Archived Story

Can people be addicted to food?

Published 9:33am Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interested in being healthy and losing weight, I often read magazines and other articles about healthy eating.

On Tuesday, I picked up the Eating Well magazine that we periodically receive at the Tribune and found an article that really intrigued me.

Titled “Addicted to food?” the article explored the idea that food can enslave a person’s brain just like drugs can. It was written by the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The director, Nora Volkow, said she’s studied the brains of people addicted to drugs and people who were obese and found that their brains look similar.

“She’s finding that food, especially the highly palatable fatty, sugary kinds that pack the inner aisles of American supermarkets, fast-food joints and, yes, vending machines, can enslave anyone and change their behaviors,” the article states.

Yikes!

But Volkow didn’t stop there; she wanted to find out how to intervene.

She studied whether the chemical dopamine in the brain played a key role in overeating and found that people who were obese had significantly fewer dopamine receptors in a certain part of the brain. She and her research team concluded that people who were obese had to eat far more food than a normal-weight person to experience the same high or satisfaction.

She said if thinking about food rules your life, you may need to seek help from a professional. Otherwise, if you deal with occasional cravings, she included a series of simple tips to consider to avoid temptation:

• Anticipate moments of weakness. Decide beforehand you are not going to allow yourself to be tempted by food.

• Take one flavor at a time. Keep your meal relatively simple.

• Ban eating in the car and in front of the TV. She encouraged people to set up a space for eating so that the other locations don’t get conditioned with food. Eat only at the table, using a plate and doing nothing but eating and talking to your tablemates.

• Get plenty of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation can increase the risk of overeating and obesity.

• Keep your stress level low. When people are stressed, their ability to control their desires decreases.

Volkow said a good way to manage stress is to schedule daily workouts.

Roasted New Potatoes and Green Beans

1 1/2 pounds new or baby potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half

8 ounces green beans, trimmed

5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion greens

Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 450 degrees.

Toss potatoes and green beans in a large bowl with 2 teaspoons oil, salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once or twice, until the potatoes are tender and golden and the green beans are tender and browned in spots, 25 to 35 minutes.

Whisk the remaining 3 teaspoons of oil, vinegar and mustard in a large bowl. Stir in cheese and scallion greens.

When the vegetables are done, toss with the dressing in the bowl. Serve warm.

Sarah Stultz is a reporter at the Albert Lea Tribune. She has made it a goal in 2011 to get back on track with a healthy fitness and eating plan to ultimately lose weight. Her column usually appears every other Wednesday as a blog on AlbertLeaTribune.com and on the “Taste” page in the print edition.