Are carbohydrates addictive?
Updated: Jan 12
Are some carbohydrates addictive. A number of researchers’ are taking this thought seriously and conducting studies to try and establish the reality of some food addictions.
A study published in 2013, titled, “Effects of dietary glycemic index on brain regions related to reward and craving in men”, by Lennerz, Alsop, etc, concluded that a high GI meal increased hunger and selectively stimulated brain regions associated with reward and craving in a period after the meal which impacts eating behaviour at the next meal. This was more pronounced when the subjects were obese or carried excess weight.
I have personal experience of children who when consuming specific sugar sweetened drinks would often become very excited and energetic, followed about 1 hour later by a significant drop in mood that often resulted in tears and anger.
There is a recognition that for some people, transitioning to a low carb diet is very difficult as they struggle to give up their favourite carb heavy food, such as pasta or bread. For these people one recommendation is that complete abstinence from the particular food may be the only way to overcome this addiction.
Despite my own transition to a low carb mostly keto diet and maintaining this for nearly 2 years now, I have found some fascinating things happening in my mind. I think I have always operated this way but it is much more obvious now. For example, if I am at a buffet, and depending on the food, I often find myself looking for the largest piece available. I certainly don’t need a large piece but something seems to trigger this desire.
If I look into the refrigerator and see a piece of fruit pie, my senses light up and I start to think about when I could eat it and what I would have with it. If I am cutting a small slice from a bigger cake, despite my chosen low carb guidelines and decision to only have a tiny piece as a treat, I sometimes find myself cutting a larger piece. Do I need it? No! Do I want it? Hell yes. I have learned it is actually easier if the slices are all pre-cut so that I just get to take one slice, or maybe just ask someone else to do the serving. Once my piece is in front of me on the plate, all those feelings seem to vanish.
When I am with a group sharing out the available food, I find myself watching closely what others are taking and have to work quite hard to take a small piece and adhere to the old adage FHB, (Family Hold Back). When I have a cup of tea, I have got into the habit of having a small snack with it during my afternoon eating window. I certainly don’t need it but the cuppa does not seem the same without it.
If I am asked “would I like a piece of dark (>70%) chocolate?” Then the answer is almost always yes, even if I have just eaten a large meal. It is almost as if the question gives me permission to cheat on my own eating behaviour guidelines.
Are these symptoms of an addiction. Maybe they are. It is certainly are not great behavior, and makes me very aware of the difficulty some people must have when choosing to give up their favourite foods.
What helps? One thing that helps enormously is to visualise the food as particularly unhealthy and this works very well when I am avoiding the whole food item such as a sweetened beverage, cookie or a donut. However it fails miserably when taking a portion of something that I have already decided is OK in a very small quantity.
The best solution seems to be to avoid the temptation in the first instance. Stay away from that aisle in the supermarket, or avoid that particular shop. Try to ensure that these addictive foods are not in the pantry at home or are well hidden. If the pantry or refrigerator is full of the good stuff, then it becomes easy to select from these items and not succumb to the bad stuff.
Having a few of “George’s Crackers” available, based on my cracker recipe in this blog and also in my book “Take Back Your Health” is hugely helpful as I can just take 1 or 2 of these and know that these are the good stuff, and I am still sticking to my eating plan. My favourites have salt and cracked black pepper on them.
As always, for health advice and comment check out my blog or find links to my book at: www.takebackyrhealth.com
Regards George Elder