Over the years I have been asked if there is such a thing as food addiction. First, let’s look at what is an addiction? Here is one definition: An addiction causes people to engage in a recurring activity that causes harm to the person. It is often described as a compulsion to engage in some specific activity to produce mood-altering experiences, and this experience has life-damaging consequences.
Addictions often have both physical and psychological components. There is discomfort upon quitting the addiction. Most people would not overindulge in anything that hurts them physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. With addiction, one or more of these areas are negatively affected.
Now look at how addiction can relate to food. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your eating behavior create a problem in your life, but you continue to do the same thing over and over?
- Do you eat to change how you feel?
- Do thoughts of food, weight and body size enter your mind at unrelated times? Do you feel out of control with your eating?
- Are you afraid to start eating something because you are afraid you cannot stop?
- Do you obsess about eating certain foods?
- Do you find yourself eating when you had resolved not to eat?
- Do you eat more than you want to?
- Do you use other activities or substances to stop your eating behaviors?
You can also take an online Quiz to see if you have a DietQ Type A HERE.
Not long ago, there was a potato chip ad that challenged, “Betcha can’t eat just one!” Many took on the challenge and lost. Food manufacturers have done an exquisite job of recognizing and tapping into our cravings. Why does this challenge some of us and not others?
It is a widely accepted fact that some people are more susceptible to becoming addicted than others. Some have a hereditary disposition to becoming dependent on mood-altering substances. Sometimes people are self-medicating, stuffing their feelings or are deficient in emotional regulating skills.
Any behavior engaged in repeatedly can become a habit. A habit is simply an activity that you do so often that it becomes a part of your routine. Most people observe that any activity repeated for about a month becomes a habit. It is important to be aware of the habits that we are forming. This can be used as a positive, life-enhancing activity or the building blocks of an addiction.
Even our thinking becomes habitual. Our negative self-talk can become so well established that we don’t even realize that we are beating ourself up or that it is having an effect on our life. It takes work to create a good habit, but it makes life easier. Bad habits are easily formed but make life harder.
Common Food Addictions
I have never met a client who was addicted to broccoli. Why? Although broccoli is good for your body, it does not produce mind-altering effects like some other non-foods. Isn’t it interesting that the most common food addictions are comprised of manufactured fats, chemicals, salt and/or sugar?
Many of us have our favorite food, but what makes food an addiction? If we apply our previous addiction definition of craving, obsessive thinking, and compulsion even in the face of harmful effects, we may come up with a list. See if any of these foods cause a problem for you:
|potato chips||ice cream||processed snacks|
It is important to note that broccoli and other whole foods usually are not addictive, but this list can be expanded. Looking at these items, we can see some similar ingredients – sugar, carbohydrates or white flour.
Carbohydrates are our major energy-producing food. We need carbohydrates like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and beans. Note that different types of carbohydrates turn into sugar at different rates in your body. For addiction purposes, let’s look at refined carbohydrates. These are the ones that spike your insulin level, and then drop you onto the blood-sugar rollercoaster. Even the blood sugar drop causes cravings, bingeing, depression, lethargy, irritability and drowsiness.
But there is more going on than just blood sugar fluctuations. During functional MRIs, scientists have observed that refined carbohydrates light up the reward system of the brain for some people – just like an addicted person using their drug of choice.
It is a good idea to think it through when you are tempted to consume one of these products. Do I really want to feel that way afterwards? Do I want to battle the incessant cravings again? This is one rollercoaster I choose not to ride. There are too many other factors that occur that triggers overeating. There is one sure way to eliminate this physiological response. Don’t put these blood sugar spiking foods in your mouth.
Food and Other Types of Addictions
Food addictions can progress to other addictions, starting with appetite suppressants and diet pills. Many have progressed to methamphetamines, cocaine, speed and heroin to curb their appetite and stay skinny.
There are many forms of addictions, but let’s look at how we may be addicted to a few commonly ingested legal substances. Alcohol is probably a good place to start. Many people do not have a problem with alcohol, and they can drink normally without any consequences. They don’t obsess about it or try to control their intake. It has no power over them.
Then there are others who become alcoholics. They will tell you of the constant thinking about drinking, not drinking, getting their next drink or recovering from the effects of their last bout of drinking. This is the hell an active alcoholic lives with. The person may quit drinking only to find the obsessive thinking and surfacing feelings are too much to bear.
Is this anything like our compulsion to eat? Have you experienced that numbed out feeling during eating? Do you eat to make the feelings or thoughts go away? When something upsets you, do you look for comfort in food? I have had people tell me that they are thinking about food, weight, diets, body image, exercise, and so on about 95% of their waking hours. Does this make sense? Not for someone who has no problem with food. However, if you are trapped in the obsession of a food addiction, you know what I am talking about. Does eating really fix the situation or feeling, or does it often compound the problem?
Over the years, I have seen a great number of people recover from alcoholism only to switch to a food addiction. They use food in a similar way to how they used alcohol. I don’t need to go into the debate of which is better; I just want to point out the similarities.
I especially see people who are recovering from alcoholism also being addicted to sugar. That makes so much sense. Alcohol is metabolized in the body as sugar. Although it may not have the same devastating effects short-term, sugar can and does kill. Refined sugar is in almost everything now, even in some brands of potato chips!
