Curbing Carbohydrate Addiction
Afraid to Use the "A" Word
The word addiction has historically been used to describe the chronic
overuse of drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. We now see the overuse of food
as an addictive process as well. How many times has the phrase "you just
need more will power" been used to describe your overeating or inability to
stick to a healthy diet? We now know that willpower has little to do with
overeating. New research supports the notion that for some people, food
can be just as addictive as cocaine. Addictive overeating can be more
accurately attributed to reduced levels of serotonin in the brain due to a
stressful lifestyle; not to willpower.
What Science Tells Us About Brain Chemistry
Scientists Dr. Richard and Judith Wurtman at MIT have been studying the
interaction of carbohydrates and serotonin for over 30 years. Their
research shows that the consumption of carbohydrate foods triggers the
release of serotonin, an important chemical signal, or neurotransmitter, in
the brain. The serotonin, in turn, was shown to suppress the desire for
carbohydrates. Some people, particularly those with night time carbohydrate
cravings, may unconsciously be using carbohydrates as a sedative,
capitalizing on serotonin's sleep-inducing property. Serotonin is also
responsible for elevating mood, suppressing appetite and decreasing
sensitivity to pain.
Why You Overeat
Simple carbohydrates, because of their strong effect on brain chemistry,
tend to be the overeaters "food of choice." In response to low serotonin
levels, eating simple carbohydrates dramatically raises your blood sugar.
Insulin is released both lowering blood sugar levels as well as allowing
tryptophan, an amino acid, to reach your brain more easily. The tryptophan
is then used to increase serotonin levels in an attempt to stabilize your
brain chemistry. The sleepiness after a large carbohydrate meal is partly
due to an increase in serotonin. So where does carbohydrate addiction come
in to play?
Are You Addicted?
Food addiction occurs when overeating becomes a chronic condition
associated with psychological, social and environmental factors. Food
addiction is often progressive and in some cases can be fatal. To determine
if you might have an addiction to food, ask yourself the following
1. Do you have difficulty controlling the use of food? A real-life example
might be having trouble sticking to a healthy eating program.
2. Do you have a preoccupation with food? A real-life example might be
thinking about your next meal before you finish the current one.
3. Do you use food despite adverse consequence? A real-life example
might be do you continue to eat and gain weight despite the fact it
negatively affects your high blood pressure and joint pain?
4. Does food create distortions in your thinking? A real-life example
might be if you become anxious at the thought of missing a meal or
eliminating a certain food.
How to Curb Carbohydrate Addiction
The key to curbing carbohydrate addiction is balancing both your blood
sugar and brain chemistry. The following suggestions can help you beat the
1. Increase Physical Activity
Increasing physical activity raises serotonin levels without the use of
food and stabilizes blood sugar. Make sure to do 3 to 4 hours of walking and
weight training per week to keep your body and brain strong and balanced.
2. Eat Healthier Meals
Eating balanced meals with more fruits and vegetables keeps blood sugar
stable while reducing harmful chemicals and additives that affect your
brain. Complex carbohydrates will help increase serotonin without any drastic
blood sugar swings. Eating more whole foods and reducing processed foods
increases fiber and lowers sodium.
3. Lower Stress Levels
Physical activity helps lower stress but it's also important to balance
your activity with relaxation time. Make the time to get a massage, listen
to good music or take a hot bath. Read materials that can help you adopt
a positive attitude. Attitude also helps balance brain chemistry and reduces