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Hooked on Food

Are you captive of a food addiction?
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Getting to Be a Habit continued...

In an animal study at Princeton University in 2002, researchers found that after rats binged on sugar, they showed classic signs of withdrawal (such as "the shakes," anxiety, and changes in brain chemistry) when the sweets were removed from their diet, suggesting that sugar may have addictive properties.

Yet many doctors and dietitians remain unconvinced that the drive to eat certain foods is a true food addiction. "People do crave three basic tastes -- fat, salt, and sugar," says Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. "Infants as young as a few days old do have a preference for sweeter foods. But when you say that a particular food is addictive, you imply that it's out of your hands. I don't buy that. I'm not aware of any evidence that chocolate is addicting. People like it because it tastes good.

"Yes, people do get into habits," adds Ayoob. "But the good part is that habits can be changed."

Breaking the Food Addiction

If food addictions are real, how difficult is it to break them? Clinical psychologist Douglas Lisle, PhD, says that at the TrueNorth Health Center in Rohnert Park, Calif., where he is director of research, patients have had the most success through "therapeutic fasting" -- in essence, rebooting the "hard drive" in their brain through a period of water-only fasting in a medically supervised setting, followed by the introduction of a diet emphasizing fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. (The process is described at TrueNorth's web site, www.healthpromoting.com).

But if your stomach is already growling at the mere thought of a total fast, try making a complete break just from the foods you crave -- a process that Barnard says works much better than trying to eat them in moderation. He argues that staying completely away from a food item for three weeks often resolves the problem. "At the end of three weeks, your tastes will have changed," he says. "You won't want the food as much anymore."

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