OVERCOMING FOOD ADDICTION AND EATING DISORDERS – THE FACTS
Food is something we’re biologically directed to enjoy. Not only do we need it, we’re programmed to love it. However, for approximately 30 million people in the USA alone, food is something completely different. It’s something that’s stressful and possibly even fatal.
Food addiction and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are the result of many factors. They’re frequently misunderstood and can cause a lot of issues for people suffering from them. Overcoming food addiction can be incredibly difficult, but the first step is knowledge.
So let’s break down exactly what eating disorders are, what causes them, and the way people can learn to overcome them.
WHAT IS FOOD ADDICTION?
People frequently misunderstand exactly what food addiction is. It’s confusing, because on some level we’re all addicted to food – it’s a biological necessity and we’d eventually die without it.
However, food addiction is something else. Many times it’s erroneously believed to be linked to obesity – this isn’t true. It’s totally possible for someone to be incredibly thin and yet still be a food addict.
Food addiction can come out in numerous ways. For example, some people who suffer from food addiction absolutely MUST have a certain food, like a certain dessert, on a regular basis as a routine. If they don’t get these foods it could cause them to be upset or angry.
(This sounds like my wife if she doesn’t get her coffee fix in the morning – I really hope she doesn’t read this)…
For other people, food addiction can be a need to absolutely stuff themselves with food that they’d normally deny themselves.
Foodaddiction.com says “Calling food addiction obesity is like calling alcoholism drunkenness or drug addiction a problem caused solely by trauma.”
There is much more to it.
WHAT CAUSES FOOD ADDICTION?
New research regarding food addiction has provided us with information that is the complete opposite of what was previously thought.
A study done by the UCLA College of Medicine found that people who binge ate foods share at least one gene marker with alcoholics and drug addicts.
It’s been demonstrated repeatedly that the pleasure caused by eating certain foods (I’m looking at you, sugar) tells the brain to release a dopamine shot (a neurotransmitter in charge of pleasure) which creates a permanent link between eating those foods and feeling pleasure.
According to The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by Dr. David A. Kessler, the right combination of sugar, fat, and salt can make a food addictive.
“Eating foods high in sugar, fat, and salt makes us eat more foods high in sugar, fat, and salt. We see this clearly in both animal and human research. Barry Levin, a physician and professor at the New Jersey Medical School, demonstrated this principle with rats…when both groups of rats were offered a rich, creamy liquid high in sugar and fat, those patterns changed. All the animals ate without restraint. Levin said that when given such a palatable combination, ‘they will just gorge themselves.'”
Just like with other drugs, people can develop a tolerance to foods that give them pleasure, causing them to eat more and more of the same unhealthy and addictive food to get that pleasurable burst of dopamine.
This is true for people of all weights and from all backgrounds, not just those of us who are considered obese. Some people who struggle with food addiction may be have a faster metabolism, and thus are able to keep off much of the weight that someone else would gain from this.
Or they may also get a dopamine burst from exercise, and do it obsessively as well.
In any case, food addiction affects all of us, not just those people who are overweight and/or obese.
However, as time progresses we continue to learn more about what causes this behavior and how to prevent it. Despite this, many restaurants and snack foods are designed to create and take advantage of this addictive behavior.
WHAT IS AN EATING DISORDER?
At its most basic level, an eating disorder is basically an obsessive behavior related to body image and food.
If you have an unhealthy relationship with food that can negatively impact your health, emotions, or how you function in life then you may have an eating disorder or suffer from food addiction.
There are three basic types of food addiction – you may have heard of them, but probably don’t have a very good understanding of the thought process or root causes of them.
Anorexia Nervosa – Anorexia is an eating disorder marked by an unhealthily low body weight and a very strong fear of gaining weight. It’s also marked by a complete distorted sense of what your body actually looks like, which is called body dysmorphic disorder.
Anorexics tend to weight themselves constantly and also eat much fewer daily calories than their metabolic requirements. Some anorexics can also binge eat and then eat little to no food for months at a time.
Bulimia Nervosa – Bulimia is another serious condition that can end in death if not treated. Basically, it’s a cycle of binge eating enormous amounts of food, followed by purging, or inducing vomiting. Other ways Bulimics can purge are through the use of laxatives or by excessive exercise.
Bulimia can lead to heart problems, dental issues (since bile is extremely acidic) and a number of other conditions. It’s basically an attempt to get rid of calories in unhealthy ways.
Binge Eating Disorder – Binge eaters are people who frequently will consume way more calories than their body requires (sounds like everyone I know during Thanksgiving dinner) and do this repeatedly.
A famous quote by Louis CK comes to mind – “The meal isn’t over when I’m full. The meal is over when I hate myself.”
Binge eaters have a lack of self-control over their eating habit and may eat when they’re not hungry or keep eating after they’re full.
After binge eating, many binge eaters will feel disgusted with themselves. However, unlike anorexics and bulimics, binge eaters don’t try to make up for what they’ve done by purging or starving themselves.
Binge eaters, unlike the previously mentioned eating disorders, are usually overweight or obese.
RECOGNIZING FOOD ADDICTION AND EATING DISORDERS
It can be difficult to tell if someone that you care about has an eating disorder. One of the tell-tale signs is that the person is totally obsessed with their weight, appearance, and body image.
