Exposing the High Cost of Food Addiction

For over twenty years I was addicted to the Standard America Diet, and as a result I overate and became 100 lbs overweight. Consequently, I developed several nutritional diseases: heart disease, pre diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis, chronic bronchitis, and boils; just to name a few. And to maintain that obese state I had to consume at least 3700 calories a day.  

Last year I calculated the average food expenses of my indulgent eating habit and was nearly shocked at what I discovered. 

Basically, I was eating in excess of $4,500 / year than I am now as a Nutritarian. My entanglement with the Standard America Diet drained at least $90,000 from the family budget over a 20 year period of time! 

Numbers don’t lie. The following is the cost comparison of weekly food expenses for one person, Yours truly, Emily Boller:

 

THEN

 

 

NOW

 

 1 loaf of bread

3.90

 

 lettuce

10.00

 ½ lb of butter

2.00

 

 kale, collards, spinach

10.00

 honey

2.00

 

 colorful vegetables

10.00

 peanut butter

3.50

 

 fresh fruit

20.00

 2 bottles of dressing

5.00

 

 frozen fruit

 7.00

 1 lb cheese

5.00

 

 nuts/seeds/flax

 7.00

 32 oz. yogurt

7.00

 

 oats (on occasion)

 3.00

 32 oz. cottage cheese

6.00

 

 mushrooms

 7.00

 microwave popcorn

7.00

 

 onions

 3.00

 1 gallon of milk

3.50

 

 beans (dry / bulk)

 5.00

 2 quarts ice cream

7.00

 

 tomato paste

 5.00

 candy

7.00

 

 TOTAL

87.00

 processed cereal

7.00

     

 mixed vegetables

5.00

     

 lettuce

7.00

     

 carrots

2.00

     

 chips & crackers

7.00

     

 fruit

7.00

     

 cookies

5.00

     

 frozen pizza

5.00

     

 lasagna

3.00

     

 meatloaf

3.00

     

 chicken breasts

6.00

     

 roast beef

3.00

     

 deli meats

5.00

     

 mayonnaise

2.00

     

 macaroni and cheese

3.00

     

 garlic bread

3.00

     

 rolls and biscuits

3.00

     

 Subway meal

7.00

     

 diet sodas

14.00

     

 Dairy Queen

5.00

     

 chewing gum

2.00

     

 ice cream novelties

4.00

     

 TOTAL

166.90

 

 

 

 

THEN: $166.90* / week = $8,678.80 / year

*This amount excludes coffee and alcohol addiction; this number would've been much higher with daily stops at Starbucks or alcohol purchases.  Also, I was "only" 100 lbs. overweight so this amount would've been much higher if I would've been heavier as well.

 

NOW:   $ 87.00* / week = $4,524.00 / year

*This amount excludes backyard gardening; this number can be significantly reduced with homegrown produce.

 

 

 

Add to my former expenses a quarterly visit to an endocrinologist and a cardiologist, lab tests, surgical procedures, hospitalizations, and the various prescription and over-the-counter drugs that I had to take . . . .gluttony not only robbed me and my family of a quality life, it drained the budget as well, big time!

None of us can afford being addicted to the Standard American Diet. Food addiction is nothing to joke about. It robs and destroys health, relationships, careers, dreams, and financial resources. Instead, making the commitment to Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian approach is not only health promoting, it is cost effective as well. 

 

Here’s to great health, a quality life, and money in the bank to all!

A Young Adult Kicks the Junk Food Habit

Ruth is a newlywed with a full-time job and active lifestyle who has successfully learned to embrace the nutritarian diet-style 100%. Even though she was raised on the typical standard American diet of “home cooked meals” and fast food, and was addicted to junk food, she’s been a Nutritarian for a couple of years now and loves it. Welcome to Disease Proof, Ruth.

What was your life like before discovering Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian approach?

