If you are compelled to smoke cigarettes, gamble, drink alcohol, or take any substance to alter your mood, and/or change the way you think and behave; you are recognized as an addict. While there are many recognized addictions, those listed above are the most common.
And if you are recognized as an addict, depending on where you live, at least some form of organized help and services will be available to you. If you are lucky you will also have love and support of your family and friends. It is not uncommon to hear many addictions stories about support networks that were critical in saving addicts lives, standing by them each step of the long and difficult road to recovery.
All those addictions have something in common; highly addictive substances like nicotine or methamphetamine, or highly addictive environments like casinos. In other words; an addict has to take something, or do something repetitively for addiction to develop and become powerful enough to dominate and control their thoughts and actions.
When access to this substance or activity is prevented, addiction will eventually subside and finally cease. Number of other medical, psychological and social interventions is also required to smooth the transition.
But what if the same addict cannot survive more than few days without the very substance addicted to? And what if neither the substance nor the addiction to it is widely recognized as such? What happens then?
I am of course talking about food addiction.
There have been some recent activities in New Zealand around the complex problem of food addiction. This is not surprising, as New Zealand is regarded the second most overweight country in the world, behind the USA and only narrowly ahead of Australia.
Addiction experts say that at least a third of the population could be addicted to food and the problem should be treated as a medical condition.
Addiction to food is described as very similar to methamphetamine addiction. While a food addict will not have the shakings of a meth addict, the powerful cravings, feelings of deprivation, and overpowering needs for particular foods are all present.
And just like with any addiction, whatever self-control a person had at the beginning is seriously eroded by the forming of the addiction. This is because addiction is a neurological condition.
Similar to drug addicts, people addicted to food need increasingly large doses because the need for food ‘hijack’ the part of the brain responsible for the body’s survival instincts, effectively tricking the body into needing more and more food.
As most drug addicts know that taking more drugs is bad for them, most food addicts also know that eating larger and larger amounts of food is bad for them but they are powerless to stop.
What’s more the most addictive foods are those high in sugar, fat and salt. Those are often fast and processed foods, full of additives and generally unhealthy. Some studies show that addictive components have been purposefully added to those foods to make them more profitable. The logic is easy to see; large sales of relatively cheap products generate huge revenues.
However, while experts demonstrate that the symptoms of being addicted to food are similar to those seen in drug and alcohol addicts, those struggling with the food addiction receive neither support or funding. They are simply left to their own devices, surrounded with highly addictive foods, aggressively marketed around the clock by slim or even super-trim models and celebrities.
What is more, while we often feel empathy for other addicts, those addicted to food are frequently dismissed or even ridiculed, as attention seekers, simply eating too much and alike.
Offhand comments such as; ‘they will not be overeating if in third world country’ are not uncommon. While overeating is most certainly widely spread amongst developed countries, there are sufferers in developing countries too. Besides, nothing can be achieved by dismissing towards those afflicted.
Given that overeating is often used to mask psychological problems and traumas, social stigma and isolation only added to the problem. As one sufferer described; ‘You just block your life out. Shut yourself away and ate.’
When this is coupled with easy access, and relative affordability of the most addictive foods, it is hard to see how those suffering ever going to find the way to recovery.
The only organization to consistently offer help and support to overeaters for since it was founded in January 1960 is Overeaters Anonymous or OA. Since its inception OA has spread in 65 countries, helping thousands of people overcome their addiction.
OA welcomes everyone who has a problem with their eating, and recognize many forms food obsession comes in; preoccupation with body weight, size, and shape; eating binges; starving followed by induce vomiting or excessive laxatives use, constant ‘grazing’ and alike. OA charges no fee, and is not affiliated with any public or private organisation, political movement, ideology or religious doctrine.
While reaching for chocolate when feeling sad, lonely or just ‘blue’ is not necessarily full-blown food addiction, if persistent enough and frequent enough, it might lead to it.
Comfort or emotional eating is a term often heard and familiar to most of us. While occasional comfort eating may never result in compulsion to drive to an all night store to buy chocolate, (or chips or burger), it is important to recognize early indicators.
I have struggled with comfort, emotional, or as sometimes refered to compulsive eating most of my adult life. Even one of my first blogs (Day Diet Died!) was about food and dieting. All in an attempt to empower myself. Even though I have learned that ‘missing pieces’ are neither in the fridge or the cupboard, knowing what ails us does not mean we can also eliminate it. Especially not on our own. Support, understanding and guidance is critical.
This is why OA is invaluable.
I would love to hear your thoughts -:)!