Monday, March 16, 2009

Chocolate and the brain

I was surfing the Web the other night, just playing around, looking at food addiction treatment-type things--I was curious what was out there. There is actually quite a famous center that treats food addiction close where I live--they have been included in TV documentaries I've seen--so I went to their website and discovered (a) there were no prices listed anywhere, which is never a good sign; and (b) they threw the word "God" around an awful lot as it related to treatment. Salted don't play that; even if I was into that, and I'm not, I think God has bigger fish to fry than my fat ass.

I went to the Food Addicts Anonymous website and it looks as though they use the old Overeaters Anonymous model, which was attended by a close family member back in the day, so I have some familiarity with it. I also read about it in Betsy Lerner's memoir "Food and Loathing". It's a 12-step program. No sugar, no flour, no nothing. I will continue to look for post-op support groups. Though it has worked for many and I respect that, I don't see myself being able to embrace the 12-step model. I will continue to research post-op support groups.

So, I started looking up chocolate addiction, and when Googling the words "chocolate rehab", lo and behold, a British woman is writing a book called "Chocolate Rehab". It sounds like genius to me; I can't believe no one else has written it before. I hope it comes out soon. I found other websites of many different stripes, some claiming that chocolate was more addictive to the brain than cocaine and marijuana and may have similar effects (!).

I found an academic paper from the Journal of Affective Disorders that was fascinating--it was debating whether or not chocolate had antidepressant effects. The writers argued that chocolate craving and chocolate emotional eating were two entirely different things, although they could both exist in the same person. Some studies have shown that seasonal affective disorder and atypical depression sufferers who tend to self-medicate are able to achieve some elevation in their serotonin levels by ingesting chocolate, but the writers of this paper argued that chocolate would not be as effective as other foods or chemicals in achieving this result, yet chocolate is the specific substance craved. The paper's writers ultimately come to a similar conclusion regarding the possibility of chocolate cravings as the result of a magnesium deficiency, providing evidence that other foods would be more effective in making up the difference there, but would not satisfy a chocolate craving, possibly because of the uniquely appealing texture, aroma and taste of chocolate.

The paper went on to define emotional eating and conclude that it failed to produce any real or lasting benefit to a psychological or mood state, and that continued or elevated emotional eating could actually contribute negatively to mood. (I think anyone who's ever been a binge eater would be able to vouch for that.)

Though food craving shares some of the same features of drug addiction, the writers of the paper point out, they found no consensus that food craving qualifies as an actual addiction. They cite the possible reason for this as different reasons for craving drugs vs. craving chocolate--craving drugs is related to a physiological requirement by the body to put it into a certain altered state that alleviates a negative state of "low", where craving chocolate is related to the sheer "hedonic experience" or pleasurable sensation of smelling, tasting, and consuming it.

I found this paragraph interesting: "Chocolate was not greatly preferred over other sweets for self-medication, even among chocoholics. Self-medication occurred most commonly in response to depression, tension and irritability, less often in response to anxiety, and least often to anger." (Indeed! How can one be angry while savoring a Ghirardelli creation? Nom nom nom...) "Anecdotal evidence indicates that chocoholics who are also emotional eaters only crave chocolate, but when stressed, they will crave any other carbohydrate." The paper ultimately concludes that chocolate is an indulgence that invokes pleasure and it may provide some comfort in emotional eaters, but that it is more likely to prolong depressive mood and so cannot be called an antidepressant.

So, basically, according to this paper, I am not an addict, I'm simply a hedonist. Do they have a Hedonists Anonymous?

No comments:

About Me

My photo
Seattle, WA, United States
This blog focuses largely on a personal journey to and through weight-loss surgery. It's also about reading, writing, animals, photography, love, humor, music, thinking out loud, and memes. In other
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.