I grew up in a home where the evening meal usually consisted of a main entrée such as spaghetti, lasagna, meatloaf, roast beef, fried chicken, stir fry, or pizza; and bread, butter and milk were staples at every meal. And on busy nights we ate plenty of fast food as well. Breakfast was usually a bowl of processed cereal and milk, and lunch was a deli meat sandwich, chicken nuggets, pizza pockets, or macaroni and cheese. We always had sweets available to eat so I loved cookies, ice cream and chocolates of all kinds.

When I could drive, I had a part-time job at a coffee shop that sold baked goods. At closing, employees could take home the day’s leftovers that didn’t sell: yeast rolls, cinnamon rolls, scones, cookies, etc., and consequently I became addicted to coffee drinks and sweets; in fact, by my late teen years I didn’t eat much else. However, I was tired and sick all the time. I had colds continually and took over-the-counter meds to treat the symptoms. 

 

How did you find out about Dr. Fuhrman? 

My mom had lost a lot of weight by following his nutritarian diet-style and felt so much better, which inspired me. She gave me a copy of Eat for Health, and after reading it, I applied some of the information. Over time, as I learned more, I eventually committed 100%; both feet in.

 

How do you feel now?

I have so much more energy now, and I never get sick. I haven’t had a sick day from work since fully committing to eating this way. My skin is clear, and I’ve noticed that I don’t have bad breath or body odor anymore, and I’m also thirty pounds less than what I weighed in high school. The energy I now have enables me to keep up with a full-time job and active lifestyle. 

 

What are your success tips?

 

  • No matter how busy life gets I always make time for shopping and food prep. I spend less than an hour a week cleaning and cutting up all the vegetables. This is a time saver when I’m in a hurry and need to pack my lunch, assemble a salad, or make dinner.

  • I drink a green smoothie in the mornings after my workout and before I leave for work. It energizes me, and I feel so good to start the day.

 

Congratulations Ruth for taking the necessary steps to kick the junk food habit and live in the best health that’s possible!

 

What is it Like to be Free from Food Addiction?

Felicia was recently interviewed on Disease Proof. [click here to read her interview]  She’s lost over 160 lbs in less than a year, and she’s still losing!  I asked her if she’d be willing to share what her life is like now that she's free from food addiction, and she wrote the following. May it inspire you with renewed hope and encouragement in your journey to live in the best health that’s possible!

 

What is it like to be free from food addiction?

by Felicia Ricks

 

The definition of addiction according to the dictionary is “a compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit forming substance.”

I never thought of food as a habit forming substance, but I always thought of it as a necessary requirement for the body to survive. It wasn’t until I heard Dr. Fuhrman talk about toxic hunger that I came to the realization that I had a food addiction and had a compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit forming substance.

When I initially started on Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian program, I experienced toxic hunger and I didn’t feel very well for several days. I asked myself, “Is this how drug addicts feel when they’re going through detoxification? This doesn’t feel good at all!” Although, I was experiencing some withdrawal symptoms I was determined to break the vicious cycle of food addiction by not eating the foods that caused the addiction. After enduring the “not so good days” I noticed that I wasn’t jittery, the headaches were non-existent and I didn’t feel the desire to put a Snickers bar in my mouth. I knew I was on the road to recovery.

Being free from my food addiction was an answered prayer because one of my prayers was to be self-controlled in my eating habits. However for many, many, years I was never able to consistently maintain self-control. It wasn’t until I totally committed to eating the foods that were originally intended for our bodies to absorb and digest such as, green vegetables, berries, onions, mushrooms, beans, seeds/nuts (GBOMBS) and COMPLETELY eliminated the refined, sugary, processed and synthetic foods and drinks, that I began to feel spiritually and physically liberated. I feel as though I am no longer bound and enslaved by the self-inflicted chains of food addiction and I am no longer defiling my body. I also feel as though a weight, figuratively and literally has been lifted from me and now I can honestly and unequivocally say that, “I am free indeed!”

Thank you Dr. Fuhrman for spreading the message and informing people about the benefits of healthy nutrition. Also for holding fast to the statement by Hippocrates, “Food shall be your medicine and your medicine shall be your food.”