You can get scientific articles about sugar addiction and download a Sugar Awareness assessment at www.SugarAwareness.com.
There are videos and articles about eating disorders, dieting, and food addictions at www.RebeccaCooper.com. If you are having problems with yo-yo dieting download you can download the Diets Don’t Work eBook here.
My trip to Savannah to be on TV is another adventure. I still love the south. People are so nice here and seem to be more centered than the hustle and bustle of California. It’s funny that I say that because I have carved out a sanctuary for myself right in my back yard that I become more centered in the mornings. It is true that it matters less of where you are physically than it does mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Maybe it is just easier when I am away from the daily routines and stresses of everyday life. Maybe it is because I realize how important it is for me to be centered when I am trying to bring awareness to the devastating illness of eating disorders. I can’t believe I actually will get in front of the cameras and the nervousness goes away as I focus of the importance of the message. Even if one person hears something that gives them pause to reevaluate their relationship with food and them Self it is worth it.
Having such a mission is exciting. I never imagined that the worse thing I encountered in my life would also become my greatest gift. If I did not know first hand how crippling eating disorders were I would not be so passionate about helping others to avoid these pitfalls.
The general public does not even know what an eating disorder is. They think it is someone starving them Self to be thin or someone who should just say ‘No’ to the food. They think they just need to quit eating so much, go on a diet, exercise more or stop the disordered eating behaviors. What’s more disturbing is that so many people whose lives are so compromised by disordered eating do not even know they have a problem. Some people have lived their life struggling with their weight, diets, body image and obsessive thinking about these things that they think it is normal. Eating disorder awareness is where alcohol and substance abuse was 20 years ago.
When I first started working with patients with disordered eating fifteen years ago I worked with people who were having problems with yo-yo dieting. That is why I wrote the book, Diets Don’t Work. By that time I had years of recovery from an eating disorder myself. I listened to these patients with a different ear than most therapists. My patients were describing the self-hatred, loss of control, obsessive thinking, and suppressing feelings and stress with food. They described how this was affecting their relationships with their families and their Self. They described not being truly available to those around them because of always thinking about losing weight, finding the right diet or beating them Self up because they had once more slipped with their diet.
The statistics are that 66% of Americans are overweight and 1/3 of these people are obese. Most of our health care cost is associated with the results of disordered eating. People are spending 60 billion dollars a year on diets, weight loss programs, diet foods, pills and products but as a nation we are more over weight than any time in history. Eating disorders are skyrocketing. We keep trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results. This is insanity. We keep looking for an external solution to an internal problem.
I am going to Atlanta tomorrow to speak at a conference for mental health professionals about recognizing disordered eating, understanding the neurochemistry changes that exacerbate eating disorders and how to treat this disorder. Again I am so fortunate to have this opportunity. There are so many excellent professionals who have not been able to obtain treatment information or even be aware of this disorder in their patients. I hope I can ignite the desire to learn more about eating disorders so they can help so many more people than I can alone.
Admitting that you have a food problem is the first step. Then you can find solutions. Most eating disorders start with restricting food or dieting. Read the Keys Study HERE. It is amazing what happened to the subjects. This study was done before most people knew that eating disorders existed.
Today scientist have found that cyclical bingeing and food deprivation (i.e. yo-yo dieting) actually changes the brain chemistry. There are also some foods that share the same neuropathways in the brain as alcohol or drugs. Some people are predisposed to crave foods that may lead to food addictions, eating disorders, and obesity.
These people develop food allergies and food addictions. If they have certain foods or drinks they start binging. The addicting substances most often seen are sugar, white flour, and fats. Fast foods have all three.
One easy way to find out if this is your problem is to record how you feel after eating fast foods. Pay close attention to craving more food, mood changes, and fatigue. This could be a clue. If this is your case you can decide to have fast foods knowing how you will feel later. Thinking it through, you may not want to experience the aftermath of a binge. Over time this becomes a no brainer.
Some people need help to sort this out. Many people with food addictions and/or eating disorders enter a treatment facility so they have a safe place to resolve the food issues and build a new foundation for healthy living.
I am a “Compulsive Overeater.” I came to Diets Don’t Work in June of this year with feelings of such hopelessness. I felt even more hopelessness when I learned your program was about “no dieting!” I never dreamed I could accept my body the way it is and eat anything I wanted. This whole concept blew me away—unraveled every teaching I had ever received about weight control. I now understand and believe that “the binge” was the only healthy aspect of the many diets I had been on…I have learned so much from your program…I am allowing myself to eat whatever I want, when I get hungry. I am making choices for myself that are self-loving and nourishing. I’m learning to stop eating when I am full, based on the fact that there will always be more. I am allowing myself to take “baby steps.”
I am in recovery with my eating disorder and…I’ll never have to go back. The tools…your program has given me are priceless. I will (and have) recommend your program.
I could not have experienced the freedom I feel today without the guidance, professionalism, the teachings, the understanding and the compassion of our common bond. I have hope today. I have courage. I am a different person.
Diets Don’t Work Workshop Attendee
You can now go through the program on-line at www.DietQ.com.