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A recent poll found that about one in eight Americans over the age of 50 suffers from an unhealthy relationship with highly processed foods that goes well beyond the occasional binge binge or late-night snack.
This condition, known as food addiction, is not confined to the elderly. Previous author Ashley Gearhart, lead author of the new paper, said data on food addiction have mostly focused on young to middle-aged adults up to about age 50. Study by Michigan Medical Company He is also a pioneer in the field of food addiction research.
The results were similar for the younger age groups included in previous studies, with about 14% of adults and 12% of children meeting criteria for food addiction, Gearhart said.
The symptoms resemble classic signs of addiction, according to registered member Christine Kirkpatrick. These include: intense cravings, inability to cut back on highly processed foods (also known as junk and comfort foods) despite their adverse effects, withdrawal symptoms, and loss of control over intake. He is a nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic, but was not involved in the research.
People can do things that are inconvenient or harmful to satisfy their urges. “I care so much about this job because when I talk to people, they say, ‘I know I’m suicidal.’ I know I have type diabetes, but the appeal of this food, this donut, is so strong that I ended up driving 40 minutes away even though I had food at home. And I’ll go eat 12 of them, even if it means going into diabetic shock,” said Gearhart, who is also an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
Despite its apparently high prevalence, food addiction is not officially recognized as a bona fide addiction, disorder, or diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disordersa handbook used by medical professionals as a reliable guide for diagnosing mental disorders.
A body of foodborne research only recently reached the stage of supporting a proposal for inclusion in the DSM, said Gearhart, who is working on a proposal to be submitted later this year.
“If you look at the research alone, it’s still at the stage of saying ‘more research is needed,’ but if you use criteria similar to what we have for tobacco (addiction), we find similar correlations to alcohol. You see a lot of relationships,” Kirkpatrick said.
Food addiction isn’t included in the DSM, so health care providers can’t diagnose food addiction, Gearhart said. However, as research in this area has progressed, some health professionals and nutritionists have become aware of this condition and the need to address it.
“It’s not a standard part of the diagnostic training that we do,” Gearhart added, but “people reporting an addiction to highly processed foods suffer.” added.
Most people seeking treatment for food addiction have probably been diagnosed with bulimia. “Because that’s the closest thing to bulimia and we can give you a diagnostic code so you can get treatment,” Avena said. However, the types of treatment offered for food addiction will vary greatly. This is because not everyone who reports being addicted to food is bulimic, and the underlying neurology of food addiction and bulimia are not the same.
Experts say the criteria for defining food addiction center around highly processed foods, not all foods, because of how the brain responds to their consumption.
It’s not the sugar or carbohydrates themselves that are addictive, but rather “how they’re served in ultra-processed foods that also contain additional compounds and chemicals—non-natural ingredients,” Kirkpatrick said. .
“The actual chemical pathway for what’s going on is the opening of the reward system,” she added. “When you eat food, it increases dopamine and serotonin, and all of these things increase and you feel good. But when they go down, you feel bad and you need more.”
The changes in brain function “similar to addiction to things like morphine, nicotine and even alcohol,” says Nicole, a New York-based neuroscientist with expertise in nutrition, diet and addiction. says Avena.
Ultra-processed foods make up 70% of processed foods in the United States and account for about 60% of the calories Americans consume, Kirkpatrick said.
“These shouldn’t be called foods, they are actually artificially processed and refined substances, created by us, containing unnaturally high levels of beneficial ingredients like sugar, rapidly Like fat, our brains really exceed what exists in nature, so we don’t know exactly how to manage that level of food reward. I don’t think so,” Gearhart said.
Not everyone who eats highly processed foods develops an addictive relationship with it. Experts believe there are several possible reasons for those who do.
Experts say a person’s brain chemistry may play a role, as well as a problematic relationship with substances or a family history of addiction. According to Kirkpatrick, people who are stressed, depressed, anxious, or dealing with trauma consume these types of foods to help deal with negative emotions. It is said that there is a possibility to do so.
Kirkpatrick said people with food concerns tend to opt for highly processed foods, increasing their risk of foodborne illness, especially if they’re the only ones available.
Gearhart says that some people with food addictions eat highly processed foods all day long, until they overeat and feel sick or sluggish and never eat again. Some say no. Over time, eating too many highly processed foods can lead to health-related consequences for people, including obesity, cancer, premature death, cardiovascular disease, dementia and diabetes. previous researchh.
Attempting to cut back on these foods can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, irritability and low energy, Gearhart said. “And people report eating more of these foods over time to get the same level of enjoyment they had in the past.”
Gearhart said food addiction and failed attempts to change can cause “incredible feelings” of guilt, shame, hopelessness and frustration.
Both loneliness and social isolation can cause or result in food poisoning. A Michigan Medicine study found that addiction to highly processed foods was found in 51% of female participants and 26% of male participants who said they often felt isolated from others. By comparison, 8% of women and 4% of men rarely felt isolated.
Food poisoning can also hit your wallet. Temptation is everywhere. Offices with people bringing donuts to work, gas stations, parties, checkout lines at stores.
“Often, by the end of the day, the stress and constant struggle to use your willpower to fight back can trigger another binge and the cycle continues,” says Gearhart. To tell.
According to Kirkpatrick, scientific opinion is still divided on whether food poisoning is real. Some researchers wonder where the line should be between occasionally overdoing highly processed foods and getting out of control.
“At the moment, it’s still a controversial topic,” Gearhart said. “If you look at how people consume these highly processed foods, there’s almost unanimous agreement that there are certainly signs of addiction.”
“There has been a great debate for decades about whether tobacco is addictive, even though it kills hundreds of thousands of people,” Gearhart said. “It wasn’t like any other addiction. I wasn’t drunk. It was legal. I could smoke and drive.”
The debate now focuses on the food’s role and whether it is truly addictive, she added.
“We’re in a similar situation right now. Highly processed foods are changing our paradigm again. It’s like, ‘Well, we all need something to eat. That’s why,” she added. “But we don’t need these really unnatural, highly valuable, novel, artificial, highly processed foods.”
Kirkpatrick said a combination of individual choices and policy changes would probably be needed to effectively tackle food addiction more broadly.
“We’re in a situation where we’re just arguing about whether a treatment exists, and the development of treatment models has been significantly delayed,” Gearhart said. “So there is no science to say, ‘This is the best treatment for this addiction.’ It’s a shame.”
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Getting treatment can help food addiction.
Food addiction is superficially related to diet, experts say, but it’s important to work with a therapist to understand how you got there and how you can overcome it. It is said that there is A therapist can also help you learn to deal with stress in healthier ways, such as journaling or going for a walk.
However, the therapist should work with a nutritionist, Kirkpatrick said.
“People who are less likely to get out of control are most often people who have very healthy behavior,” she said. “Let’s say they are chasing, mediterranean dietThey cook, eat a lot of plants, and do it most of the day. ”
Avena said recovery can be difficult if you’re struggling with food addiction because the food system “is essentially what’s failing us” in the United States. “But with help, it is possible to navigate this food environment in a way that makes them happy and healthy.”