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The dangers of food addiction

What is food addiction?
What is food addiction? 02:06

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Food, air, and water are the elements we all need to survive.

But our relationship with food can be unhealthy, leading to several problems. Specifically, a recent poll found many of us are addicted to highly processed foods.

And addicted is the correct word.

We are talking about sweets, salty snacks, sugary drinks, and fast food. Another word for those kinds of foods is hyper-palatable foods.

"It's a food that studies have shown really highjack areas in the brain," according to registered dietician Kristin Kirkpatrick of Cleveland Clinic.

In other words, they are not doing for you what they think they are.

"They'll make you feel great; that's one thing they'll do. They'll take away the sensation of fullness. When we look at something that is hyper-palatable, it's very hard to stop eating that."

Kirkpatrick said your desire for those foods can be caused by a lot of factors.

"We have studies that look at food addiction and looking at trauma in childhood," Kirkpatrick added.

She said the reasons vary from person to person, some set off by a person or the need to cope.

"We have studies looking at if your parents were alcoholics. There was a new study showing that you were more likely to be going into food addiction."

It is not just about your need for nourishment, either.

"There are a lot of things outside of the dietetic world that is more in the mental health world," Kirkpatrick noted.

Kirkpatrick said a therapist can help you determine why you're food addicted and how to break the cycle.

So, it is not just about cutting out fast food and other items you know are unhealthy for you, right?

Not according to Kirkpatrick. Usually, there is something deeper that is the cause, and you need to figure that out. That is not to say she does not have some helpful ideas, either.

Ways to fight food addiction 02:37

Are you food addicted? Does food control you, rather than you control it?

A recent study found one out of every eight Americans over 50 are food addicted, and food addiction can lead to poor mental health, among other issues.

The study out of the University of Michigan noted the indicators of food addiction include intense cravings, inability to cut down on intake, and signs of withdrawal when we try.

We eat because our bodies need nourishment, but researchers in this study said our brains respond strongly to highly-processed foods high in sugar, starches, and fat.

"A hot dog combines fat and salt; that is a hyper-palatable food. Any food that combines two of those factors: fat, salt, or refined carbohydrate is going to fall into that hyper-palatable."

The study found one in four of us experiences a strong urge to eat something highly-processed. It is an urge so strong that you cannot think of anything else.

Kirkpatrick said the key to successful change starts with someone to talk with as that first line of defense because we are looking at something that is a psychological disorder and not a food disorder.

Try to determine your triggers.

"If it is associated with certain behaviors, a certain person, whatever that may be, that's why a therapist is going to be crucial to work with you to talk through how to work through it outside of food," Kirkpatrick said.

You know it is time to reach out when your food addiction isolates you.

"Avoidance is not going to social events or hanging out with friends because you may not be able to engage in those environments with binge eating and things like that."

Or eating at odd hours and not being able to stop. Once you know the cause, do the food assessment.

"What is in my house that is really hyper-palatable?"

Once identified, get rid of it if you cannot resist it.

As for talking to someone, it can be a counselor, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. Someone who can help find you understand why you eat.

Culling your pantry of hyper-palatable foods is important.

If you eat healthier, you are going to feel better physically and mentally.

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