“Despite the irrational nature of the process, the addicted individual will continue to pursue the alteration of reality. These individuals are not bad, dumb, weak, evil or crazy – they have a biogenetic disease.” ~ Dr Doug Talbot.
Food Addiction is the obsessive and compulsive pursuit of a mood-altering substance. Addiction is a neurobiological occurrence that results in a loss of control over an individual’s actions, cravings, and decisions.
In this blog, I wish to demonstrate why a client suffering from food addiction cannot simply say ‘No’ and change their mindset.
A food addict cannot think their way out of dependence, disordered behaviours, and addiction. Addiction is automatic and takes place at a physiological level below the conscious radar which renders the addict powerless.
Whether you are a personal trainer, wellness professional, or therapist, you are on the front line, so it’s essential you can recognise the signs of food addiction in your client.
As a food addiction coach, I understand that for clients to recover, they require education, support, patience, and compassion. It is crucial that your client feels understood and guided towards recovery with the underlying root cause addressed.
The human brain is made up of around 86bn neurons and is the body’s control centre. These neurons form complex pathways and circuits; they share information and continuously send signals throughout the body.
Substances alter the signals between neurotransmitters as well as the hormones which are released. This can cause a chemical imbalance which can lead to mental health disorders and addiction.
As addiction is multifold, forming out of chemical dependency and behavioural habits, the issue is complex. The cause of this is continuously up for debate and is the topic of an ever-growing body of extensive research due to the highly complicated field of neuroscience.
The key hormones which are affected through the ingestion of substances are dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Dopamine and serotonin are our ‘happy hormones’. They activate the reward centre of our brains, flooding us with feel-good chemicals. They are critical to our survival, and our bodies use them to encourage us to participate in activities necessary for existence, such as sexual intercourse and eating.
Certain substances like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin release significant quantities of dopamine which effectively hijacks our reward system. It is known that sugar activates the same regions of the brain and induces cravings and rewards that are similar in scale to addictive drugs such as cocaine.
Prolonged use of a substance causes dependency as tolerance to the substance increases. This is due to the dopamine receptors declining with persistent interaction with the same substance, which results in the addicted individual requiring ever greater quantities to achieve the same pleasurable result. What’s more, dopamine is connected to the areas of the brain responsible for emotions, inhibitions, and impulsivity, which means when cravings hit, it becomes increasingly more difficult to resist them.
Substances such as drugs, alcohol, sugar, and highly processed foods can cause significant maladaptation to our neural pathways, hormone regulation, and hyper-active reward response. For a food addict, unprocessed foods, low processed carbs and sugars, and natural foods will become unattractive, unrewarding, and almost impossible to select in preference over their binge foods of choice.
The good news is that just as our brains can reinforce disordered harmful habits, we can reframe our thoughts to promote positive, healthy actions which enhance our life experience and well-being.
The first step for any food addict is to accept responsibility and accept help from others. We are not made to survive and thrive alone, and we all need positive interaction and support to navigate the tough times.
Therapeutic support while educating your client on how their system is operating at a neurological level will help to empower them and give them the resources to resist cravings and make healthier choices. They must grasp that while they are not in control of what they want or like, they control what they do and do not ingest.
For many food addicts, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to make positive changes neurologically. CBT works by modifying the neural pathways involved in fear and negative emotions. A dysfunctional nervous system can once again become regulated by forging new neural circuits, and a new, healthy way of living can be found.
Abstention from the addictive substance is essential when in recovery. Even the smallest amount can reignite the addictive cycle on a physiological level.
To accomplish long-term recovery, food addicts must become scrupulous about identifying all the substances that trigger active addiction at the physical level with the help of their food addiction coach.
If you would like to seek help or learn more about how to help your clients overcome their food addiction issues, please get in touch with me, Dr Bunmi Aboaba, The Food Addiction Coach, by following this link.
 Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. 2020. How Does The Brain Work?. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279302/#:~:text=The%20brain%20works%20like%20a,the%20root%20of%20human%20intelligence.> [Accessed 15 October 2020].
 Deacon, B. and Baird, G., 2009. The Chemical Imbalance Explanation Of Depression: Reducing Blame At What Cost?. [online] Pdfs.semanticscholar.org. Available at: <https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/eb9f/6fd2aa8abed9dc48517c5edf9cd2452e74ea.pdf> [Accessed 15 October 2020].
 Di Chiara, G., Acquas, E. and Carboni, E., 1992. Drug Motivation And Abuse: A Neurobiological Perspective.. [online] Psycnet.apa.org. Available at: <https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1992-98781-015> [Accessed 15 October 2020].
 “Sugar Addiction”. Current Opinion In Clinical Nutrition And Metabolic Care, vol 16, no. 4, 2013, pp. 434-439. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/mco.0b013e328361c8b8. Accessed 8 July 2021.