Overeating Could be Due to Brain Chemistry Malfunction
Halloween just passed and some of us may have overstuffed on candy. Do you ever wonder why some people crave and eat way more junk than others? Why is it that some people have incredible control over their diet and others are out of control?
Struggling with out-of-control eating can feel like an addiction and it very well can be. The fact is that overeating is not about self-control or willpower; it comes down to our brain chemistry.
Overeating and Reward Deficiency Syndrome
Researcher Kenneth Blum suggests that overeating is due to something he calls reward deficiency syndrome or RDS. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure. As we know, dopamine is responsible for addiction because addicts chase the high that drugs given when it releases a rush of dopamine in their brains. RDS involves a failure in the brain’s dopamine reward system.
Most people find eating to be very pleasurable. However, people who have RDS have few dopamine receptors. When they eat, the full effect of dopamine in the brain is not felt. So what happens? You eat more and more trying to achieve that full dopamine effect. Meanwhile, your friend who has a natural amount of dopamine receptors is satisfied with less food than you are. So as she finishes eating, you continue to eat to desperately trying to boost your brain levels of dopamine.
It gets worse. As if that was not bad enough, your brain chemistry can play another trick on you. Normally, the brain motivates us to repeat activities that are life sustaining by connecting them with feelings of pleasure. This is why we crave food and sex: they’re essential to survival.
However, the hardwiring of our brains can malfunction. Overeating to comfort yourself or numb emotional pain causes the brain to believe that overeating is essential to survival so you want to keep eating and eventually you become obsessed with eating. You may start to binge on foods you feel are comforting.
Often you become depressed because you feel out of control from all of your overeating. Your depression makes you want to eat more and more and the cycle never stops unless you get professional help.
When you have RDS, the scarcity of dopamine makes it harder for you to feel pleasure. You seek more and more of things that do bring you some pleasure and your brain makes you feel like eating an entire pizza pie to yourself or chowing down on chicken wings is a matter of life or death. This entire process applies to any sort of addiction.
So what’s the solution?
Now that you know what’s going on in your brain, you probably want to know how to fix it.
First you have to forgive yourself for your food addiction. It is not entirely your fault since food addiction is a matter of brain chemistry and not just a personal weakness. Understanding your food addiction due to RDS allows you to move away from self-blame.
Recovery is a matter of healing your brain chemistry. There are many things that can help you overcome this. Alcoholism has a similar effect on the brain and it can be treated through social and spiritual support. In addition, it is a great idea to start making changes in your diet and start a healthy exercise routine. Exercises releases dopamine in the brain so overtime, the food cravings will decrease.
Seek professional help for your food addiction. Your psychiatrist may recommend that you take psychotics like antidepressants and antianxiety medication that are effective in increasing the dopamine levels in your brain. It really is hard to tell what solution will be right for you until you seek professional help. Another idea is to join a support group like Overeaters Anonymous that can help you connect to others who are just like you and keep you accountable
No matter what method you use to overcome your addiction, remember you are not alone. It is finally time to get the help you’ve needed for so long. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.