 

“It will take strength. It will take effort. But the pleasure and rewards that you will get from a healthy life will be priceless.”
-Dr. Fuhrman

 

 

 

 

 

image credit:  flickr by Marin Cathrae

Have a plan and stick to it

Getting out and staying out of food addiction isn't that hard per se, but one must be vigilant and persistent at all times. 

I liken it to learning to ride a bike. 

A beginner may have some spills before he/she learns proper balancing skills to ride a bike without falling.  It may even take some extra reinforcement like a parent’s helpful hand of guidance, or a pair of training wheels attached to the bike for stability, but eventually with practice, one learns to successfully ride without thinking about it anymore. Riding a bike becomes automatic, and then one is no longer focused on the learning process, but instead enjoys the pure pleasure of the scenic ride.  

However, one must always be careful not to ride too fast on gravel, not to ride near the edge of pavement, and pay close attention to busy intersections; otherwise a major accident could happen, even to the most seasoned cyclist.  Likewise, I’ve learned that it still takes careful planning and diligence on my part to continue to make wise choices that prevent me from wandering back into food addiction.  

For instance, it’s typically my habit to get up at the same time every morning, sit and read with the therapeutic light, exercise, and then shower and get ready for the day. Those times that I make repetitive, unwise choices like staying up too late the night before, resulting in my early morning routine thrown out the window – if habitually repeated, I eventually become psychologically out-of-sorts . . . and then I become apathetic. [I’m not referring to an occasional late night or two here and there, because life happens, but repetitive poor planning stringed together for several days on end.]

For me, apathy is dangerous, because the “I don’t care” attitude is the stepping stone into the slippery slope of addiction.  Even with the physiological cravings for the standard American diet gone; practically off the radar screen of desire anymore, I could still revert back to psychological and emotional attachments to food if I’m not careful. I could easily eat oat bars with almond butter when stressed, or fruit sweetened ice-cream when not hungry.

For recovering food addicts it’s important not to fall prey to the “I don’t care” trap as a result of poor planning and unwise choices.

Have a plan and stick to it, no matter what ~ one of the keys to ongoing success.   

 

 

image credits:  flckr by paulhami and Team Traveller

Dopamine: why "just one bite" doesn't work

The science on food addiction has now established that highly palatable foods (low-nutrient, high-calorie, intensely sweet, salty, and/or fatty foods - those that make up the majority of the Standard American Diet) produces the exact biochemical effects in the brain that are characteristic of substance abuse.

Junk food is ubiquitously available, legal, cheap, and socially accepted; therefore, it becomes the drug of choice for many of us.

The following are some characteristics of addiction to a substance or behavior:1

  • Compulsive use of the substance despite negative health and social consequences
  • Tolerance - over time, progressively greater amounts of the substance are needed to reach and maintain the “high”
  • Withdrawal symptoms (toxic hunger) when the substance is discontinued
  • Activation of reward pathways (including the dopamine system) in the brain

Many of us have had the experience of tasting a junk food or dessert, and then feeling the intense demand from our brain: “MORE!” We feel a complete lack of control, and our commitment to excellent health all of a sudden doesn’t matter. These feelings originate from the dopamine reward system – dopamine is a neurochemical that regulates motivation, pleasure, and reinforcement related to certain stimuli – such as food.  The amount of pleasure we derive from eating a food correlates with the amount of dopamine released in the brain.2

Cookies. Flickr: Rochelle, just rochelle

Obese individuals have a diminished number of dopamine receptors

Obese humans are known to have fewer dopamine receptors (called D2 receptors) compared to lean individuals –their reward response from food is not as sensitive and it is thought that they compensate by overeating.1,3

Overeating blunts the dopamine reward response, encouraging more overeating

Why do obese individuals have lower numbers of dopamine receptors? In substance abuse, over time the brain adapts by downregulating dopamine receptors. It turns out the same happens in overeating.4 A 2011 study revealed that women who had gained a significant amount of weight over a 6-month period reduced their dopamine system response to palatable food over that time period. Similar reductions in the reward response to palatable foods have been reported in women with bulimia nervosa. These results suggest that overeating diminishes the reward from palatable food, driving further overeating and future weight gain.5,7

Desire for highly palatable food is intensified in obese individuals and overeaters

Although actual dopamine reward is diminished in obese individuals compared to lean individuals, dopamine release in response to pictures of palatable food is actually enhanced.4,6

In summary, recent research suggests that overeating and obesity cause greater desire for palatable food, but diminished reward from consuming palatable food - resulting in a progressively worsening addiction.

