Bariatric Surgery and Food Addiction

food addictionMillions of Americans have addictions – drugs, alcohol, gambling, cigarettes – and they feel powerless to stop abusing whatever it is. Food addiction is no different. As a matter of fact, some studies show that food addiction is one of the most common in our country. Turning to food to cope with feelings of low self-worth, which in turn causes guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, and myriad of other problems, the food addict seeks to soothe unpleasant feelings by eating, and there are bio-chemical reasons along with psychological reasons why food does help allay the feelings temporarily. The body naturally releases certain hormones when faced with stress, and eating certain things can mimic and/or increase mood enhancing serotonin among other substances, but this vicious cycle cannot only be devastating to the mind and soul, but also to the body as the food addict gains more weight and continues to feel like a failure when they can’t lose.

Bariatric surgery has become one of the most effective means of weight loss for the morbidly obese, and the benefits obtained by successful surgery have been shown to outweigh any risks associated with the surgery. However, although the surgery can physically help by restricting food intake, does it help with food addictions and the cravings of an addict?

Recent studies suggest that bariatric surgery can do just that. Weight-loss surgery is widely known to decrease patient’s desire to eat, but it is unknown how it might affect patients who meet the criteria of food addict before surgery. (Some studies show that up to 80-90% of bariatric patients are food addicts before surgery.) One study by the Center for Human Nutrition and Atkins Center of Excellence in Obesity Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO, found that surgery decreased food cravings in both food addicts and non-addicts, but the decrease was greater in patients addicted to food. Addicted patients craved foods more frequently before, but not after surgery. “Our findings demonstrate that weight loss can induce remission of food addiction, even though subjects are still obese,” the authors write. “These data suggest that obesity itself does not cause food addiction, but that food addiction is a contributing, but modifiable, risk factor for obesity…”

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