Food Addictions and Cravings (cont.)
Yet many doctors and dietitians remain unconvinced that the drive to eat certain foods is a true food addiction. "People do crave three basic tastes -- fat, salt, and sugar," says Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. "Infants as young as a few days old do have a preference for sweeter foods. But when you say that a particular food is addictive, you imply that it's out of your hands. I don't buy that. I'm not aware of any evidence that chocolate is addicting. People like it because it tastes good.
"Yes, people do get into habits," adds Ayoob. "But the good part is that habits can be changed."
Breaking the Food Addiction
If food addictions are real, how difficult is it to break them? Clinical psychologist Douglas Lisle, PhD, says that at the TrueNorth Health Center in Rohnert Park, Calif., where he is director of research, patients have had the most success through "therapeutic fasting" -- in essence, rebooting the "hard drive" in their brain through a period of water-only fasting in a medically supervised setting, followed by the introduction of a diet emphasizing fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. (The process is described at TrueNorth's web site, www.healthpromoting.com).
But if your stomach is already growling at the mere thought of a total fast, try making a complete break just from the foods you crave -- a process that Barnard says works much better than trying to eat them in moderation. He argues that staying completely away from a food item for three weeks often resolves the problem. "At the end of three weeks, your tastes will have changed," he says. "You won't want the food as much anymore."
When you get rid of the sugar or chocolate from your diet "cold turkey," don't expect any of the withdrawal symptoms that are often associated with other addictions. "Occasionally, a person does say to me, 'When I stop consuming sugar, I feel lethargic and depressed,'" says Barnard, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine. "But withdrawal symptoms are not essential to the definition of a food addiction."
Also, don't be surprised if you backslide. "You can expect to fall off the wagon into the waiting arms of chocolate," says Barnard. "Just like an alcoholic, you may relapse before making the break permanently."
Published April 19, 2004.
SOURCES: Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, associate professor of pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. Neal Barnard, MD, president, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington, D.C. Alan Goldhamer, DC, director, TrueNorth Health Center, Rohnert Park, Calif. Douglas J. Lisle, PhD, director of research, TrueNorth Health Center, Rohnert Park, Calif. Michael F. Roizen, MD, professor of medicine and anesthesiology, State University of New York Medical College, Syracuse.
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