This is what being addicted to food looks like. What can you do now?
Stop being in the dark about how addictive food is. You’re not ready to admit it but you are addicted.
I know that you are because I am too.
I started gaining weight in middle school. That’s when the depression hit, however, at that age how could I verbalize it?
Weekends were difficult for me. I spent much of that time alone, in front of the TV.
Also during that time I recently became separated from my cousins who were not only similar in age but they were very close to me. I turned to food for comfort.
Large family sized White Cheddar Smartfood popcorn became my friend. Then I’d have a giant bacon cheeseburger sub with three patties from Lenas from our hometown. It became a ritual.
I loved rice, and my aunt would ensure that I had a mountain of it on my plate. Born into a Caribbean family, if you didn’t eat everything off of your plate, trouble awaited you.
Then at the age of 17, I gave birth to my son — gained more weight. Depressed? I ate. Bored? I ate. Anxious? I ate. Social gatherings, guess what I did? Eat! Oh, it’s a celebration? Let’s eat!
Ultimately, I became stuck in a loop because I ate to comfort myself, then my son had an eating schedule. I joined him.
My life revolved around food. Sometimes I ate before I became hungry, especially if I knew I would miss dinner, or lunch, etc. I ate to prevent feeling hungry.
Then after a terrible breakup at the age of 30, I looked in the mirror and saw the truth for the first time. At 5'4 I weighed 232lbs.
No one around me ever mentioned my weight. Occasionally, I heard a joke or two, or my cousin would say when you lose some weight you can fit in that outfit easily, but no one ever told me, you’re fat and you need to lose weight.
With a size 18 waistline hanging around my belly, I barely noticed it. I never wanted to admit that I was fat, unhealthy with a host of co-morbid disorders such as depression and anxiety.
I didn’t like myself very much. However, despite losing 70lbs, I continued to struggle, and yo-yo-ed, but worse of all I passed the same eating habits to my son.
I wanted to stop yo-yo-ing with my weight. Most of all, my son deserved a healthier mom. So over the next six and a half years, I delved deeply into the underlying issues that caused me to overeat in the first place.
Furthermore, I had to understand why despite rigorous exercises I still had not reached my target weight goal.
In those six and a half years, I did a lot of soul searching, I paid the price, grieved, I changed my environment, but most of all I told myself the truth.
And since then, I’ve lost 85lbs and went down 14 sizes. I haven’t yo-yo-ed in one year.
First, we’ll take a look at the research. Is food as addictive as we’ve heard?
Then we’ll look at the signs that you might be addicted to food.
Finally, we’ll learn about ways that you can use some behavioral, cognitive, and emotional modifications so that you can control food and not have it control you.
This is what being addicted to food looks like.
The annual sales revenue for fast food industries is $110,000,000,000. As such, approximately 44% of families eat at fast food restaurants once a week. Also, 59% of us consume ultra-processed foods daily.
Moreover, some people can consume various types of food and not gain any weight. However, the majority of us aren’t able to consume these processed foods without gaining weight.
Either way, consuming processed foods as we all know isn’t good for our health, whether you’re gaining weight or not.
Subsequently, 69% of adults are obese, which of course we know leads to all types of health issues such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc.
Could we be addicted to processed foods and not even realize it? With statistics like that, I don’t see how we aren’t.
Well, let’s take a deeper look at what a few studies tell us about food addiction.
Explored loosely in the late 1950’s food addiction didn’t produce much traction. However, as we began to see an incline in obesity and obesity related health issues, health professionals needed answers.
In l994, Nobel et al at. UCLA discovered that some obese adults who were “bingeing on dense carbohydrates” weren’t even alcoholics or drug addicts carried the same D2 dopamine gene marker that allows scientists to tell the difference between alcoholism and other drug addictions.
Another published study in American Psychological Association, conducted by Ashley N. Gearhardt, a Yale University student made the connection between substance abuse and food addiction, stating:
“The findings suggest that besides behavioral similarities among people who might be addicted to food and those addicted to other substances, there may be potentially similar biological underpinnings as well.”
