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Monday, August 8, 2011

Are you a food addict?

Food addiction is a topic that comes up rather frequently in weight loss chat rooms and diet blogs as individuals struggling with their weight will describe a state in which they feel completely out of control with their food and their eating. Descriptions of this out of control behaviour include eating frenzies in which entire cakes, packets of biscuits and large blocks of chocolate are eaten to pre-planned binges with large amounts of food purchased for the sole purpose of eating for comfort and a sense of extreme fullness that accompanies it. So, is food addiction real and if so, what causes it, but most importantly, how can we manage it?

A component of a perceived “food addiction” will be behavioural, while other parts psychological as well as physiological. For example, the complex taste mix of fat and sugar found in cakes, biscuits, chocolate and fast foods will over time prime the brain to crave more and more of these foods if they are regularly consumed. For individuals who are psychologically vulnerable e.g. those who are lonely, depressed or just bored, who then may start to self-medicate with food, a potential link may be formed in the brain between the tastes of these foods and symptom i.e. feeling better. Then, in addition to these variables we may also have the powerful early programming which taught us as children that we will never be thin, or that you eat to self soothe. Such early teachings exist in the subconscious, driving us towards these behaviours when we are most vulnerable.

So, the real cure to food addiction is threefold. Firstly you need to eliminate the craving response from the brain by going cold turkey. Secondly, you need to keep psychologically engaged and thirdly but most importantly, you need to identify when you are most vulnerable and repeatedly practice not indulging yourself that will take nothing but patience, practice and time. Just as an AA member may state, “I have not had a drink for so many days”, so too becomes the mantra for those with “food addiction” - “I have not had a binge for …… days”. A rather harsh intervention perhaps but one that will ultimately free you from the addictive foods, the guilt and give you your life back.