Texas Tech University

Experts Available to Discuss Increasing Rates of Food Addiction and Its Role in Obesity Epidemic

Heidi Toth

January 25, 2016

Texas Tech University experts Cynthia Dsuza, assistant professor of addictive disorders and recovery studies, and Allison Childress, nutritional sciences instructor, are available to discuss food addiction.

As awareness about addictions and disordered eating arise, two researchers at Texas Tech University are examining food addiction, its effect on the brain, the gastrointestinal symptom and how to recognize and treat it.

Cynthia Dsauza, an assistant professor of addictive disorders and recovery studies, and Allison Childress, a registered dietitian and nutritional sciences instructor, are in the early stages of a study examining the biochemical markers of hunger and satiety and will eventually include clinical trials to compare people with food addiction and those without in several areas of functioning. Their collaboration came about after working with clients who struggled to lose weight despite having the knowledge and tools necessary to do so.

The study also will look at how food addiction compares to drug addiction in its effects in the brain.

Dsauza studies binge eating disorders and food addiction. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked in mental health for seven years; she also works with the Obesity Research Cluster at Texas Tech. She has spoken to various nutrition and dietetics organizations about her research in disordered eating.

Childress is director of the didactic program in dietetics and a nutritional sciences instructor. She is certified in sports dietetics and as a personal trainer. She specializes in cardiac, pediatric and geriatric dietetics, sports nutrition and weight management counseling. She is on the board of directors of the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and has twice been named an Everyday Hero by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Cynthia Dsauza, assistant professor of addictive disorders and recovery studies, (806) 834-7335 or cm.dsauza@ttu.edu

Allison Childress, nutritional sciences instructor, (806) 834-6371 or allison.childress@ttu.edu

Talking Points
• There is no universal definition for food addiction, nor is there a gold standard for treatment, although previous studies have established food addiction exists.
• There is more and more evidence that certain types of food can be addictive. Those most likely to be are foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat (or a delicious combination of the three), such as pizza, chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries, cheeseburgers, soda, cake and cheese.
• Three regions in the brain deal with addiction: the amygdala, prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. The dopamine system is activated through the circuitry of these regions and is thought to be an essential aspect of drug/alcohol, and possibly food, seeking. Triggers such as pictures, smells and memories of foods can release dopamine into the nucleus accumbens in the hope of a "rewarding event."
• As people seek out ways to satisfy these cravings, they develop a strong association between trigger and satisfaction.
• Because food addiction is a newly recognized type of disordered eating, many doctors fail to recognize it. However, a patient should seek out not only his or her primary care physician for guidance but also a dietitian and licensed mental health provider.
• Obesity and food addiction can be related, although not always. Typically as body mass index increases food addiction symptoms increase. However, a person can be at a normal weight and still suffer from food addiction.

Symptoms of food addiction
• Cravings for certain foods
• Often eating much more than intended
• Eating to the point of feeling excessively full
• Feeling guilty after eating particular foods, yet eating them again despite intentions not to
• Making excuses about eating something one is craving
• Repeatedly trying to quit eating certain foods or setting rules around those foods, but not succeeding at those attempts
• Hiding consumption of unhealthy foods from others
• Unable to control consumption of unhealthy foods despite causing physical harm, including weight gain

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