By 2013 food addiction became a classification in the DSM-IV, which is the bible for all psychological disorders for mental health professionals.
Moreover, during Gearhardt’s study, she used a food addiction scale. Participants reported the need to consume more food to achieve the same emotional effect of earlier consumption.
When you’re addicted to a drug, science says that you become not only addicted to the positive feelings associated with consuming the drug but also the negative feelings when the drug isn’t there, which ultimately means you become stuck in this loop.
In other words, people who are addicted to food, seek it, get a high off of it, then miss its absence when it’s gone.
Based on these studies it still makes it very difficult to classify food addiction in the same category as drug addiction because food is necessary for survival.
Without food, our bodies will undergo starvation mode, and ultimately we could die. As a result, this makes treatment very difficult.
Drug addicts can avoid the drug itself. However, we can’t avoid food altogether.
Let’s take a look at dopamine. Dopamine is a powerful chemical neurotransmitter in our brains that send messages. Simon Sinek stated:
“Dopamine is also addictive. Alcohol. Gambling. Cell phone. Get the goal — get the bonus. People are getting addicted…The feelings don’t last.”
There are so many food cues such as sight, smell, and taste that send messages to the brain to retrieve the reward — food.
Palatable food with high fat and high sugar content immediately activates the dopamine chemical which inadvertently creates the addiction.
First I want to say it’s not your fault that you’re overweight.
Overeating is a combination of one or multiple environmental situations, biological factors, and psychological factors.
My food addiction began as psychological which then compounded into biological — both were at play.
Please consult with a health professional to further understand the underpinnings of your food addiction.
Let’s review the possible signs:
- You’re constantly thinking about food.
- You’re afraid of hunger, and you’re always eating.
- You eat alone most of the time because you are ashamed about the amount of food that you consume.
- You avoid social gatherings if it interrupts your ability to access food.
- You binge eat at least more than once during the week, then you feel guilty afterward and ashamed.
- You’re full, but you’re still eating.
- You may eat even if you’re not hungry.
- You feel out of control when you eat. In some cases, you look at your plate, and you don’t even really remember finishing your meal let alone tasting it.
- Your emotions and food are one in the same. You eat when you’re depressed, sad, upset, bored, lonely, etc.
What can you do now?
How to Implement Changes
I want to preface these suggested changes by stating that if you believe that you are addicted to food, please see a medical professional right away.
When the addiction is so severe to the point that it’s disrupting your life you need a licensed medical professional to help guide you through the process of recovery.
What makes food addiction difficult to overcome is how complex it is and the inability to self-regulate. Often, people who are addicted to food don’t see that there is a conflict.
I didn’t see it for decades, and my environment reinforced my eating habits.
Food addiction is incredibly complex because it’s different for everyone. The reason I overeat may not be the same reasons you overeat.
Sure we both are depressed, however, the reasons for our depression are not the same.
Here are your first steps to change:
Tell yourself the truth. Admit that you have a problem. You’re wondering how can I recognize that I have a problem if I don’t see it. Similar to substance abuse your journey is different.
It depends on where you are on your journey. Besides, part of the reason I yo-yo-ed so much is that I thought I could control it.
It’s okay if I had one cookie (which turned into five). I had to realize that I wasn’t like everyone else. It took me 24 years to realize that I had a problem.
But when you finally realize that you do, admit it. Without admitting it, you won’t get the help that you need.
Seek out help. This is crucial. Getting control over your food addiction isn’t something that you can do alone.
It’s important to meet with a therapist to discover the underlying reasons why you overeat. If it’s related to trauma, then that needs to be dealt with through a professional and not alone.
Often Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT) are used to help identify stressors, triggers, and thought patterns related to overeating.
The goal of CBT is to assist you to recognize these thoughts, put a plan in place to deal with them when they arise and monitor your behaviors. This will also help you to change your relationship with food and your thought process.
I relied on good ol’ faithful called journaling. I obtained clarity about how overeating and my moods were directly related.
I also had to replace comfort foods with healthier ways to comfort myself that didn’t include food, such as meditation, journal writing, and going for walks.
