ice cream and drugs - one in the same?


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Can processed fatty foods with high amounts of sugar and salt be just as addicting as say heroin, crack, cocaine or opium? The NY Times article "Craving an Ice-Cream Fix" says it's possible. Are you addicted to food? Take this quiz and find out...

First, lets analyze the causes and symptoms of drug addiction. I think it's safe to say addicts don't start using drugs in hopes of becoming addicted. Often, it starts by experimenting with less harmful, if you will, drugs such as the "gateway drug" marijuana. Marijuana is labeled the "gateway drug" because in many cases this is the first illegal substance addicts consume. When that isn't enough to reach their high, they may consume higher doses or move on to harder drugs, like cocaine. "For many people, what starts as casual [recreational] use leads to drug addiction." (The Mayo Clinic) And, once you're addicted, "you may not be able to control your drug use and you may continue using the drug despite the harm it causes."

Now, lets analyze a different kind of disease - obesity. People are not born obese, just like people are not born addicts. (well, unless their mothers were, but that's a special circumstance) People gradually gain weight overtime, like addicts use more and worse drugs overtime. Before these individuals know it they're 300 lbs. They don't eat excessive amounts in hopes of becoming obese. Emotional and mental issues may have led to resorting to overeating. Addicts may have turned to drugs for similar reasons. 

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drub Abuse, made the case that food and drug addictions have much in common, particularly in the way that both disrupt the parts of the brain involved in pleasure and self control. "Just as drug abusers need increasingly larger doses over time, children who are regular ice-cream eaters may require more and more for the reward centers of their brains to indicate that they are satisfied" (Oregon Research Institute) See any similarities yet? 

You're probably wondering, has any scientific research been conducted on this hypothesis? Princeton University and University of Florida researchers found that "sugar-binging rats show signs of opiatelike withdrawal when their sugar is taken away - chattering teeth, tremoring forepaws and the shakes." 


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Drug addiction is a dependence on an illegal drug or a medication. Obesity is a dependence on food. When you're addicted, you may not be able to control your drug use and may continue using the drug despite the harm it causes. Obese people are unable to control how much they eat and continue to overeat despite the harm to their bodies. Drug addiction can cause an intense craving for the drug. Obesity can cause an intense craving for food. Addicts, those of drugs and food, may want to quit, but many find they cannot. 

Obesity often leads to Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, loss of 
reproduction and sexuality, thyroid conditions, and an inactive and overall unhappy life. So why is obesity tolerated and even accepted in America? Will certain foods, one day, be widely accepted as addictive like drugs? 





3 Comments

This was a great blog post. I too have been wondering if eating fatty foods can be addictive because everything seems to work out. I know for a fact that whenever I start eating a food such as potato chips, I can never just eat one. The fact that they are so delicious and sitting right in front of me just make it way too hard to pass up. Back to your question, I think obesity is tolerated because we really have no choice. Banning any food that is unhealthy would definitely cause an uproar and in no way could ever happen. Even though our nation's health would benefit greatly from this, it is a very unrealistic idea. Fatty foods could be widely accepted as addictive like drugs one day only if there are a bunch of tests done to prove that for the most part that come out positive. It would be interesting if those foods started placing labels that warn consumers that this product is addictive, though. I too wonder what would happen if administration took a stand and tried to put an end to obesity.

Ideally, we lived in a world where the healthiest foods were the cheapest to make and everyone could afford them. But, this is not true. This is the reason why the most popular foods are fast foods; cheap, tasty and filling. These foods are made from the cheapest and most unhealthy ingredients. Yet society loves these foods, because they too, can be addicting. The reason our nation is dealing with such high levels of obesity is due to the habits people form since childhood. Nature vs. nurture. Is it the parents who allow their children to eat whatever they want anytime they want? Or are the high levels of obesity in our nation, highly in part due to genetics? It is interesting you compare obesity and drug addiction. I was raised on the thought that addiction in itself is a disease. Psychology Today stated that about half a century ago, it was first said that addiction was a disease. This caused a mass differentiation in people’s self-perceptions. Addicts were not bad people, they were sick. But over the years, this theory has become controversial because addiction “is a group of behaviors, not an illness on its own.” Psychology Today provided me with some backup to both sides. Addiction is not caused by infection, does not have a pathological biological process, or a biologically degenerative condition. “The only "disease-like" aspect of addiction is that if people do not deal with it, their lives tend to get worse.” This is very true! I now question whether obesity can really be considered a disease. While I do feel bad for obese people because often times they claim they cannot control their eating habits; I think there are loopholes. If an obese person worked out every day and had a great diet; I would accept them as having a disease. But often times, I see obese people eating at fast food restaurants or binging on unhealthy food. In this case, I feel that the obese person is not doing everything in their power to help their situation. Therefore, I cannot feel sympathy for someone who is complaining of a problem, and doing nothing to help it.

According to The Centers for Disease Controls, “Obesity results when body fat accumulates over time as a result of a chronic energy imbalance.” Often times, obesity is an outcome of someone who constantly eats more calories than they burn in any given day. Changes in our genetic makeup have not evolved fast enough to be the sole contributor of obesity. However, genes do have a role in obesity. A common explanation of genetic obesity today is the incongruity “between today’s environment and energy-thrifty genes that multiplied in the past under different environmental conditions when food sources were rather unpredictable.” In simpler terms, the foods that people were eating back then during times of great famine have become our everyday foods. Our bodies have had to adapt themselves to be able to process and digest the foods we eat nowadays. Clearly, looking at our obesity levels, our bodies have not adapted very well!

To answer your question, I think our society has already adapted to the revelation of junk food. That is why we are discussing obesity; it is too late. Obesity has already taken a toll, in part because we are already an addicted nation.

Michael, I hadn't thought of government placing laws for food producers to have to put an addictive label on fatty food products. This is definitely a possibility. Like Paulina said "we are already an addicted nation" and I think only intense actions and strong controls will reverse our nation's situation. We cannot wait for our bodies to "adapt" to obesity like our bodies have in the past to changing environments and cultures. I doubt our bodies will ever adapt to obesity and I hope they don't. This would be a change for the worse, if it can get any worse than already is.

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