Monday, 23 July 2012

How to Deal With a Food Addiction

Dopamine Pathways. In the brain, dopamine play...Dopamine Pathways. In the brain, dopamine plays an important role in the regulation of reward and movement. As part of the reward pathway, dopamine is manufactured in nerve cell bodies located within the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and is released in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex. Its motor functions are linked to a separate pathway, with cell bodies in the substantia nigra that manufacture and release dopamine into the striatum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)One of the first paragraphs on WebMD, when you search for food addiction is this: "Like addictive drugs, highly palatable foods trigger feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine. Once people experience the rush of dopamine from eating certain foods, they quickly feel the need to eat again."
This is a problem area for a lot of people, myself included.
An addiction is defined by as: "the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma."
I don't know about the severe trauma bit for food addiction but, essentially, food can be like a drug, and if you're trying to lose weight or be healthy, food addictions can be a major hurdle.
What causes food addiction?
To boil it down, it's caused by the chemicals in your brain, when you do something pleasing, a hit of dopamine goes to your neurotransmitters telling your brain that whatever just happened felt good. Your brain likes dopamine so it wants to get as much as it can.
When food triggers a dopamine release it can be just as pleasant for your brain as something like nicotine or heroin. An addiction happens when you can no longer consciously control your desire for that dopamine in your brain. At that point, you'll do whatever you can to get that shot of feel good medicine in your head.
So what can be done about food addictions? Through experimentation on my part during my long journey of getting healthy I discovered that addictions can be overcome relatively easily given a short period of mental pain. Whether it's nicotine, coffee, sugar or salt, any addiction can be reigned in with a little work and, in most cases, a replacement shot of dopamine through some other activity.
It usually takes about three days to a week to rid yourself of an addiction but food addictions can be much harder because one has no choice but to eat to keep themselves healthy.
I'll be honest with you that as of this writing, I'm still working on finding a replacement shot of dopamine, as for the majority of my weight loss journey, I smoked cigarettes. Thankfully, I quit 4 months ago and have been a little lax with my weight loss regimen since then.
In my experience however, there are many things that can take the place of an addictive substance. My favorite is pride and it's one I've used many times in my journey.
How is that gonna work you ask? Well, I just know that at the end of a day of recording everything I eat and staying within a certain calorie limit, I look at my work for the day and I feel awesome. I feel proud that I was able to accomplish my goal for the day. That's what keeps me going.
In analyzing this pride method, it's easy to see how important goals are for accomplishing something and I can pretty much guarantee that goals can work in defeating an angry food addiction.
The key is to start small, just eat well for one meal, then build on it, two meals, three meals, one day, two days, a week. Eventually you've been recording and watching your calorie intake for a month and you've lost 10 lbs. Now how awesome does that feel? By that time you will have made yourself a new healthy habit that can only contribute to your well being.
Pride may not work for you and in that case I suggest something healthy with no calories, like a diet soda, a cup of coffee, a small walk around the neighborhood, a few minutes of meditation, or even working on something you want to accomplish or enjoy doing. Really anything that makes your brain feel good will do the job.
It certainly helps to distract yourself with whatever else you can think of that will make you feel awesome.
So lets summarize this, a food addiction is a nasty thing that demands dopamine (the feel good chemical) but with a little work (three days to a weeks worth) and a lot of feel good stuff building on feel good stuff and big goals building on small goals, we have ourselves a habit that makes living good feel good.
By the time you've built a healthy habit, you won't even be thinking about having desert or that extra beer at the end of dinner.
I've said before and I'll say again, nobody's perfect and if I can do it, you can too.

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