The Psychology of Grain Addiction by Allison Gamble
The psychology of addiction encompasses a variety of variables including genetic predisposition, lifestyle and environmental factors. While most people think of addiction in terms of alcohol and drugs, new research demonstrates a disturbing new trend in food addiction: an addiction to grain. With refined and prepackaged foods a common staple in many American households, it doesnt take a psychology degree to see that there must be a reason why grain is embedded in almost every aspect of cooking and baking. However, research is beginning to draw a correlation between addictive properties that exist in grain foods and growing obesity levels worldwide.
Recent studies have been able to show more direct links between the composition of food and the links to addiction and obesity. In 2004, Arizona State University did research on obesity and nutrient consumption, to determine whether it was an addiction or not. The study showed that consumers purchase and consume more food than necessary and the majority of the foods have high fat and sodium content.
Following this research, University of Wisconsin did a similar experiment on rats with opiates in early 2011 to determine if the opioid affected the prefrontal cortex. Research done in the past showed the effect of opiates in the hypothalamus and nucleus accumbens, but did not conclusively address the prefrontal cortex, where impulse control and cognition is located. Just as drugs and alcohol have a direct effect on these brain areas of activity, the study shows that food creates neurological and biological pathways that foster physical and psychological addiction.
Research has confirmed what has been long suspected: food makes us feel good. Food triggers the body to release neurological chemicals like tryptophan and serotonin. Tryptophan is basically an opioid chemical with very similar interactions with the parts of the brain affected by opiate addiction. Tryptophan is a naturally occurring tranquilizer with a direct relationship to serotonin levels in our brain, similar to pharmaceutical drugs like Valium. With the new science emerging about carbohydrate addiction and foods interaction with our brain, the question becomes: how can we overcome the addictive urges for comfort food in the interest of maintaining a healthy lifestyle? When we are driven by addictive food cravings, just like with drugs or caffeine, we are more likely to overindulge. This is likely an indicator of why diets tend to unsuccessful with a majority of the population. It would be similar to asking a cocaine addict to scale back their use. The addictions interactions with your brain chemicals would not allow this, which is why drug rehabilitation usually operates on a cold turkey basis, or with a medical detox protocol.
Of food addiction, grain addiction is a particular area of concern because grains make up a large percentage of our public food choices. This is especially true in restaurant and fast food settings where grain is often added as a filler ingredient or to bulk up meat product. Corn, one of the most prevalent forms of grain used, is also found in many different forms; whether its converted into corn syrup, corn oil, or cornmeal, corn and grain addiction have significant negative effects on glucose levels. They are also a primary trigger of the release of neurological chemicals that foster addictive eating patterns. Because grain is cost-effective and the majority of the human population now craves it, research on food addiction is important in determining how we continue to integrate grain into our food choices in the future.
Though food addiction can be a powerful and debilitating illness, like alcohol and drug addiction, grain addiction can be overcome. With obesity and weight-related health concerns on the rise worldwide, it is important to have a plan on how to deal with the urge to eat refined grain products. For people with compromised metabolisms, it is especially important to undertake the drastic steps needed to remove the drug (in this case, grain) from the home.
1. Remove temptation start by going through the house and pantry, removing the tempting and unhealthy grain-based foods. Even regular pasta can continue to fuel a grain addiction. Replace these food triggers with food that is nutrient-dense or high in protein. Choose sweet potatoes over dried pasta or unsweetened tea instead of soda pop. This can a difficult step, but changing your environment is essential for success.
2. Eat more of the right things dieting is often ineffective because it leaves us feeling hungry. Choosing foods that you can indulge by eating a lot of can help when you are feeling the need for a comfort food binge. Having a bag of baby carrots instead of a bag of Nacho Doritos is going to have a significantly different impact on your blood sugar levels and waistline. Dont deprive yourself. Choose foods that are dense and are easy to snack on.
3. Eat foods high in fat But isnt fat what makes us fat? Not necessarily. Research on insulin levels and blood sugar has demonstrated the introduction of fats help us to feel satiated for longer, and good fats are actually essential for good mental health. Having a handful of almonds or a cup of cottage cheese can help curb excessive appetites and decrease insulin spikes.
4. Create a support system Choosing to eat differently to combat grain addiction is very difficult and just as a drug addict cant kick drugs alone, kicking food addiction requires the same support system. Whether its a sit-down with your family and close friends, or reaching out to support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous, finding people who support the healthy changes you are trying to make in your life can be key in continuing success.
Having a comprehensive plan to deal with food and especially grain addiction can help overcome diet-related health problems and stave off diseases like Diabetes Type 2, hypertension and heart disease. Though the research suggests there is a chemical component to food addiction, just as any addiction can be overcome, food and grain addiction can be resolved. It takes a commitment to changing lifestyle and eating habits, as well as being educated about how food addiction can short circuit our ability to make good decisions about food. Getting a support system in place and utilizing a multifaceted approach to dealing with food and grain addiction can change lives, shrink waistlines, and transform the landscape of American health.
Allison Gamble has been a curious student of psychology since high school. She brings her understanding of the mind to work in the weird world of internet marketing.
Photo by Peter Pearson.
All advice and opinions in the above article are those of the author and not this blog per se.