Most of us either have a substance abuse problem, or know someone who does. We have seen lives ruined by addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, heroin and food. Wait, food?
Food may be a surprising answer, but take a moment to look at the statistics. One third of adults in the United States of America are obese. Do you think this is a choice for all of them?
Here is another question. Do you ever crave a bowl full of celery? Lettuce? Carrots? For most I think I can safely assume the answer is no. What about a plate full of french fries? A bowl full of ice cream? Probably. This is because our brain is attracted to sugary, fatty, salty foods. In fact, researchers recently tested the effect in our brain of seeing certain foods. Using an MRI, they studied the brain function of 48 young women, of all body types, as the responded to seeing either a tasty, sweet milkshake or a tasteless alternative. What they found was a spike in activity in the same area in the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex and the medial orbitofrontal cortex, when seeing a milkshake as when an addict sees his or her drug of choice. This has lead scientists to believe that the food we eat has the same addictive qualities that drugs do.
So how can individuals succeed against their addiction with a fast food restaurant every 2 miles down the road or commercials featuring a free large fry with your purchase of the newest burger on the menu?
Food addiction may be the hardest to battle for several reasons, the first being that although it is recognized by the medical community, society continues to ostracize the obese. U.S. Americans live in a very individualistic culture. We tend to believe that people are in control of their destiny and can succeed if they work hard enough. However, we never look on the flip side of that argument which says that if one does not succeed it must be because he or she does not work hard enough. Our society has a tendency to disregard the legitimacy of this disease and thus those who suffer through it lack the support they need to beat it. The second reason is because we must eat to live. So everyday food addicts must continue to feed themselves and must struggle with making the right decision of what to consume. You cannot quit food cold-turkey. The last reason is that our system just makes it increasingly difficult to eat the right things. Obesity is more prevalent in low socioeconomic communities. Thus, it is easier to feed yourself on a fast food dollar menu every day, then to shop for healthy, local foods. Many healthy supermarkets and restaurants will not open in these communities because they are not profitable enough.
At Slow Food NU we try to encourage eating as a holistic experience. If we begin to truly understand what are food is composed of and where it comes from we can enjoy it for what it is. But the more we use it as a crutch, the more apt we are to lose control.
If you or someone you know is looking for help with a food addiction please check out Food Addicts Anonymous.