Our level of susceptibility to addictive behaviors varies by genetic predisposition and emotional state. Nevertheless, highly palatable food has physiologically addictive properties that will make almost anyone experience a lack of control.  “Just one bite” doesn’t work because that single bite activates the dopamine reward system, causing the brain to demand more.  Willpower, logic, and common sense are no match for addictive drives. As with other addictions, recovery requires abstaining from the addictive substance. An alcoholic can’t have “just one drink” without grave risk of relapse. The same is true for food addicts.

Natural plant foods are not as intensely sweet, salty, or fatty as the processed junk foods that are purposely engineered to excite our reward systems.  Eating whole, natural foods provides enjoyment of taste without activating addictive drives.  

Be vigilant this holiday season – stick to the foods that nourish you, and steer clear of any foods that cause you to lose control.   

Note: Addictive drives are powerful. If you are suffering from food addiction, make sure you read Eat to Live and take advantage of our supportive Member Center at DrFuhrman.comSupport from others can help you stay on track with your health goals and prevent relapse.

 

References:

1.         Taylor VH, Curtis CM, Davis C: The obesity epidemic: the role of addiction. CMAJ 2010;182:327-328.

2.         Small DM, Jones-Gotman M, Dagher A: Feeding-induced dopamine release in dorsal striatum correlates with meal pleasantness ratings in healthy human volunteers. Neuroimage 2003;19:1709-1715.

3.         Volkow ND, Wang GJ, Telang F, et al: Low dopamine striatal D2 receptors are associated with prefrontal metabolism in obese subjects: possible contributing factors. Neuroimage 2008;42:1537-1543.

4.         Gearhardt AN, Yokum S, Orr PT, et al: Neural correlates of food addiction. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2011;68:808-816.

5.         Stice E, Yokum S, Blum K, et al: Weight gain is associated with reduced striatal response to palatable food. J Neurosci 2010;30:13105-13109.

6.         Stoeckel LE, Weller RE, Cook EW, 3rd, et al: Widespread reward-system activation in obese women in response to pictures of high-calorie foods. Neuroimage 2008;41:636-647.

7.         Bohon C, Stice E: Reward abnormalities among women with full and subthreshold bulimia nervosa: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Int J Eat Disord 2011;44:585-595.

But it would cost

I got thinking the other day how different my life would’ve been if, as a toddler, beer would’ve been repeatedly put into my sippy cup. . . .and fake food & cigarettes would’ve been a negative stigma to even be around or touch.

And later on, as I got older, beer would’ve been served with my high-nutrient meals, including school lunches.   

Most likely I would’ve grown up not eating pizza, cheeseburgers, spaghetti, fried chicken, beef ‘n noodles, cheese, ice-cream cones, donuts, and chips. In fact, most likely, I would’ve probably thought they were disgusting. . . . just as disgusting to me as the lingering smoke and smell of cigarettes.

However, I’d probably be totally addicted to alcohol and not be able to function without it. Possibly even totally dependant upon the stuff to get me through each day. 

I’d seek friends who also liked to drink. 

I’d seek activities where drinking was encouraged. 

I’d even possibly seek religious and social affiliations where drinking was condoned.

I’d most definitely turn to alcohol to calm my nerves, celebrate victories, cheer sadness, cope with stress, overcome insecurities, escape pain and responsibilities, and soothe a bleeding heart.

However, if, on down the road, I realized the damaging affects of alcohol on my body; including my inability to think clearly, hold down a job, raise a family, and have healthy interpersonal relationships, I may decide to get rid of the stuff. Once and for all.

