It is easy for our culture to accept the word “addiction” when we are talking about cocaine, heroin, cigarettes and even caffeine, but it is not so easily accepted when we pair the word “addiction” with food.
However, the effect on the brain with substance use is very similar to the effect on the brain with food addiction behavior.
Shame Spirals & The Unbalanced Brain
The alcoholic might rotate visits to different liquor and grocery stores so as not to be “caught,” much in the same way that a food addict rotates visits to different restaurants and mini-marts. The shame, guilt and regret afterwards are identical to the cocaine or heroin addict’s feelings, as are the cravings. Cravings for any substance originate from the same source: an unbalanced brain.
Why do some brains scream for substances and others seem content?
It’s all about neurotransmitter balancing. Neurotransmitters are responsible for all good feelings in life: calmness, pleasure, motivation, etc. When one or more neurotransmitters are low, the brain seeks balance through cravings. It seeks a quick fix which will temporarily mimic what the body would feel if the brain were in a healthy and happy state.
|Why do some brains scream for substances and others seem content? It’s all about neurotransmitter balancing. Neurotransmitters are responsible for all good feelings in life.|
Quick fixes for the food addict include comfort foods—aptly named as they do give a quick burst of neurotransmitters, which is comforting for a very brief time. When that burst is over, however, the feelings of loneliness, apathy, negative depression, worry, etc., are still there and the brain wants more of that quick fix. This is how addictions are born.
The cravings return, we keep feeding our brains the quick fix, and soon we find ourselves in the middle of addiction. The problem with this cycle, and with trying to use willpower alone to change it, is that the root cause is never addressed.
Targeted supplements can address root cause issues. They can be a powerful back door fix for unbalanced neurotransmitters. Once the deficiency is identified, repair work can be targeted.
The “I Want To Be Ok” Food Addict
If your food addiction is chasing a feeling that “everything’s ok” and serves as an escape from worry or obsessions, you are likely low in serotonin. For this seeker, it’s not so much the pleasure of eating that causes the good feelings but the burst of serotonin immediately afterwards.
In serotonin-seeking food addiction, more and more treats are required as this “burst” disappears. Cravings could be for anything high in sugar and/or made with white flour, such as pizza, milkshakes, cereal, and most fast food.
|It’s not so much the pleasure of eating that causes the good feelings but the “burst” of serotonin immediately afterwards.|
If this sounds too familiar, you may need the supplements 5-HTP or Tryptophan. Both convert to serotonin, that neurotransmitter that makes us see the world as a glass half-full. (If you are already taking an SSRI do not take 5-HTP or Tryptophan without consulting your doctor).
These supplements aren’t new or foreign to your body. Tryptophan is what doctors used to give patients who suffered from depression before Prozac hit the market. It is also a commonly known amino acid found in protein sources.
Can It Really Be This Simple?
Carolyn, a client of mine in her early 40’s, had suffered with food addiction for many years. While she had many routines around her eating, one of them surrounded each grocery store visit. She would steer her cart first to the bakery items and choose a donut to eat while she shopped, and then fill a bag to eat when she returned home.
On the day we started some supplements, she went by the grocery store on her way home.
The next time I saw her, she reported that, strangely, when she went by the bakery items, the donuts didn’t look appealing. She asked me if there could have been a connection between the supplements and this strange phenomenon. “Yes,” I smiled at her. When the brain is content, the cravings disappear.
Pleasure Seeking/Pain Shrinking Food Addict
If your food addiction is pleasure seeking and/or pain shrinking, you are likely low in endorphins. Pleasurable foods like pastas, cookies, chocolate, or your favorite dessert can give a boost of endorphins, but it won’t last. And when that boost is gone, you will want more of that powerful pleasurable feeling.
The amino acid DLPA raises levels of endorphins for much longer than a piece of chocolate (for more info and research, see the Journal of Reward Deficiencies Syndrome and Addiction Science). As an added bonus, if you take in more than you use in a day, the amino acids will restore the brain’s levels of endorphins so it won’t have to rely on pleasurable foods or supplements for very long.
Of course, there are more neurotransmitters than the two discussed, however, serotonin and endorphins/dopamine are the biggest culprits in Food Addiction.
Thanks to neuroscientist Kenneth Blum, Ph.D, we have research on amino acids, neurotransmitters, and addictions. Julia Ross, M.A. took Dr. Blum’s work and fine-tuned it through her work in addiction treatment centers and later, in her own clinic where she broadened her work to include many other issues. Read more about both of these pioneers in Ross’s books The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure.
Starting With The Foundation
In my work in the mental health field, I witness daily the great need for alternatives and additions to pharmaceuticals. Starting with a foundation of great nutrition and adding targeted supplements for brain balancing, I see the diminishing of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addictions of all kinds.
If you believed that a pill was your only hope, you now know there is more that you can do for yourself. Balancing your brain and restoring it to health is the first goal.
This can be done through good nutrition and targeted supplements.
By restoring your neurotransmitters you can address your addictive behaviors from their root cause.
About The Author
Vonda Schaefer is a nutritionist and psychotherapist based out of Walnut Creek, near San Francisco, CA. Her practice specializes in stabilizing brain chemistry to reduce the constraints of insomnia, fatigue, depression, substance abuse, ADD, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, sleep issues, and other underlying psychological issues. Vonda has been a licensed and practicing Marriage and Family Therapist for 10 years. She has a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology, an undergraduate degree in Nutrition, and certification in Neuronutrient therapy. Read more about her process on her website nutritionistherapy.com or sign up for her newsletter here.