It was sweeping through neighborhoods and families were "losing everything" to it even as the criminal justice system rose up to manage it. Crack cocaine was the thing, and it rocked the cities and suburbs like nothing before it. Like a wildfire, it raced.
With nearly 70 percent of American adults overweight or obese, food addiction is the new crack cocaine. Just as drug addiction has been labeled a disease, now so is obesity. Last month the American Medical Association declared obesity is a "multimetabolic and hormonal disease state." What a shift in our culture, to begin looking at obesity as a state that some folks don't have control over, just like an addict doesn't have control over their use of crack.
In speaking with Dr. Samuel Sharmat, M.D., an NYC psychiatrist who specializes in complex patient assessments, his take is this:
"For people predisposed to addiction, the brain is in a very fragile balance, and even food can make a mess of it. What makes this so challenging to manage is that we need to eat to survive; but for some of us food triggers our addiction cycle, and then we're suffering with craving, seeking, overeating, guilt, depression, and medical problems -- it's absolutely terrible."
That's the state of things as it relates to food, fat and obesity and how we will lose a generation too early because of it.
Recent science breaks the code on this epidemic, and how it's happened. A litany of new data tells us how all calories are not processed the same once consumed. The "bad" foods, like sugar and processed carbs, are shown to stimulate parts of the brain that trigger cravings and reward. Chowing down on high-glycemic foods can cause the brain to give people the green light to overeat.
"Over the past several years, neuroscientific advances have illuminated the activity of specific brain areas. We are able to correlate the activity of brain circuits with specific behaviors," says Dr. John Sharp, M.D., Harvard Med School and UCLA Med School faculty and psychiatrist. "These correlations allow us to track what happens in the brain when, for example, we try to concentrate, become frightened, exercise, meditate, or ingest an addictive substance."
Food can be an addictive substance!
Some foods are more addictive than others, because they were engineered that way to boost sales and consumption. That's like spiking crack to keep the kids hooked.
What we can plainly see now is that compared with healthier foods, self-harming foods trigger increased activity in brain areas associated with reward.
Small quantities are all we need. Self-control required.
Addicts and non-addicts alike (especially when emotionally depleted) need to be mindful and take care. This applies to everybody. The good news is that after changing our habits from unhealthy consumption to healthy consumption, the challenge to eat right becomes easier over time. We crave unhealthy food when we eat unhealthy food; we crave healthy food when we eat healthy food.
Food cravings can be a good thing. It's important for all of us to put the crack pipe down -- figuratively speaking -- and pick up some self-loving food instead.
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