It’s 4am. You can’t sleep so you open the fridge or the freezer. A half-gallon of ice cream later and you’re sound asleep. Or maybe after the bars, you leave your friends to hit the 24-hour wings place solo. Maybe it’s mid-afternoon and your boss told you you have to stay late at work again so you open your junk drawer full of feel-good candy. Whatever it is, you are not alone.
Food is so often used for more than just fuel in our culture. It happens so much that people are now seeking help for what’s called, food addiction. While most of us have a healthy relationship with food, some people see food differently. When a certain behavior starts to habitually trigger an overwhelming desire to regularly eat well beyond the normal amount it is defined as a type of food addiction.
This behavior can simply start as chronic stress or even an acute stress incident. It can start as a feeling of being out of control in some aspect. It can also simply mean that he/she feels lonely and food has become a reliable friend. The dependency on food that is created can be developed over time for a number of reasons. But it is the euphoria that some people feel after eating that is the true addiction. This is what needs to be fed immediately and repeatedly. When food starts to serve as such a vital dopamine requirement that it cannot be ignored, help must be sought.
Although the repercussions of a food “drug” may not seem as significant as someone who’s addicted to street or prescription drugs, food can still be a life-long struggle that ultimately affects the quality of his/her life. Such an addiction could contribute to obesity, depression and other diseases. Symptoms include but are not limited to: anxiety around food, eating when sad or depressed, self-conscious about his/her weight, binging, purging and anorexia. When and how these feelings first develop could be important indicators of how to resolve these symptoms.
Since the response from foods such as sugar, fat and salt is similar to that of how heroin or cocaine affect the brain, the withdrawal symptoms are also similar. But as drug addicts don’t need drugs to stay alive, we do need food to stay alive. The struggle to differentiate between food as fuel and food as a reward system becomes a blurred line between necessity and a superficial necessity.
The important part to remember is that once you’ve identified these patterns, you can start to override the system. If you think you’ve got a food addiction, try keeping a food diary where you write down everything you eat plus how you were feeling before, during and after each meal. Knowing why you eat is an important step in overcoming the addiction. Well beyond the why and the emotional need you are searching for through food, eliminating certain trigger foods will also help. Once you’ve determined your salt, sweet or fatty food favorite, slowly eliminate it from your diet. But more importantly, with the help of a behavioral therapist, nutrition counselor and the support of your friends and family, food addiction is treatable.
For more information on this topic, go to foodaddictsanonymous.org.
Photo Credits: Man holding up a burnt slice of toast by Brian A. Jackson; A hungry girl opens the fridge by Yuganov Konstantin. Shutterstock.com