But it would cost.

It would cost abstinence for rest of my life.

It may possibly require developing new friends and activities. 

And it may even cost finding different religious and social affiliations that would support my decision to remain sober.  

Addiction is addiction. When one is addicted to any health damaging substance, whether it is the standard American diet, sugar, “healthy” sweets, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, heroine, or meth; to live in freedom from the addiction will require a radical commitment to abstinence. Including possibly finding new friends, activities, religious and social affiliations that support the decision to remain free . . . for life!

 

According to Dr. Fuhrman, “The facts are that fast food and junk foods cause a thousand times as many premature deaths compared to cocaine; and it’s condoned.”

 

Are you committed to abstinence?

Think about it.  

 

image:  Emily Boller circa 1964

Extinguish the pilot light; part 2

gas flame

Recently, in a post titled, “Extinguish the pilot light,” I explained how crucial it is to keep the pilot light of addiction, those seemingly insignificant-at-the-time compromises, extinguished at all times. 

I want to devote this post to clarifying the difference between an occasional slip-up and ongoing compromises. 

Slip-ups happen from time to time - they just do – it’s a part of transitioning into a whole new way of eating and living for the rest of one’s life. There’s a learning curve, especially in the beginning, to understanding the science behind Dr. Fuhrman’s recommendations. 

For instance, I committed to Eat to Live in July 2008, and by that first Thanksgiving I thought it would be perfectly fine to eat the traditional feast. It never occurred to me that I’d get violently sick so I enjoyed the feasting and merriment with gusto. I quickly learned just how TERRIBLY toxic the standard American diet was ~ even though I knew from my studying that it was poisonous to the body.

And I've had plenty of slip-ups since then. I wish I could say that I've been perfect at all times, but I haven't.

Even with eating only high-nutrient foods and having cravings for fake food gone as a result, I've eaten beyond "before full." I've eaten as a result of being frustrated. I've eaten for stimulation because I was tired. And I've eaten for recreation with others when I wasn't a bit hungry. However, and a big however, each time I quickly realized my error and moved on quickly; contending with all strength to keep going!

I want to make clear that the pilot light that I'm referring to is the intentional decision to choose compromises, aka “cheats”, on a regular basis. These habitual choices, even if they are seemingly insignificant at the time, are the pilot light.

 

The willful decision to see how much one can cheat and get by; how much one can straddle the fence, or how much one can habitually overeat . . . . and still keep the addiction eradicated . . . . that’s what I'm referring to as being the next-to-impossible feat to accomplish.

 

It can't be done!

 

I repeat ~ it can't be done.

 

With repetitive compromises, the addictive cravings are rumbling beneath the surface, and it just takes a tiny spark to ignite them to full strength and power!

For one to be truly free, the pilot light needs to be extinguished and remain that way . . . .for life.

AND to live in denial of food addiction's power is to remain its prisoner, or worse yet, the path right back to captivity.

Choose the easy way and keep the pilot light extinguished at all times.  

Continual freedom and excellent health to all!

 

celebration

 

Image credits: gas flame: flickr by stevendepolo; celebration: by Elijah Lynn

Extinguish the pilot light

I grew up on a farm. In addition to an orchard my parents always put in a large garden every spring. It produced a bountiful harvest to can quarts of green beans, tomatoes, tomato sauces & juices, corn, peas, beets, and pickles . . . .enough to last a family throughout the winter, with plenty of surplus leftover to sell along the road.  From mid-July until school started every fall, snapping beans, shelling peas, shredding cabbage, shucking corn, and washing tomatoes, pickles, carrots and beets for preservation were a huge part of summer.

Most farmhouses had a “summer kitchen.” It was a nifty, second kitchen; away from the main part of the house and used for the stifling hot process of canning the vegetables, making jams and applesauce, and baking fruit pies and apple cakes for the freezer. Since residential air conditioning was practically unheard of when I was a kid, the house stayed cooler by not heating up the regular kitchen. 