Make environmental changes. One of the first things I did — I stopped eating with the lunch bunch at work.
Perfect for socializing, however, not great for my health. We’d order out all of the time and trust me we were not eating salads.
You’re going to have to say no. No to eating out with friends or co-workers at the beginning of your journey. Not until you’ve built your resilience and you’ve created a self-care plan that doesn’t sabotage your progress.
It’s suggested, during the first 12 months of sobriety for an alcoholic, that they avoid any romantic relationships. This gives the person time to reconnect to buried feelings.
It’s important as you are on your journey towards recovering from food addiction that you eliminate any opportunities for relapsing as much as humanly possible.
This is hard because some people overeat because they are lonely, or as stated earlier food is unavoidable. It’s everywhere!
I suggest finding an overeaters anonymous group to help during this difficult transition.
Detoxing your body. I remember when I stopped eating rice for one month, I lost five lbs.
I also remember the headaches and the withdrawals that I experienced from a high fat, high sugar, and high carbohydrate diet.
Detox your body from foods slowly. Removing a particular food weekly or monthly from your diet. Trying to go cold turkey may work for some folks but not for everyone.
Find a detox plan (with the help of a nutritionist) that works for you.
Create a workout routine. When I first began to lose weight, I didn’t join a gym. In fact, it wasn’t until a year and a half later that I had access to a gym.
Also, I worked out for 5–10 minutes per day. As a result of working out slowly I grew stronger, built the habit and then I would I add a few minutes here, an extra day there, etc.
Think of everything in chunks.
People with substance abuse take it one day at a time and so should you. Don’t rush it and don’t do too much at once. You’re in this for the long haul.
Every day that you wake up in the morning ask yourself, “What can I do today to help me on my journey?”
I suggest reading The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson; he helps you to rethink tackling enormous obstacles by chunking them into bite size pieces.
Meditation helps with stress. Meditation is known to help to alleviate anxiety and depression. It’s also known to mitigate food cravings with consistent practice.
Food binges take us in a clouded haze. Meditation helps to keep us present, clear our minds, and when practiced for extended periods of time it allows us to control or delay our emotions.
We become less reactive and less attached to things that don’t serve us.
Like with any practice start small — five minutes a week, per day, etc. Add more time as time goes on and tailor meditation to your needs.
Fasting. Recently, I’ve experimented with intermittent fasting (IF).
Please note that this method isn’t for everyone and it’s more complicated for women to engage in IF because of our estrogen levels and the hormonal balance of our bodies.
This is something you will want to do much later on your journey once you’ve understood the underlying reasons to why you overeat and have regulated your self-control.
I’ve only been doing IF for the last 45 days, and I’ve noticed a drastic shift in my relationship with food.
I don’t need it the way that I used to. When I eat, it’s because I’m in control and not the other way around.
I now eat with more intentions and gratitude. It has helped me to remain present. People from various parts of the world fast for lots of reasons.
There might be times when you fast one day out of the month or once a week. I believe that our bodies do need a break and time to heal itself without consistently stuffing our stomachs with food.
Fasting isn’t for everyone, and depending on your physical makeup it might not even work for you.
This is a gentle reminder to pause and be more present.
I know that we covered a lot here.
Food addiction is a very real thing. Biologically it makes us spiral out of control then we feel embarrassed, guilt ridden, and ashamed which then makes us feel emotionally bound to food.
Regaining control of your life and your health shouldn’t be something that you tackle alone.
Please seek medical assistance, emotional, and spiritual guidance on your journey.
I recently decided to stop drinking because when I drink, I crave greasy, unhealthy foods.
We have to make tough decisions because our lives depend on it. Our families rely on us, but we must choose us first.
Believe that your life is worth undergoing the vulnerability that needs to happen to tackle your food addiction.
As Brenè Brown states, “Vulnerability is courage.”
It’s important to make decisions that keep us from an earlier grave and gives meaning to our lives.
I believe in you. I believe that you can and will get through this once you have all of the proper supports and tools in place. Remember that you matter, your life has meaning, and you’re worth it.
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