Is a Food Addiction Curbing Your Weight Loss? Part 2

The_Brain_and_weight_lossIn part 1 we talked about foods that may trigger an addiction and their affect on weight loss. Now let’s talk a bit about the brain science behind it: dopamine. Dopamine is a simple organic chemical that the brain produces. It plays a major role in the brain system responsible for reward-driven learning.

In a groundbreaking study at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, researchers looked at the connection between brain dopamine and obesity. They found that obese people had lower levels of dopamine in their “reward” areas than those with a normal weight. Lower level of dopamine is also seen in drug addicts (e.g., cocaine) or alcoholics. This study suggests that those suffering from obesity have different brain chemistries when dealing with food. Unlike other types of addition where you avoid the drug, you can’t avoid food.

So, can certain food really be addictive? Some of my clients would say “absolutely!” When a craving becomes overwhelming or you can’t stop once you’ve started eating it, then it’s time for self examination and other weight loss strategies. Once you’ve identified your triggers, here are some ideas on how to handle the situation:

  • Avoid the troublesome food. If it’s not in your environment, it’s not there to tempt you and derail your weight loss efforts. Ask those close to you,Food_addiction_spiral like family and friends, for their help.  DON’T stock your cupboards with unhealthy food that you have a hard time eating in moderation.
  • Avoid mindless eating. Be deliberate about what you put on your plate and where you eat. Eat sitting down (as opposed to on the run or standing at the kitchen counter). Set a placemat at the dining room table for each meal. Put your fork down between bites. Chew and really taste your food. You’ll probably find you get fuller faster, and enjoy what you’re eating more.
  • Identify your triggers. Anxiety caused by stressful situations can cause you to reach for those “comfort foods.” Boredom, loneliness and anger can also trigger stress eating.  If you know your trigger, it’s the first step toward acknowledging it and overcoming it.
  • Divert your attention from food.  Might I suggest some exercise like dropping in on a bootcamp session 😉 ? Not only will it distract you from eating, it’ll work out any nervous energy. Many times, exercise clears your head, allowing you to find a solution to the problem that originally triggered your stress.  Other activities that keep your hands busy like knitting, crossword puzzles can keep your mind occupied when it turns to food.

If you’ve struggled with over-eating and have found solutions to your personal triggers–share your success stories here!


Committed to your success,




Photo credits:  Brain image,  candies

Is a Food Addiction Curbing Your Weight Loss? Part 1

Sugary_foods_can_be_addictingAfter years of helping people lose weight with fitness training, I have seen firsthand that many clients have trouble with certain kinds of foods. In most situations my clients are rational:  They eat “splurge”  foods in moderation and limit unhealthy choices from their environment. Yet, they struggle with things like bread, pasta, or sweets. Now there’s science to explain the brain chemistry and how it impacts willpower and weight loss.

We’re bombarded with calorically dense foods or ones that tip the scales with chemical additives. It’s no surprise that more than one third of Americans are obese. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report (January 2012), obesity doesn’t discriminate by gender and 17% of youth suffer from obesity. But why are we overeating to the point where we risk our health to hypertension and type 2 diabetes?

The key may be in how some foods hijack the brain. According to Kelly Brownell who directs Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, “the Our brain may hold the key to understanding eating behaviorfood industry obviously manipulates the qualities of its food to maximize desirability.” There’s even surprising evidence suggesting that some foods may alter the brain like an addictive drug.

Ask yourself, what foods do you find difficult to limit once you start to eat? For me, it’s sweets (chocolate, cookies and other sweet snacks). For one client it was pasta. She found it difficult to limit her portion to the recommended serving of one cup. It was sabotaging her weight loss, so she eliminated it from her diet. By doing so, she has seen a difference at the scale as well as her energy level. Consuming starchy carbs like pasta can be great if you’re preparing for a marathon or gearing up for an intense bootcamp training session. However, it can make you feel tired and sluggish once you’ve left the dinner table.  Sometimes it’s just better to avoid a “trigger” food altogether and make a different food choice.

Do you have any food triggers that may fast-forward you into over-eating?  Share your thoughts (or solutions you’ve found!) below.

In my next post, I’ll share some information about brain dopamine, food addiction and weight–and how you can overcome food additions.


Photo credits:


Foodie cupcakes