In the southwest corner of this room was an old gas stove. I was taught from an early age to respect the pilot light that remained continuously lit. As in all gas stoves, the purpose of this pilot light was to serve as the ignition source for more powerful flames; ones that could produce the necessary heat to cook and preserve food.  

My mom would strike a small, wooden match and hold it near the burner. Instantly it would ignite into a full, explosive flame. 

                               ________________________________

 

Fast forward about forty years. I’m now a fifty-year-old woman who has lost weight and restored health by nourishing my body with high-nutrient, plant foods. As a result of flooding my body with nutrients, combined with consistently abstaining from the standard American diet, addictive cravings for high fat, high salt, processed & sugary foods have been eradicated from my life. 

Because of this, I’m routinely asked:

  • How closely do I really have to follow Eat to Live?” 
  • How many times a month can I cheat and still have success?
  • I’m not hard core, but I follow the plan about 85% of the time; that’s good enough, isn’t it?”   

Of which my classic answer to all three questions is, “It all depends on how hard you want to make it on yourself.” 

 

It’s much easier and simpler to give 100% right from the beginning and keep the pilot light of addictive cravings extinguished, than to be continually fighting obsessive compulsions that are brewing beneath the surface. Been there. Done that. And it’s hard, hard work to keep cravings from becoming an all-consuming monster. In fact, it’s exhausting because it’s a next-to-impossible feat to accomplish!

 

Plus, it only takes the tiniest spark to ignite the pilot light of cravings to full power again, and that’s THE most dangerous place to live! 

One can do all the work of routinely preparing and eating high-nutrient foods, and get the majority of one’s health restored; but it may only take an emergency phone call, or a sudden traumatic event, or a stress-filled day with the kids to instantly ignite the raging flame of addiction.  

It’s just not worth it. 

Give yourself a break today and make life so much easier.

Give 100% and extinguish the pilot light!      

 

 

 

image credits:  tomatoes, flickr by MaplessInSeattle; match, flickr by Samuel M. Livingston  

Eating occasions revisited

 

Last summer I wrote about the new scientific phrase called, “Eating Occasions.” You know, those times that we eat in response to stress, boredom, sadness, grief, happiness, excitement, loneliness, fatigue, nervousness, and frustration; just to name a few. Or those times that we eat because the clock strikes a certain hour; or we’re at a social event where food abounds and we just ate dinner ~ but we nibble anyway ‘cause everyone else is doing it. 

It’s so easy to succumb to Eating Occasions. In fact, I’ve realized that I’ve had to overcome two addictions in order to lose weight and keep it off. 

  • First, I had to get rid of toxic cravings for highly processed, highly salted, and high fat foods. Check. That was relatively easy for me to accomplish because it was a black and white plan to follow. Basically, if one faithfully adheres to the six week eating plan in Eat to Live, with little to no deviance, bingo, the addictive desire for the standard American diet (SAD) diminishes and then eventually goes away. In fact, the body actually craves high nutrient foods instead, and SAD foods are literally disgusting! Seriously. That sounds over simplistic, but in all reality, that’s what genuinely happens when one carefully follows the six week plan. 
  • Second, I’ve had to overcome eating when not truly hungry. This addiction has been definitely more challenging for me to conquer. Even with over 2 ½ years of nutritarian eating under my belt, I can still succumb to this nemesis at times ~ it’s a culturally acceptable habit that’s engrained into the very fiber of my being. 

Dr. Fuhrman repeatedly states that frequent eating, or eating when not truly hungry leads to higher caloric intake; and that it’s important to get in touch with instinctual signals for hunger that directs the body how to eat and not to overeat. He says that we’ll discover that we really only need about half to two-thirds the amount of food that we thought we did. Otherwise, habitual overeating will lead to excess fat that produces a lifetime of needless and ongoing suffering. 

As with any unhealthy addiction, it’s totally worth every effort to continually contend to overcome overeating. We need to seriously ask ourselves, “Are we eating to satisfy the body’s need for nourishment, or are we obliviously caught up in eating occasions?” 

