serving with someone else, in order to maintain strict portion control. Bringing these foods into your home, with the belief that you can somehow exert willpower and just have a little bit, is probably asking too much of yourself, based on this study.
Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch? Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103. Catch her guest appearances on Marie on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.