Are Food Addictions Real?

When it comes to eating and weight issues, I've been very troubled by the terms so many people use to describe themselves. Self-described "chocoholics", "carbohydrate cravers", "sugar addicts", and even "food addicts" are all looking for answers. Are these food addictions real? What do you think? I'd like to hear your story, and feelings about this controversial topic. Check out some of my thoughts on the concept of "food addictions", and suggestions for managing these trigger foods.

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Actually, in a way, we are all food addicts. Eating is not an optional choice, and there is no total abstinence. We MUST eat for survival, so the view of food addictions cannot be thought of in the same way as that of drugs, or alcohol, or nicotine. Think of what happens when we don't eat - growling stomach, headache, dizziness - all symptoms of food deprivation. But when we think of food cravings, it's for a particular kind of food. If we were physically hungry, any food would do!

Pleasure centers in our brains are stimulated by many pleasant activities - this is normal biology. Whether it's food, or being in love, or exercise, or sex, or the getitng some sun, brain neurochemicals (like dopamine and serotonin, among others) are activated. Drugs of abuse, like cocaine also activate these brain chemicals, but in a damaging, destructive way, which creates a physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when the drug is removed. So, many of our food struggles, which they might seem biological are not related to true hunger and fullness for survival, but, are based on a behavioral dependence, not a physical one, and we must learn to accept that we do have control over these behaviors and can learn to manage them.

There are so many "trigger" foods, which are different for everyone, that promote that uncomfortable sense known as a "loss of control". There are 5 important steps in managing food cravings and maintaining some control.

(1) Identify the problem foods
(2) Determine whether portion control or substitution with another food will be effective to satisfy but not trigger overating
(3) Eliminate specific foods (not whole categories!) that trigger rather than satisfy
(4) Avoid settings (restaurants and at home) that trigger overeating.
(5) Substitute another behavior for the act of eating - learn to knit or chew sugarless gum

Here are three major categories where people struggle the most::

-sugar only (gummy bears, licorice, soda)

  • sugar fat combinations (chocolate, cakes, cookies, ice cream)


  • creamy mouth-feel (cheese, mayonnaise, sauces, ice cream)
  • crunchy/chewy, salty (chips, french fries, fried chicken, hamburgers, bacon)


  • bread and pasta
  • rice, potatoes, cereals

There are no "right" answers for everyone. This is truly a personal choice, and some are the best solutions are found by trial and error. What works for you might not work for someone else. So, be open-minded but realistic in your quest to conquer food cravings. It can be CAN regain control.

Check out a few more suggestions that have worked for my patients, and me (the pistacio nut Queen!). I'd love to hear some of your solutions.

For a SWEET tooth.....

  • sugar free gum and mints - try cinnamon or peppermint (strong flavors stimulate your taste buds!)
  • sugar free jello and popsicles
  • 60 calorie jello pudding pack (chocolate or caramel)
  • low-cal (25 cal) hot chocolate

Don't like the low-calorie sweeteners? Try these: single-wrapped peppermint life savers, peppermint tic-tacs, altoids, dum-dum lolly-pops, mini-tootsie roll pops, chocolate-covered altoids

For a FAT Tooth....

  • single-serve bag of baked chips
  • bag of carrots
  • bag of pre-washed salad (eaten right out of the bag)
  • 100 cal pack of plain pretzels, chips, or popcorn
  • Laughing Cow light cheese wedge
  • Mini Bon Bel Light cheese (mini-wax serving)
  • Non-fat or low-fat yogurt - look for extra creamy (Yoplait or Dannon)
  • Turkey Pepperoni (1 serving)
  • Ballpark White Meat Turkey Hotdogs

For the CARB-LOVERS...
-Whole wheat, thin sliced bread - under 50 cal/slice

  • 50 calorie whole wheat tortillas (La Tortilla Factory come in several flavors)
    -100% Whole Wheat Matzoh (one sheet)
    -Mini-pita bread (70 cal)
  • 1/2 cup couscous
  • 1 cup Special K High Protein
  • 1 cup Barbara's Puffins (regular or cinnamon)

These lists could go on and on.....but I hope this gives you a jump-start to keep working on this really tough aspect of healthy eating and weight management.

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