Understanding and Addressing Food Addiction
Is addiction to food possible? You ask.
Have you met or seen the character Adaku in the popular Nigerian sitcom, Jenifa’s Diary? I ask. Some people believe because they are plus sized, they are entitled to eating in really large portions. They do not know they are living with a very serious case of addiction. On the other hand, some people on a mission to increase body size eat voraciously and feel justified for it, but do not know they are addicted to food.
Let’s clarify what Food Addiction is…
When a person has an uncontrollable desire to always eat food; especially junk food, food containing refined carbohydrates, sugar, salt, and flour substances, or food with a mixture of tastes sweet, salty, and fatty (called hyper-palatable foods), this person is suffering from food addiction.
Causes of Food Addiction
Food can become an addiction, because these food substances mentioned above can trigger some parts of the brain or rewarding brain centers that cause you to feel pleasure for doing something, by releasing a particular brain chemical called Dopamine resulting in a feeling of satisfaction of desire, giving you a high, and gets you thinking or even saying, ‘this is the best feeling in the world and I don’t want to stop feeling this way’.
Dopamine and the brain centers that are at work in a drug addict or any other addict are the same at work in food addiction.
So, when you associate eating these food substances with a good feeling and satisfaction called a reward, you would always crave the experience. It starts to become an addiction when you always want to eat something containing these substances to maintain the feeling of excitement, reward or pleasure.
Food addiction is not about body size, but about behavior. A particular study, How Prevalent is “Food Addiction”? By Adrian Meule, Front Psychiatry. 2011 (please link it with https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3207274/), reveals that
- 3 % of normal weight respondents to the study met the criteria for food addiction.
- 10 % of underweight respondents to the study met the criteria for food addiction.
- 14 % of overweight respondents met the criteria for food addiction.
- Over 30% of obese respondents met the criteria for food addiction.
How would you know if your relationship with food is healthy or not? A positive answer to any of these questions is an exhibition of Signs and Symptoms of Food Addiction.
- Are you waiting to start life afresh “when you lose that weight”?
- Is there a difference in how much food you eat when you are alone versus when you are not?
- Do you ever want to stop overeating but you think you can’t?
- Do you overfeed and then try to get rid of the food through purging, vomiting, or exercise?
- Do you find yourself starting one diet or food plan after another, without sticking to any for long?
Other symptoms of food addiction are restlessness, irritability, digestive disorders, headaches, decreased energy; not being as active as in the past, or not being as active as others around, reduced efficiency due to the lack of energy.
Improper sleep patterns like; fatigue, oversleeping, or the complete opposite and not being able to sleep at all like insomnia. And in some severe cases suicidal thoughts.
Effects of Food Addiction
You already know that too much of anything is bad and that eating too much of food may cause obesity and weight issues, but more importantly what more consequences can be seen on a case of food addiction;
Physical effects of food addiction manifest in two ways, short term and long term.
The short-term physical effect associated with dopamine release in the brain reward center is a low level euphoria, something quite close to a state of depression, a decrease in both anxiety and emotional pain after an episode of overeating. This can also be known as a “food coma.”
Food addiction can result in long term physical effects. The health consequences can be severe. If a food addict has obesity, it can be associated with; fungal infections in skin folds which would be hard to clean, congestive heart failure, shortness of breath, coronary artery disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, bone pains in the knees, hips and back, death.
When the person with food addiction is more involved with food than with people, you know food addiction affects social relationships, especially those within the family. Food becomes the addict’s safest, most important and meaningful relationship. Commitments and priorities to friends and family take a back seat. This often leads to a deep sense of isolation from others.
Psychological or Emotional Effects
Negative emotional effects would include powerlessness, low self-esteem, shame, hopelessness, isolation, depression, self-loathing, guilt, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, self-injurious behaviors.
7 Tips for Overcoming Food Addiction
Knowing that food is a life essential for survival, treating food addiction is not like treating other addictions, but very practical tips are going to be useful in overcoming food addiction
- Start from your mind: Basically the root of the addictive behavior is in your mind/brain. Making a decision to stop food addiction is a starting point. List the pros and cons (benefits & sacrifices involved in your decision) of stopping food addiction. Be real with yourself.
- Set goals: A Specific, measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound goal to beating addiction to food should do. For example by December 25th 2017, I want to have a healthy eating habit and have lost 20 kg.
- Start exercising, not to lose weight, but to boost your brain function and balance. Yes, exercise can do that. It also can help reduce your cravings. Rushing on rigorous exercise to lose weight if obese or overweight can be of little help in food addiction. Let a professional prescribe your weight loss exercise routine separately.
- Know your nutrition: Know what you should be eating and not eating. When it comes to recovering from food addiction, you need to know food substances that can help you heal and those that would be detrimental to the process. Make a list of these foods under each category.
- Speak with a professional: In order to break the cycle of overeating, seek the professional advice of a Nutritionist and Psychologist. These professionals can guide you on steps to break the addiction and healing nutrition & processes you can adopt as a lifestyle.
- Get an accountability support system: Winning is best when you are not alone. Get friends, family, and people who might just be dealing with the same addiction and are willing to help you overcome and cheer you along the way.
- Stick with the plan: Don’t take a break from the plan handed to you from the professionals. Cheating in this process can trigger a severe relapse of addiction, don’t do it.
And it’s a wrap! Feel free to share your experience with food addiction in the comment section or share with us more tips on how you are overcoming yours. Thanks.
P.S: A little extra for Ex Sex Addicts; How to live free of sexual addiction…
- Celebrate your freedom: If you are free, live like it. Go see the world, have fun, live deliberately. Your sexual freedom is in the fact that sex doesn’t control you.
- Guard your heart: What you hear, see, and read are quite important to the thoughts that playback or your imagination in moments of isolation. Adult content is simply not for you or your style anymore. No one has ever died for never consuming sexual content on media.
- Get occupied with meaning work and social interactions: Don’t stay lonely and idle all the time.
- Share your story on how you overcame sex addiction: It helps your mind relive your victory and helps you connect with others who may be going through the same trouble.
- Build other healthy habits like exercising, water therapy, meditation and healthy eating.
Photo Credit: www.doctoroz.com