The recovering food addict who overcame cravings, binging and withdrawal by re-training her brain
16:24 GMT, 25 September 2012
23:00 GMT, 25 September 2012
More American's die from obesity every year than all cancers combined, and a leading cause could be food addiction.
Dr Pamela Peeke, author of the new book The Hunger Fix, explains that food can be as addictive as cocaine with some people experiencing cravings, binging and withdrawal.
Tara Costa, a 22-year-old former
plus-size model is a recovering food addict. She tipped the scales at
316lbs after an out of control daily diet of 'chicken wings, a pint of ice cream, and waffle fries smothered in cheese and gravy.'
Recovering food addict: Tara Costa, 22, lost 155lbs after she realised her weight battles weren't just against her body, but against her mind, which craved food like it would drugs or alcohol
That meal alone was probably around 6,000 calories, if not more,' she said.
Changes that happen within the brain's reward system are identical 'whether it's drugs, alcohol, or food,' Dr Peeke, a scientist, physician and nutrition expert, revealed to ABC News. 'Which is why my patients tell me, “I need a hit.”'
Ms Costa became a contestant on The Biggest Loser, losing 155lbs. But as her weight started to creep back, she realised she was battling both her body, and her mind.
She said: 'Now it's not about willpower, it's about – there might be something wrong up here.
'It makes me feel good that, guess what, I'm not crazy. There's science now behind this that can help people.'
Recognizing the addiction: Ms Costa said said it was a relief to know she wasn't 'crazy' – 'there's science now behind this that can help people,' she said
Scientific evidence: Changes that happen within the brain's reward system are identical whether it's drugs, alcohol, or food says Dr Pamela Peeke
Dr Peeke, who helped Ms Costa recognize her addiction, said: 'It's mixture of what we call the hyper-palatable ingredients and these are uber rewarding to the reward system.
'In the brain, organically in the reward system, you're secreting lots of that wonderful pleasure reward brain chemical called dopamine, and it's coming out, and it's just giving you that fantastic feeling of, “Wow, this is wonderful.”'
Her prescription to get food addicts rehabilitated is a system featured her book The Hunger Fix, which aims to re-train the brain.
Called the three 'M's': Mind, Mouth, Muscle, Dr Peeke said people should identity the snacks they crave the most and then use meditation to reduce the urges.
Tricking the brain: Dr Pamela Peeke (right) urges people to replace unhealthy 'food fixes' with foods that are whole, and natural – but just as delicious
Step by step: Dr Peeke explains people should identity the snacks they crave the most and then use meditation to reduce the urges
'This is not a New Age moment,' she
said. 'This is hardcore neuroscience. You activate that brain CEO when
you do meditation, and by doing so, guess what, you're powering up the
brain to be able to stay vigilant.'
Step two is 'tricking the mouth', where Dr Peeke urges people to replace unhealthy 'food fixes' with foods that are whole, and natural – but just as delicious.
The Hunger Fix: Dr Peeke's new book features a system to re-train the brain called the three 'M's': Mind, Mouth, Muscle
For example, instead of reaching for the
ice cream, she says people should try a chocolate, cheery and almond
protein smoothie; or instead of a protein bar, eat a banana with peanut
She explained: 'What I'm doing is I'm trying to make sure people understand they can get a healthy high without it having to be high-jacked in their reward system by all these sugary fatty, salty food combinations.'
Her third step, working out regularly, can stave off cravings and reward brains with endorphins instead of sugar.
'When you do things like physical activity, you also induce changes in your genes, in your actual genes. It's a new science called epigenetics.
'So what happens is if you actually have genes that place you at higher vulnerability for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer. When you do physical activity, you dampen down that. You deactivate a certain percentage of those genes,' she explained.
While Ms Costa said she will be a recovering food addict for the rest of her
life, being able to accept her addiction is its own
'I wish I could be normal with it,' she said. 'I wish I could have one
bite and be satisfied and that be it, but you know what, I have hope, I
have hope that it will be OK'.