November 20, 2011

By Julie Upton, RD

I've been reading a lot from both popular press and scientific publications about how certain craveable foods, such as those that include sugar, fat, or a combination of both (e.g. ice cream, chocolate, and most desserts) may cause druglike responses in our brain. Animal-model research shows that when animals are given all-you-can-eat access to junk food, they can't seem to get enough of it—and they'll forgo normal activities such as exercise and sex to eat the sugar- and fat-rich foods.

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., say repeated exposure to junk foods led to diminished feel-good responses, so the animals needed more of their "food fix" to get the same response.

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Sound a bit like cocaine, alcohol, or nicotine? Some say it is.

Although food addictions are much more difficult to diagnose—and there could be more emotional and behavioral issues to blame—some of us may be more susceptible to addictive-type feelings around food. Just as those with an alcohol dependency crave a change in blood alcohol level, some nutrition researchers suggest that these people may crave the changes in blood sugar that occur from eating sugary foods.

I've met many clients who claim to be seriously addicted to sweets. They feel they cannot cope on any given day without their candy, soda, or other sweet treat. According to these women, their cravings for sweets are overwhelming.

I often feel like I have issues with sweets because I can barely get down the candy aisle of my supermarket without "sampling" the gummy peaches or Jelly Bellies. If you can relate to the notion of being "addicted" to sweets or a particular trigger food or beverage, you're not alone. Here are three ways to deal with it.

Eat a protein-rich breakfast
Research shows that protein at breakfast may help reduce cravings later in the day, compared to eating a carbohydrate-rich option for your first meal.

Keep a food log
It should include how you're feeling before and after you eat. This will help you indentify if there are some emotional issues that drive you to the problematic food. If you pinpoint the emotional driver, you can then work on alternative ways to deal with your emotions.

Indulge the right way
When you do eat sweets, make sure they’re enjoyed at the end of a well-balanced meal because the protein, fiber, and fat in other foods will help minimize the blood-sugar boost from the sweets. Keep trigger foods out of your home and office to try to minimize your exposure.

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