If you’ve been following our series “The Skinny on Obesity,” you’ve heard Dr. Robert Lustig explain what happens to the body and the brain when faced with processing excess sugars. But what do we do with our minds to try to mitigate the problem?
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that by the year 2030, up to 42% of Americans will be obese, likely making this the first generation in the history of mankind to have a shorter lifespan than the generation preceding it.
Today’s epidemic of obese six-month olds is powerful evidence that obesity can be passed from mother to child, which is why researchers like Dr. Robert Lustig and his colleagues at UCSF’s Center for Obesity Assessment, Study and Treamtent (COAST) insist that obesity is a public health issue that can and must be prevented to protect the health of all generations to come. In “The Skinny on Obesity: Generation XL,” new this week on UCTV Prime, we look at the importance of weight management and a healthy lifestyle for all women of child-bearing age — pregnant or not.
Also, if you’re a pregnant woman living the Bay Area, find out if you’re eligible to participate in the MAMAS study being conducted by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC). The study is based on the idea that changes in diet and exercise may not be enough to help women manage their weight during pregnancy and that a stress reduction program, based on the Mindful Motherhood Training and other mindfulness programs, can offer women additional skills to deal with stress and food cravings, manage difficult emotions, increase awareness of hunger and fullness, and encourage healthy eating and physical activity. The goal of the study is to learn if this program can help women achieve healthy weight gain during pregnancy and reduce stress.
The latest episode in UCTV Prime’s “Skinny on Obesity” series is all about the science of sugar addiction and, if you’re anything like those of us working on the series, it’ll probably cause you to think twice when you instinctively reach for that afternoon snack.
In jest, we call someone who loves and eats a lot of chocolate a “chocoholic.” But what if that could actually be true? What if we could be addicted to food much like alcohol or drugs?
Currently in the scientific community, there’s growing support for the concept of “food addiction.” Highly palatable foods activate the “reward circuitry” in the area of the brain that makes us experience pleasure. It appears that certain people, primarily those with obesity, may have less — not more — of that pleasure response from eating, and that may induce an overwhelmingly strong biological drive to eat more.
Although there is no official definition of food addiction, we can think of it much the same way as other drug dependencies, with symptoms like:
eating too much despite harmful consequences
inability to stop thinking about food
repeatedly trying and failing to cut back on your food intake
feeling guilty about eating and overeating
It’s easy to believe that it’s simply a lack of willpower, but that is not a helpful or accurate description of the phenomena. Food addiction is associated with a compulsive and obsessive relationship with food. People with this condition may binge eat, but that is not a necessary part of the condition. They may feel out of control and will often eat past their point of fullness. Food addicts can be any size and any age, but we largely see this disorder in the overweight to the obese.
Research suggests that the largest difference between “food addicts” and “non-food addicts” is that palatable food cues are more powerful (e.g., able to trigger cravings, enhanced motivation to seek out food, etc.) for food addicts. This is very similar to what we see in other addictions.
Take this quiz to see if you might be addicted to food—but know that this does not provide a diagnosis. Rather, the quiz can give you an idea of whether or not you score high on this food scale. If you do, you might want to seek treatment from a professional therapist with experience in this area. Resources are listed below.
QUIZ: ARE YOU ADDICTED TO FOOD?
The following questions ask about your eating habits in the past year. People sometimes have difficulty controlling their intake of certain foods such as sweets, starches, salty snacks, fatty foods, sugary drinks, and others. When answering these questions, please keep these certain foods in mind.
Answer Yes or No:
In the past 12 months…
I kept consuming the same types or amounts of food despite significant emotional and/or physical problems related to my eating.
Eating the same amount of food does not reduce negative emotions or increase pleasurable feelings the way it used to.
Select one of the following options indicating how often you experience the feeling described:
0 – Never
1 – Once per month
2 – 2-4 times per month
3 – 2-3 times per week
4 – 4+ times per week
I find myself consuming certain foods even though I am no longer hungry.
I worry about cutting down on certain foods.
I feel sluggish or fatigued from overeating.
I have spent time dealing with negative feelings from overeating certain foods, instead of spending time in important activities such as time with family, friends, work, or recreation.
I have had physical withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and anxiety when I cut down on certain foods. (Do NOT include caffeinated drinks: coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, etc.)
According to Yale University’s Ashley Gearhardt, who developed the scale, research suggests that if you answered 3 or 4 to three or more questions, it is suggestive of eating problems that might need professional help. Here are some resources if you find yourself in that category.
As Dr. Robert Lustig explains in the “The Skinny on Obesity: Hunger and Hormones – A Vicious Cycle,” the sensation of hunger has less to do with will power and more to do with the body’s biochemical processes, over which we have little control. But there are some steps we can take to get a handle on the signals our bodies are sending. Here’s what UCSF’s Center for Obesity Assessment, Study and Treatment (COAST) recommends. Are you physically hungry? Physically full? Our bodies send messages that tell us when to eat, but sometimes it can be hard to separate whether we are physically hungry or emotionally hungry. So how hungry are you? How full are you? Yes,
these are two different concepts.
Use this helpful scale to observe your experiences and notice the extent to which they overlap or not. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Just simply explore your own feelings and awareness related to these experiences.
There are ways in which our bodies tell us that we’ve had enough food, but when we overeat, we are often disconnected from these important signals. Only you can tell you when these signals are occurring. This is your “inner wisdom” which, in turn, will make it easier to use your “outer wisdom,” such as meal planning and being aware of caloric intake. You might ask yourself, what types of situations, feelings or thoughts might get in the way of paying attention to fullness? Some common situations might be socializing, watching TV, super-sizing your servings, not wanting to waste food or eating your favorite foods.
There are two distinct processes controlled by different parts of our brains and there are relationships between experiences of hunger decreasing as you eat, and experiences of fullness increasing. For some people, these seem to be easiest to understand along a continuous line, and for others, they seem to overlap but not be the same thing. For example, it is possible to be hungry and experience a sense of fullness in the stomach if, for example, you just drank a tall glass of water. Because it allows for flexibility, consider how your body might feel at various points, such as immediately after eating, a half-hour later, an hour later and two hours later. What are the differences at these points if you overate, ate the right amount, etc.?
So far on UCTV Prime’s “The Skinny on Obesity,” Dr. Robert Lustig and his UCSF colleagues have alerted us to the monumental scale of the obesity epidemic (it’s not just America anymore) and the primary culprit (overly abundant sugar). By now you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, yeah. Isn’t this just another diet trend we’ll all forget about when the next big fad comes along?”
Perhaps you’ll change your tune after watching the third episode in the 7-part series, “Hunger and Hormones – A Vicious Cycle,” in which Dr. Lustig asserts that the cause of widespread obesity isn’t just about diet — or exercise for that matter. It’s about the body’s biochemical reaction to the “global industral diet,” something that science is just now able to understand. Within their grasp, Lustig says, is “the Holy Grail of obesity research” that provides a scientific rationale for why, in the last 30 years, such large segments of the population become obese at record high rates.
Contrary to common belief, Lustig argues, it’s not caused by a sudden onslought of gluttonous, lazy citizens, but the chronic failure of a hormone that’s supposed to tell your body when it’s time to stop eating. Episode three of “The Skinny on Obesity” offers a swift, visual overview of the vicious cycle of consumption, weight gain and disease. You won’t want to miss it.