— Ishi Khosla
With the whopping increase in the number of obese and overweight people from 857 million in 1980 to 2.1 billion in 2013, the growing epidemic of obesity across the globe in the wake of information overload and the need to look good is a paradox indeed. The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children has also sky-rocketed from 17% in the 1980s to 24% in 2013 in developed countries, similarly, in the developing countries, it has increased from 8-13%. As the number of diets and weight loss tools multiplies, the phenomenal number of gyms and fitness freaks all over parks, the battle of the bulge is nowhere close to ceasing.
Sadly, even the co-morbidities associated with obesity are also increasing rapidly and worse at lower BMIs (Body Mass Index). Non-alcoholic fatty liver, poly-cystic ovaries (irregular menstruation), impaired glucose tolerance are some of the common problems one is seeing these days. Along with the rapid rise in auto-immune diseases and malignancies, it seems that the lifestyle disease burden is staring us in the face more than ever before.
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It only seems logical to infer that the more we are trying to cap it, the bigger it is growing. Are we really eating that much more and getting so lazy that we are acquiring the proportions that we have never known. It seems like there is more to it and we are missing significant links. There appears to be a problem in the nature of the food we are consuming and not that much of a problem with us. The concept of food addiction can help explain a lot of the unresolved issues around growing obesity.
Food addiction, although controversial, has recently gained attention in scientific literature and falls into the realm of atypical eating disorders. It has been implicated in craving, bingeing, and obesity. Its recognition may be useful in the management of complications like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
Food addiction implies there is a biochemical condition in the body that creates a physiological craving for specific foods. This craving, and its underlying biochemistry, is comparable to an alcoholic’s craving for alcohol” (a refined carbohydrate). Just as alcohol is the substance that triggers the alcoholic’s disease, there are substances that trigger a food addict’s out-of-control eating.
It suggests that specific foods, especially those which are rich in fat and /sugar and/ gluten and/or salt are capable of promoting addiction-like behavior and neural changes under certain conditions. These foods seem to affect the same addictive brain pathways that are influenced by alcohol and drugs. Perhaps, eating carelessly, loading up on high fat, high carbohydrate and salt can also trigger hormonal imbalance, mood swings, and lethargy, ultimately leading to chronic food addiction and piled pounds.
These foods although highly palatable is not addictive per se but become addictive following prolonged restriction /binging. These could be as diverse as refined carbohydrates, processed foods, cheese, chocolates, sugars, and milk proteins. Such eating behavior has been associated with increased risk of obesity, early weight gain, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse as well as with relapses in treatment.
(Ishi Khosla is a practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Columnist, Author, Entrepreneur, Researcher And Welfare Worker)