If Santa really does stuff his face with every cookie he encounters after shimmying down those chimneys, that explains the big belly. But health and fitness expert Pam Peeke might say Saint Nick's behavior also could be a sign of something commonly found south of the North Pole: food addiction.
Peppermint bark pushers might sound significantly less nefarious than cocaine dealers, but they're offering folks the same surge of dopamine, Peeke explains in her new book, "The Hunger Fix." Peeke, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and founder of the Peeke Performance Center for Healthy Living, says that being hooked on food can be every bit as devastating as a drug addiction, and the only way to kick the habit is by undergoing detox and recovery.
Remember how you felt the last time you became one with the fruitcake?
"Raise your hand if you're tired of doing that again," says Peeke, who notes that food addiction spans a spectrum, starting with people who have just that one weakness. "They see jelly beans and they lose it. That can lead to a binge."
For others, there's an array of trigger foods, or what Peeke calls "false fixes," that consume their thoughts — and get consumed in vast quantities. Inevitably, it's stuff that's fatty, salty or sugary (or a combination thereof), rather than a crisp, juicy apple.
Peeke says a majority of Americans show some signs of struggling with food addiction, because of either a genetic predisposition or our modern-day environment that surrounds us with cues to constantly chow down.
When people argue that food addicts should simply use a little willpower, that shows a lack of understanding of the human noggin, and particularly the prefrontal cortex, explains Peeke. "It's the smarty-pants of the brain, and it reins in impulsivity. However, in full-on addictive mode, your prefrontal cortex is damaged," she says.