Why We Are Seduced By Food (and How to Break it)

Lured by the seduction of food; the rich intensity of dark chocolate; the creaminess of vanilla bean ice cream; the comfort of freshly baked bread. Why can’t we have just one bite? Why is it that once we taste our pleasure-inducing food we hoover it up like a strung-out junkie, justifying each bite with an excuse that seems so valid for that intense moment. Once the food has been consumed, we start the self-flagellation: Why did you do that? What’s wrong with you? Can’t you show some restraint?”

The answer lies not with our will power but our brain chemistry. Food, in particular, fat and carbohydrate combinations, stimulate the release of dopamine, a pleasure neurotransmitter. This is the same neurotransmitter that is released during sex, recreational drug use, when you receive a text from a lover, a retweet and a ‘Like’ on your Instagram photos.

Dopamine is a necessary neurotransmitter but the more it is stimulated the more the body down-regulates its receptor cells so that more stimuli (i.e. food) is needed to induce the same pleasure-like effect. The dopamine response from sugar/carbohydrates is instantaneous. As soon as ice cream hits your tongue, dopamine is released. The mild intoxication is addictive and we find ourself in a binge-like trance.  We become enslaved by our food for a momentary feeling of bliss.

But dopamine is not the only brain chemical at work. Certain foods like chocolate and dairy trigger an opiate-like effect. Consider chocolate. With dark chocolate most of us can exhibit some form of portion control, but eat a piece of milk chocolate and you’ll kick off that crazed ‘give-me-more’ state.  The extra sugar and milk elicits a higher dopamine and opiate response, making it more challenging to stop eating.

Gluten-containing foods (bread, pizza, pasta, cupcakes) are even more intoxicating. Gluten set-offs endorphins that can induce an addictive state 20X more powerful than morphine. No wonder saying no after one bite is virtually impossible.

Like an alcoholic or drug addict, the answer to breaking the food seduction is abstinence. The dopamine receptor cells need to repair.  They need to start listening to dopamine again. Think of the receptor cells like a husband.  The more you nag, the more he switches off.  If you stop nagging for a consistent period of time, he’ll start listening again. You also need to be nice to him and nurture him. The same goes for your receptor cells.

Once you have repaired the imbalance in your brain chemistry, you’ll have control over food again. You’ll be able to eat these foods on a very occasional basis. If you find yourself getting giddy with excitement at the thought of eating these foods, it’s not time to re-introduce them. However, if these pleasure-inducing foods excite you as much as kale, then go ahead and enjoy a small bite. If you respond like a junkie, you’re not ready.

Like any period of abstinence, expect withdrawal symptoms, but with the right food, supplements and emotional support, you can break the food seduction. Below are seven tips for breaking the food seduction.

Food Seduction-Breaking plan:

1. Abstain from sugar and carbohydrates (except vegetables) for 21 days. This includes chocolate, cereal, granola, oats, pizza, pasta, bread, rice, popcorn, gluten-free baked goods, quinoa and sweet potatoes.

2. Expect food obsession for the first three days. It will dissipate. Do not give in.  This is crucial for your success.

3. When cravings hit, take a pen and paper and write the emotion you are experiencing or suppressing. Frustration, disappointment, loneliness, anger and so forth. Go deep here. If not, you’ll need to return to this. We often crave sugar/carbohydrates because of an emotional void or unprocessed emotion. Let it out.

4. Use fats, like avocado, coconut and coconut butter to assuage the sugar/carb craving.  It really works. A ginger shot is also very effective – try Juice Press’ 1st Degree Burn or Organic Avenue’s ginger shot blended with seltzer water and a squeeze of lemon.

5. Take supplements to help improve the brain chemistry and the ability of the receptor cells to listen:

  1. Omega 3 EPA/DHA combination to repair the receptor cells. I like DFH OmegAvail Ultra
  2. Nutrients to decrease sugar and carb cravings – I like Vital Nutrients Blood Sugar Support
  3. Amino acids and botanicals to help reset the brain chemistry – I like DFH Crave Arrest

6. Buddy up with friends.  Make commitments to each other and enjoy the challenge.

7. Get professional help if you need more support – work with a nutritionist who understands brain chemistry or a life coach we can help highlight emotional voids.  I work one-on-one with clients wanting to address this and twice per year I run a workshop on breaking food addiction.

The seduction won’t go away by itself.  You have to actively make changes to your diet and process unwanted emotions.

The reward is freedom from food obsession and the ensuing additional brain space that you can dedicate to something more creative in your life, like a life of abundance and love.

Photo Credit: Trunk and Archive