Friday, November 9, 2007

The Chemistry of Food Addiction

I know what you're probably thinking: That the wagon I was on rode off into the sunset, me nowhere on it, since I haven't posted in so long! Actually, to the contrary, things are going well, dietarily speaking. I have been playing sole-childcare person in my family this week, with DH away on business, so between that and my day job (part-time contractor for a small non-profit), I haven't had time for anything extraneous like keeping you all apprised of my life, no matter how much I have wanted to.

I managed to come down with a cold yesterday, nonetheless, the same one my kids have. However, it came on last night and is practically gone already, at 2:00 the next day, so I really can't complain. I will post sometime about my thoughts on the germ theory that so many raw fooders reject.

I've been doing a ton of reading on the notion of food addiction. As I've said before, I think I'm definitely addicted. The FA meeting I attended last week inspired me to think deeper about the culprit being refined carbohydrates, and I do think that this is part of the equation, but not the whole story. What do I crave? Cheese, cheese, more cheese, yogurt, pizza, paneer (that's Indian cheese!), fried things at restaurants, and did I say cheese? Mostly fatty stuff, heavy on the dairy. Now, if I'm eating sugar, I do build up a craving for it fairly quickly, however, it also passes fairly quickly when I lay off it, so I don't see this as my personal biggest downfall. So what's the explanation?

This is where it gets really interesting.

I read this book last week called The Anatomy of a Food Addiction by Anne Katherine, MA. While I didn't find the entire book useful or relevant to me personally, I found her summary of the addiction process very enlightening. Here is a summary of the some of the various theories of food addiction, which I gleaned from that book:
  • The ingestion of carbohydrates raises blood sugar, which raises insulin level, which causes an artificially high level of the amino acid tryptophan to cross the blood brain barrier. (The insulin causes the other amino acids in the food to enter the muscles, instead of crossing the blood brain barrier, as would normally happen, thereby allowing more tryptophan to enter.) Tryptophan in the brain causes the release of serotonin, which makes you feel groovy. All that cheese I love is high in tryptopan, and eating it in conjunction with carbohydrates can cause this effect. Now, what I think is so interesting about this theory, from an 811 standpoint, is that the high levels of fat, according to Dr. Graham, also would raise the blood sugar by trapping the sugar in the bloodstream, thereby causing the same end result -- feeling groovy. Maybe this is why I crave fat, and especially dairy. Furthermore, higher blood sugar has also been shown to increase the number and sensitivity of brain opiate receptors, so maybe it's a roller coaster that once you're on, it's hard to get off (especially if you're a sensitive type like me and you like to feel groovy). That's why I HATE THIS withdrawal so much I guess. :-)
  • Another interesting factoid is that eating sugar/starch triggers the secretion of beta-endorphins, which stimulate appetite, which cause you to eat more sugar and starch. And on and on. Your body becomes dependent on these opiates. Hence the FA meetings. Dr. Graham would definitely say you don't become dependent on anything bad for you, and, technically speaking, he's right. But, your mind -- in a non-thinking, chemical kind of way -- sure can make you THINK your body's dependent on them, and who am I to argue with beta-endorphins after all!
Wow! So now I think I'm getting it. Step One of any 12-step program is "admitting you are powerless over ____________." I always "balked" (to use a 12-step word) at this "SAY IT! SAY IT!" approach to improving my life. What I'm trying to do right now is not to admit but just to understand, which doesn't have that horrible you've-finally-seen-the-light connotation to it. What I am understanding is that everyone else doesn't have this relationship to food, at least maybe not as strong, and I'm starting to recognize the wily, dastardly mechanism of it, and in that knowledge I am slowly breaking free. Or maybe it's just that I'm like most people, but for whatever reason am not comfortable with my desires.

I have to admit one thing though: I have not been fully abstinent since my last post, as I think I fell off for a day or so after. But I'm abstinent now, and have been these last 5 days, according to my getting-closer-each-day-to-811 rules (described in previous post). Furthermore, I don't feel as crazy as I did those first 10 days. I think what happened there, as I theorized at the time, is that missing one dose (yes, one teensy dose) of my thyroid medication really whacked me out for a few days. I can't do that right now. (Hopefully some day I'll be able to miss 365 doses without a hitch.)

I went to the Richmond Farmer's Market today and bought 13 pounds of fuyu persimmons for $1/lb. (As I was paying I saw another stall that had them for $.50/lb. Oh well!) I've been eating them like crazy. The also had plums and I bought a bunch of them. I should be pretty set for the next few days.

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