The Biochemistry of Food Addiction

by Kay Sheppard, LMHC, CEDS

The biochemistry of food addiction follows a path which is initiated when refined carbohydrates flood the brain with dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. As the brain becomes flooded with these neurotransmitters, a feeling of well-being results and craving is stimulated. This simultaneously creates a deficiency in the brain because carbohydrates block the recycling of neurotransmitters. Thus the brain becomes depleted of needed neurotransmitters. This “feast followed by famine” of brain chemicals upsets the hypothalamus. Since the hypothalamus is the brain’s center for emotions and survival, mood and cravings go out of control.

The result is that one is walking around “drunk” on refined carbohydrates. During this process an insufficiency of neurotransmitters leaves receptor sites unfilled. This puts the brain in a condition of imbalance, resulting in distress and depression as well as cravings. It takes increasingly larger and more frequent amounts of carbohydrates to bring the brain back into balance. Over long periods of time the food addict is unable to get back to baseline. To feel better, he continues to eat that which makes him feel worse!

Those who wish to recover from food addiction find it necessary to abstain from those chemicals which trigger the addictive response of alteration of brain and body chemistry. In order to accomplish recovery, food addicts learn to be scrupulous about identifying all the substances that will trigger active addiction at the physical level.