There are a list of symptoms that Food Addicts have, especially bulimics and anorexics:
Nutrient deficient, thin or falling hair and weak fingernails, constipation, severe tooth decay, heart damage or an irregular heartbeat, brain damage, dry skin, low energy levels, low body temperature, sore throat, low blood pressure, and difficulty breathing are just some of the symptoms of severe cases of food addiction.
It’s possible to die from these issues – they should be taken very seriously.
OTHER EATING DISORDERS:
There are some other eating disorders that don’t fall into the three categories of food addiction discussed above:
Rumination Disorder is an eating disorder where a person will habitually throw up or regurgitate the food they’ve eaten. This is a little different than Bulimia, in which the sufferer binge eats and then purges. Rumination sufferers will typically throw up after almost every meal.
Pica Eating Disorder is an eating disorder marked by eating things that are not considered edible. For example, someone with Pica may eat their own clothing, soap, dirt, paint chips, wood, and other substances that can’t be processed by our bodies and have no nutritional value.
Avoidant Food Intake Disorder is similar to anorexia – it’s marked by people that have no interest in eating anything. Unlike Anorexics, they aren’t concerned with weight gain or body image – they simply have no desire to eat. It’s almost like they don’t get any pleasure at all from eating, and don’t suffer at all from feeling hungry.
All of these eating orders aren’t simply habits that can be broken or changed. They are serious mental issues that can result in the death of the sufferer. However, they are treatable and it is possible to overcome them.
WHAT CAUSES AN EATING DISORDER?
Like many other mindsets, preferences, and habits, eating orders are usually formed during our formative teenage and young adult years. This is the time when we become hyper conscious of our physical appearance, and eventually link that appearance to the way we eat.
A woman is far more likely to develop an eating order than a man is. For sufferers of anorexia or bulimia, about 90% of the sufferers are women and only 10% are male.
It’s easy to turn on the TV or go to a movie and see all the beautiful people. However, what most people don’t see is that the “perfect body” is possessed by only 5% of American women.
Eating disorders don’t happen overnight. For example, a bulimic may first have a habit of binge drinking and then overeating. Throwing up later that night or the next morning may initially be a cause of the drinking and the drunken behavior. Eventually, this may metamorphosis into a behavior that doesn’t only happen when drinking alcohol.
Many times these eating disorders can also come along with other mental disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, and low self-esteem. This is why anorexia is considered an extremely serious illness that has one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric illness.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the 3 main causes of eating disorders are:
Genetics – Some people are genetically predisposed to having eating disorders. If they have parents or other close relatives that have them, they are more likely to develop them as well.
Social Pressure – There is a tremendous amount of pressure, especially for young women and teenage girls, to fit in and to look like the people they see in magazines, TV, and in movies. People can subconsciously link their self-worth to their appearance.
Mental Health – Emotional problems, such as low self-worth, low confidence, and low self-esteem, can all become an initial cause of an eating disorder.
However, experts disagree on the root cause of eating disorders. Many of them can start with the reasons above, but eventually become coping mechanisms.
Many people use food in order to help them deal with feelings. As a matter of fact, this image is widely accepted in our society and in movies or TV.
How often do we see a depressed woman eating ice cream straight out of the container, or a good friend bringing over sweets and ice cream after a girl on TV gets dumped by her boyfriend? It’s common for many people to use food as a temporary means of feeling better after a setback or emotionally difficult event. People with eating disorders have just taken this coping mechanism to an extreme level.
OVERCOMING FOOD ADDICTION
First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a doctor, a psychiatrist, or an expert with food addiction. Food addiction can be life threatening. If you know someone who is suffering through this, you should call a doctor immediately.
Even though eating disorders can be insidious in nature, starting small but dominating your life, there are ways to cope with them and improve your behavior. Eventually, it’s possible to overcome food addiction and to move past eating disorders.
For example, food addicts can start to make healthier choices about food while still satisfying their cravings. As a matter of fact, it’s possible to train yourself and your taste buds to no longer like some addictive foods.
Have you ever taken a week or two off of salt? Afterwards, you’ll notice that you have a heightened appreciation for salt and don’t need to use nearly as much to get the same flavoring.
The same is true for sugar. Take a few weeks off of eating any sugar, and you’ll notice that candy bars, ice cream, and cakes that were once delicious now taste sickly sweet – they sugar is overwhelming.
So taste buds can change. Behaviors can change. Starting the day with a healthy breakfast, reading nutrition labels, and avoiding addictive foods when you’re feeling confident and healthy all will have strong positive effects.
It’s important to make sure that you have adequate nutrition, and are eating a healthy diet. Exercise and creating an exercise routine can be a foundational habit that affects other habits throughout the day.
Food addiction is a serious issue – one that, if not treated, can result in serious hardship and even death.
In our society we place an enormous value on appearances. Young people, especially young women, pick up on this value and it has a huge impact on the eating habits. These habits can then change over time to become the various types of food addiction.
It’s important for us as a society not to judge people by their appearances alone. We need to recognize that food addiction and other eating disorders are a mental health issue, and we should all try to strive to treat people that suffer from these issues with kindness and understanding.
Do you know anyone that’s suffered from or overcome food addiction? What are your thoughts on eating disorders?