Check out Dr Steven A Witherly, from the ViSalus Scientific Advisory Board, featured in Can Food Be As Addictive As a Drug article (October 2, 2011 New York Times Magazine). October 2, 2011
Can Food Be As Addictive As A Drug?
By MICHAEL MOSS
Addictive as a drug?
We crave certain foods so much that they seem addictive. Just thinking about cinnamon buns or pizza stimulates the release of the neural chemical dopamine, which can cause the brain to override the biological brakes that try to prevent overeating. According to 'Why Humans Like Junk Food', by a former Nestlé scientist named Steven A. Witherly, the brain especially loves mixtures of salt, sugar and fat and the emulsive textures of butter, mayonnaise and chocolate. Witherly has developed what he calls the food-pleasure equation, in which Pleasure = Sensation + Calories. When we eat a combination of sugar, fat and salt, he says, we get a huge synergistic bang, first in the parts of the brain that register pleasure and then in the gut, which detects and responds more favorably to the high calories in sugar and fat. It's caveman stuff, going back to when we learned to eat big-calorie foods to survive.
But can cravings for sweet or salt or fat be classified as actually, legitimately addictive? The processed-food industry doesn't much like the A-word, preferring its own coinage: craveability. With financing from the World Sugar Research Organization, whose sponsors include Coca-Cola, the Welsh psychology professor David Benton has argued that food cravings do not meet the technical requirements of addiction. (Among other examples, fasting the food equivalent of needing a hit doesn't result in enhanced cravings.) The American Beverage Association paid for a 2006 review that makes a similar argument about caffeine. While some may ingest the stimulant to suppress withdrawal symptoms, the study declared, caffeine does no harm to the individual or to society, and its users are not compelled to consume it.
The junk-food industry may have a point. Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says that drugs can set off brain responses that are far more powerful than those caused by even the most luscious food. On the other hand, she notes, clearly, processed sugar in certain individuals can produce these compulsive patterns of intake. The difficulty of trying to kick a food habit, however, is that you can't just go cold turkey from all food. Still, the best strategy for the afflicted, according to Volkow, is to mimic drug programs and completely avoid foods that cause the most trouble. Don't try to limit yourself to two Oreo cookies, because if the reward is very potent, no matter how good your intentions are, you are not going to be able to control it.