A quick tune-up of the mind is much easier and cheaper than a major overhaul of the body.  May we all choose to eat for health today! 

 

image credit:  flickr by Kirstea

Children may 'inherit' their mothers' diets

Recent studies suggest that a mother’s food habits during pregnancy have an impact on her child’s future food preferences.

Pregnant woman. Flickr: Vivian Chen

More and more often, we are seeing reports from scientists that high-sugar and high-fat foods influence the reward pathways in the brain – in essence, these foods have addictive properties.  Human brain imaging studies have confirmed that overeating and addictive eating behaviors are associated with abnormal brain activity in dopamine reward circuits, and this is similar to the activity characteristic of drug addiction.1-3

One recent study has taken this data a step further – they have shown that consumption of a high-sugar, high-fat diet (junk food diet) by pregnant rats actually affected the development of the reward system in the brains of their pups.  When given a choice between standard food and junk food, the pups whose mothers were fed junk food chose to consume more junk food than other pups.4

These food preferences may be learned by the fetus through its developing sense of smell.  The development of the smell-processing area of the mouse pup’s brain (called the olfactory bulb) is influenced by scents that are concentrated in amniotic fluid, and these scents are determined in part by the mother’s diet.  In another recent study, a more flavorful diet containing stronger scents given to pregnant and nursing mice resulted in enhanced development of the olfactory bulb in their pups.  Also, when given a choice of food, these pups had a strong preference for the same diet their mothers had, whereas other pups had no preference.5

These studies suggest that a mother is actually able to “teach” her babies which foods are desirable based on what she eats during pregnancy and nursing.

Earlier studies found additional detrimental health effects on rat pups whose mothers ate a junk food diet (a diet composed of high-sugar, high-fat foods designed for human consumption) during pregnancy and nursing: these pups were more likely to be obese, were subject to more oxidative stress, were more likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and had impaired muscle development.6-9 Human studies have shown that parental obesity is associated with obesity at 7 years of age, and gestational weight gain is associated with body mass index at 3 years of age.10, 11  The overall message is that the eating habits of parents significantly affect children.

Of course, we cannot extrapolate the results of animal studies directly to humans.  However, these results do highlight the simple fact that the health of a developing baby is closely linked to the health of its mother.  Women do require extra calories when pregnant and nursing – we have all heard of the phrase “eating for two.”  These studies suggest that if the extra caloric requirement is met with oil-rich processed foods and sugary desserts instead of calorie dense whole plant foods, the baby’s food preferences and long-term health may be affected.  

Fetal development is a crucial time – it is common knowledge that pregnant women shouldn’t drink alcohol or smoke, because these things could harm the baby.  We know that unhealthy foods are damaging to the health of adult humans, so they are likely also damaging to a developing fetus. 

Every expectant mother wants a healthy baby, and in addition to the standard advice to avoid alcohol and cigarette smoke, it would be prudent to avoid unhealthy foods.

 

References:

1. Stice E, Yokum S, Burger KS, et al: Youth at risk for obesity show greater activation of striatal and somatosensory regions to food. J Neurosci 2011;31:4360-4366.

2. Stice E, Yokum S, Blum K, et al: Weight gain is associated with reduced striatal response to palatable food. J Neurosci 2010;30:13105-13109.

3. Gearhardt AN, Yokum S, Orr PT, et al: Neural Correlates of Food Addiction. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2011.

4. Ong ZY, Muhlhausler BS: Maternal "junk-food" feeding of rat dams alters food choices and development of the mesolimbic reward pathway in the offspring. FASEB J 2011.

5. Todrank J, Heth G, Restrepo D: Effects of in utero odorant exposure on neuroanatomical development of the olfactory bulb and odour preferences. Proc Biol Sci 2010.

6. Bayol SA, Farrington SJ, Stickland NC: A maternal 'junk food' diet in pregnancy and lactation promotes an exacerbated taste for 'junk food' and a greater propensity for obesity in rat offspring. Br J Nutr 2007;98:843-851.

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