Issues with food and weight are very complicated. My previous eating disorder article, titled “Problems with Food and Weight”, covered the problems people have with excess weight. Today’s writing will discuss food and eating issues that are similar to addictions.
Remember, there are several principles that are common in all addictions: heredity, the disease model, allergy, tolerance, progression, consequences (physical, emotional, and spiritual), mental defenses against self-awareness, and hitting bottom. I will begin by discussing each of these issues as they relate to food, eating, and weight.
Most people think of heredity as a direct effect. They believe that if your parents had a food, eating or weight problem, you will have a food, eating or weight problem. That is most likely true. The way your body processes food IS related to your genetics. However, addiction is much more complicated. If your parents or grandparents had any addiction, you are at a higher risk for any addiction.
In the disease model, what varies between people is their ‘drug of choice’. Your drug of choice is the substance or behavior that gets you high. If you have alcoholics, addicts, gamblers, food addicts, or even workaholics in your family tree, you might just be a person who responds to some substance or addictive behavior in an unusual way. You might just develop a drug of choice.
In this article, your drug of choice is food. Fortunately, not all food gets people high…just certain foods, mostly foods that have limited nutrition. This means that sugar, processed food and/or large amounts of food would affect you in a manner that is different from other people. It’s also behaviors. Food related behaviors such as binging, starving, vomiting, overexercising, and so on. Those are addictive too.
In the beginning, your reaction to junk foods and food behaviors is soothing and comforting. Like alcohol, your behaviors with food might make you think faster and function better. This is your allergy to food.
Unfortunately, all addictions involve tolerance to your substance. You begin to need more and more junk food to achieve less and less soothing effect.
Thus begins the progression into active addiction. People increase the amount of junk food they eat. Then they begin binging. Eventually, people binge more and more often. Eventually, people are very tragic with food. They binge and purge in a frantic attempt to get high and not suffer severe weight gain. Or they simply binge and binge until they become sick or pass out. People have died binging as their stomach bursts. This is no different from the cocaine addict who frantically snorts or shoots cocaine almost every hour as the high wears off.
Enter the consequences of food addiction. Physical consequences are very easy to see. Food addicts wear their consequences as weight on their bodies. People grow heavier and heavier as their weight balloons out of control. But there are other unseen physical consequences. Malnutrition is common. An active addict stuffs themselves with nonnutritive foods leaving no room for the basic nutrition needed to function in life. Then there are the physical illnesses related to excess weight or underweight: diabetes, heart disease, gout, and back problems to name only a few.
Emotional consequences are many: guilt, shame, remorse, pre-occupation with food instead of your life, low self-esteem, isolation, and loneliness. And the spiritual consequences of your relationship with food are the same as any addiction. You place your faith in your ‘drug of choice’ instead of God and the religion of your heart.
Like all addicts, you defend yourself against the reality of your downhill spiral. You may assert that you can diet anytime you want. You might use humor like some sad, but delightful people I have known. Dying from uncontrolled diabetes, binging on junk food and asserting in a funny tone of voice that they must, for example, eat enough to maintain their weight. Defenses are as creative as the people who use them. The point is that you might weigh three or four hundred pounds and still be telling yourself that you do not have a problem.
Hitting bottom is different from person to person. When you hit your bottom, you become unable to deny to yourself that you have this problem. The evidence around you breaks through all the techniques you use to hide from yourself. Sadly, hitting bottom is excruciatingly painful. Most frequently, what breaks through your defenses is some sort of humiliating and degrading type of experience. For alcoholics, it can be being arrested for drunk driving. For a food addict, this can include not being able to wear your clothes or being at a public function and breaking the chair you wish to sit in.
Some people hit bottom over and over again. They live out the rest of their lives at this space, unable to change or take action on their own behalf. This is unnecessary.
There are many different versions of recovery for people who have a food addiction. Overeaters Anonymous offers one version. Take this questionnaire from them to help you decide if this is the appropriate solution for you.
___Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
___Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason?
___Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating?
___Do you give too much time and thought to food?
___Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone?
___Do you plan these secret binges ahead of time?
___Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone?
___Is your weight affecting the way you live your life?
___Have you tried to diet for a week (or longer), only to fall short of your goal?
___Do you resent others telling you to “use a little willpower” to stop overeating?
___Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet “on your own” whenever you wish?
___Do you crave to eat at a definite time, day or night, other than mealtime?
___Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble?
___Have you ever been treated for obesity or a food-related condition?
___Does your eating behavior make you or others unhappy?
Have you answered yes to three or more of these questions? If so, it is probable that you have or are well on your way to having a compulsive overeating problem. Overeaters Anonymous believes that the way to arrest this progressive disease is to practice the Twelve-Step recovery program.
There are other 12-recovery programs for food addiction. These are, with links to their websites: ABA – Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous, CEA – Compulsive Eaters Anonymous, EDA – Eating Disorders Anonymous, FA – Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, FAA – Food Addicts Anonymous, GSA – GreySheeters Anonymous, O.A. H.O.W.
12-Step Recovery wellness is for food addicts who are actively involved in one of the many and varied 12-step programs. This means you regularly attend meetings, have a sponsor, have worked all the way through the 12-steps, and are actively involved in your recovery program. This is a coaching approach specifically designed for food addicts in recovery who have inner nudges to achieve more in your lives.
If you have responses to this post, or just want to share your thoughts, please comment in the reply box below. I’d love to hear what you are thinking.
Contact me to follow that inner nudge calling you to live more richly:
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.