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Nature and nurture are at the root of food addiction

Harold Mandel's picture
Sweet addicting desserts

As the obesity epidemic becomes more apparent the problem of food addiction has surfaced as a serious problem. The problem is so serious some interests have suggested that one of the most addicting high calorie foods, sugar, is actually a drug and should be regulated as if it is a drug. New research indicates nature and nurture play a role in food addiction.

There are a myriad of problems associated with impulsive reactions

Behavioral inhibition has been noted to be one of the basic facets of executive functioning and is closely associated with self-regulation. It has been observed that there are a myriad of problems associated with impulsive reactions, or low inhibitory control, reported Frontiers in Psychology. Such problems include:

1: Higher body mass index (BMI)

2: Binge eating

3: Substance abuse

4: Pathological gambling

Nevertheless, studies which have investigated the direct influence of food-cues on behavioral inhibition have not been consistent. Researchers investigated food-cue affected behavioral inhibition in young women.

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Women afflicted with weight problems were more impulsive

The researchers found that women afflicted with weight problems were more impulsive than average in a food associated psychology test reports Université du Luxembourg. It has been suggested these women were more instinctively stimulated by images of food and they were lacking contemplative will power. It was also observed that some women reported they had a food craving even if they had recently eaten, which is a symptom of possible food addiction.

Claus Voegele, Professor of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Luxembourg, says all addictions share similarities in that the sufferer has an excessive craving for that high buzz feeling which they get from chemical neurotransmitters which are produced when they eat, smoke, gamble, have sex or take drugs.

In the original test images of fatty or sweet food such as a burger, cake, pizza etc. and non-food items such as a sock, a mug, a shoe etc. were flashed at random on a computer screen. The women were asked to click as quickly as possible on either the food or non-food pictures. The women suffering from weight problems performed less well than the average.

Some people may have a psychological predisposition to binge eating

The tests were administered either three hours after eating or just after meals. It was observed by the researchers that several women suffering from weight problems said the test had provoked food craving, regardless when they had last eaten. Voegele said this has suggested that some people may have an instinctive, psychological predisposition to binge eating.

Voegele has pointed out other research indicates both nature and nurture are at the root of food addiction. He says people may over-eat because they want to comfort themselves, because they are simply bored or simply due to habit. At the other end of this spectrum people with an with excessive amount of control may suffer from serious disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

An understanding that food addiction may in fact be looked upon as a real medical problem which is associated with other impulsive disorders should assist us in better prevention and treatment for this problem. Stimuli in the environment which make this problem worse should be controlled as much as possible.

A food addicted person certainly should not be left alone to gorge at a buffet which is full of fattening foods any more than someone with a gambling and sex addiction should be taken to casinos in a town where prostitutes are roaming free. Furthermore, it appears psychological counseling aimed at helping a food addicted impulsive person gain insights into their problem while working on strategies to tackle this problem should be helpful.