Is junk food as addictive as cocaine or heroin?
According to a new study, the comparison may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.
Anyone who has ever struggled with his or her weight knows that resisting a craving for a donut or a Big Mac is much harder than just “staying strong” or “exerting willpower.” Yet in a culture that idolizes thinness, there’s a lot of shame and self-hatred associated with unhealthy eating habits.
New research from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology sheds a more compassionate light on food cravings.
In the study, 39 obese people and 42 people of normal weight were given MRI scans and shown photographs of buffet-style food. People who were obese had far greater stimulation in the “reward center” of the brain than people of normal weight. Three months later, the researchers measured the patients’ BMIs, and found that 11% of weight gain in the obese participants could be predicted by this brain behavior.
In essence, the study found that food cravings are “hard-wired” into the brains of people who are overweight in a way that is similar to alcohol or substance addictions.
Why does this study matter? The better we understand what triggers obesity, the better we can treat it. And as we face an unprecedented health crisis with skyrocketing rates of chronic disease, food cravings have become a matter of life and death.
The Integrative Nutrition curriculum explores cravings in depth and it’s a key issue Health Coaches discuss when working with clients. Rather than viewing cravings as weaknesses, we see them as important messages from your body meant to help you maintain balance.
As IIN founder Joshua Rosenthal says, “In my experience, the part of us that cannot be controlled is actually our inner guide to health and happiness. Whenever your body is craving something, pause for a moment and wonder, ‘What’s really going on here?’”
Our curriculum teaches you how to deconstruct your cravings and develop a dialogue with your body that’s founded on self-love. Though the causes and solutions are complex, here are a few questions to ask yourself next time you get a craving:
- Are you drinking enough water?
- Are you uninspired or unhappy with your relationships or job?
- Are you getting enough nutrients?
- Are you experiencing hormonal fluctuations?
- Have you been eating lots of sweet or salty foods lately?
- Are your cravings associated with seasonal changes?
Remember, your body loves you unconditionally and does everything it can to keep you alive and functioning. You can feed it garbage, and it will turn it into energy to fuel your life. You can deprive it of sleep, but it will still get you up and running the next morning. You can drink too much alcohol, and it will still process it through your system.
Next time you experience a craving, try to think of your body as a crying baby who needs tenderness and love. The baby can’t talk, so it’s up to you to respond with love and compassion and try to figure out what’s wrong. That’s the first step to building a mutually loving relationship.
Do you have experience with intense cravings? What was helpful or unhelpful for you? Let us know in the comment section below!