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Addiction to comfort food, like any addiction, is characterized by the compulsive need to perform a given activity, despite the awareness of its negative impact on mental, physical or social he alth. This time we will talk about addiction to comfort food, i.e. to comfortable food. How does the food addiction mechanism work?

Comfort foodis food that has been with us for a long time. The term was used for the first time in 1966 as a term for food products associated with childhood. Most often, however, the so-called comfort foods rely on ultra-processed products. Consisting primarily of white flour, simple sugars, saturated fat and s alt. This combination means that food has an extremely intense impact on the brain centers responsible for the feeling of pleasure.

Comfort food - what is it?

Products that are a combination of the above-mentioned elements (white flour, simple sugars, saturated fats and s alt) include French croissants, cookies, bars, chocolate, i.e. products with the lowest satiety index. They also include most confectionery, pastry, s alty snacks and fast food.

To obtain comfort foods, we get rid of all substances valuable for our he alth, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and biologically active compounds by cleansing and extraction.

Effects of consuming comfort food

Thus, by consuming ultra-processed products, we are exposed to a number of the most serious diseases of our time, such as:

  • cardiovascular diseases,
  • metabolic diseases,
  • obesity,
  • development of certain cancers,
  • dementia.

In addition, we deprive ourselves of the possibility of eating something in return that will have a positive and protective effect on our he alth.

Comfrot food is childhood food?

However, the term comfort food can also refer to food that has someconnotations for the eater, usually positive . Usually, comfort food in this respect is different for everyone, more often it is associated with dishes known from childhood. Comfort food in this approach differs depending on the country.

Comfort food - what is addiction?

Addiction, also to comfort food, is characterized by the compulsive need to perform a given activity, despite the awareness of its negative impact on mental, physical or social he alth. This is related tostimulation of the brain's reward system , which develops over time to the chronically high levels needed to maintain the stimulation signal.

We can become addicted to practically everything, starting from various types of behavior, we can especially pay attention to those that cause a high level of arousal and excitement, such as computer games, shopping, gambling or sexual relations. Ending with addiction to stimulants such as alcohol, drugs, tobacco products and … food.

Comfort food - addiction mechanism

This is due to a mechanism calledimpaired sensitivity of dopamine receptors . Dopamine is a hormone that keeps us on the right path to survive and develop. So all actions aimed at ensuring survival will trigger a surge of dopamine, which is a kind of reward for the action taken. And so we get a dopamine burst as a result of obtaining food, drink or sexual contact, but also as a result of performing subsequent tasks on the way to achieving the goal.

However, a regularly stimulated reward system increases tolerance, and as a result, greater amounts of dopamine in the nervous system will be needed to ensure the same level of arousal. This is one of the simplest explanations for biochemical addiction.

Comfort food - or how food is addictive

Can we become addicted to food? Addiction is associated with a strong stimulation of the reward system. Psychoactive substances stimulate the above-mentioned pathways shortly after taking them. So, can food be a psychoactive substance?

It turns out that the answer to this question is yes. Food contains thousands of substances with multiple effects on our body. Among them, we can mention substances with an intense effect on our opioid system, such as casomorphins, lactoferroxins, cosoxyroxins and lactomorphins found in milk, and intended to make the calf want to drink cow's milk. However, if we subject the milk to processing, obtaining a concentrated source of these compounds from it, the stimulation will be several times stronger.

Interestingly, wheat also contains a similar substance -gluteomorphine , rightly associated with a strong painkiller, because its mechanism of action affects the same receptorsopioid. Now see that the combination of these compounds produces all products that cause a tendency to overeat, such as:cheese and white flour(pizza, casseroles, cheeseburgers, carbonara, all bakery products with the addition of butter and white flour).

Such a composition makes you eat more than the body needs. Another element worth paying attention to isenergy density . Research shows that we tend to overeat foods that have the highest energy density, which means that they contain less water and fiber in their composition. On the other hand, products containing significant amounts of calories in their composition usually have the share of fats, i.e. the most caloric nutrient.

At the moment, nothing can match fats in terms of calories. We have sensors for the most caloric foods that have been very well developed in the course of evolution. Therefore, few people overeat spinach, and ice cream does. In this case, the situation can be compared to a person addicted to alcohol. An alcoholic is unlikely to be satisfied with radler beer containing 2% alcohol, instead he will prefer to choose a stronger drink such as strong beer, wine or spirits to obtain higher higher alcohol concentrations.

The same is with food. Fiber contains 2 kcal, water does not contain any. Therefore, few people will be satisfied with a low-calorie vegetable consisting mainly of water and fiber. During the test, 4-year-old children chose not sweet food as initially assumed by scientists, but food rich in calories. Instead of apples, they chose avocados, and instead of peppers - bananas.

So, high-calorie foods will most likely stimulate the reward areas of the brain. In order to increase the calorific value of products, the proportion of water should be limited by increasing the addition of fat and simple sugars. The result is ultra-processed or convenience foods.

Comfort food - addiction. Where to find help?

What to do if we think we have a problem with comfort foods? If you have noticed a problem with comfort foods, it is worth contacting a psychodietetics specialist, addiction therapist or signing up for a groupof anonymous eaters . An indispensable tool is also regular development of your knowledge in this area using webinars, courses, blogs, scientific articles or support groups.

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