Is it addiction?

food addiction

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 -:)!

Author: Daniela

Reader, Writer, Mother, Freethinker, Habitual Day Dreamer, Blogger - Sharing Ideas, Poetry, Prose, and Conversations on the Lantern Post!

24 thoughts on “Is it addiction?”

  1. thanks for making us aware of this and OA – hopefully it helps a lot of people–I admit to turning to food for comfort, but I fill up easily, so never really “pig out” as my appetite does not allow it–we are all made differently and I am lucky this way

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    1. Hi my dear,

      Well, you are lucky indeed -:)! Most of us turn to food for comfort! Who has not reached for chocolate or such when ‘chips are down’ so to speak! Unfortunately those who suffer full addiction, are not able to stop even when bursting out. And sadly that is almost followed by feelings of huge guilt and shame. while not much is available in way of help, OA is doing great job!

      Many thanks for reading and commenting,
      Daniela

      Like

  2. “Eating disorders” have long been recognised, bulimia and anorexia, possibly orthorexia- google it, it is a disease if it is a compulsion which the “sufferer” finds harmful. And, yes, it is addictive behaviour to eat compulsively. It is an escape from real life.

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    1. Hi Clare -:)

      Yes, disorders like bulimia, anorexia, and less known orthorexia nervosa, as well as some others, have been long recognized as mental disorders. What they all have in common is fixation with food and/or body image. Food addiction belongs amongst them for the same reasons; obsession with food and compulsion to eat ever more irrespective of adverse effects on health. Unfortunately, all those disorders, and food addiction especially often go unnoticed until quite late when those suffering have already ruined their health.

      Thank you for reading and commenting,
      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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  3. Daniela, your wonderful piece has got me thinking! Personally, I see no problem in ‘dependency’ on particular types of food (chocolate, caffeine, etc) so long as it is not harmful to one’s health or has no negative spillover effects on those around you. Sometimes, food addiction is not only driven by emotional issues – the constant need for energy in today’s fast-paced world can also be a culprit (i.e. office workers relying on coffee to stay awake). Can we also attribute blame to the popularity of reality cooking shows? It is now quite fashionable to be a ‘foodie’ and it seems there are many people in the industrialised world who would be happy to give up their existing careers for a shot at being ‘master chefs’. Personally, I hope and pray that chocolate would never be formally classified as a ‘drug’ — imagine the chaos. xx

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    1. Hi my dear,

      I am always glad to spark some thinking -)! Thank you very much! Now, some would argue that our undoubtedly faced-paced world generates ever more stress that we try to sooth with food rather than requiring energy from food for physical activities like our ancestors needed before physical labour was ‘outsourced’ to machinery. Moreover, the food available to us is much higher in density and energy levels than what they had available. Reality cooking shows are dominating our TV screens like never before. I believe there are couple of reasons contributing to that; they are cheap to make compared to some other programs, and drive TV ratings up as they provide easy mass entertainment. Having said that, some have real value as they teach about goodness of whole, home-cooked food.

      And of course I agree with you-if chocolate become classified drug … there would be chaos indeed! If our dependency on chocolate does not control our lives, meaning we are compelled to have it regularity and frequently irrespective of the effect on our health … than all is still OK because we are not actually addicted. We like to have, but do not have to have it!

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting,
      Take Care,
      Daniela xoxo

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  4. While I may not be overweight from a food addiction, I do smoke cigs and detest that fact. There is nothing glamorous or healthy about inhaling smoke into one’s lungs. Diets do not work, it has been proven time and again because once you stop eating that “dietary” way, the pounds come back. I so agree that many overeat due to emotional/stressful reasons, same as my smoking habit. I have made a vow to myself to be 100% nicotine free by the summer of 2013.
    I read an interesting article by a News journalist here in the states , Lisa Ling on Diet Sodas and why people do not lose weight from them, they actually gain weight.
    “Turns out the sweeteners found in diet soda prevent your body from feeling full, and you may end up packing away even more calories.”..

    Very interesting discussion Daniela!

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    1. Well, my dear when you and I finally get together will have that last fag together -:)

      I never knew about Diet Sodas, but can readily understand why they will not work. Through many trials and errors I have found that there is something that always works if one only sticks to it long enough. And it is neither a diet, or any such product, or anything like that. It is the simplest thing in the world – true acceptance of one self. Know thy self so to love thy self, warts and all. Once we achieve that, (not just on the surface, but with our all being), all other thing start to fall into place. Slowly, but they do. Most people know about healthy foods, benefits of active lifestyle, etc. The real reason most people do not utilize that knowledge, but instead blot reality with unhealthy, highly addictive foods, is mostly psychological. No diet will ever solve that. Only working on real (often painfull) issues will.
      Thank you very much for reading and commenting -:)!

      It is always such pleasure to connect with you

      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

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  5. You make some excellent points, Daniela. OA is a much better choice than many of the medications that doctors prescribe here in the US. There was a news report recently on the numbers of children–really young children, under the age of 10–who are taking medications to control their appetites and/or help them lose weight.
    This remedy will become part of the real, and often painful, issues they’ll deal with in the future, and the report included a specialist saying that many children who begin drugs now will continue them in some form for most of their lives.

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    1. Hi Marylin,

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting! I am surprised and somewhat saddened to hear doctors in the USA prescribe medications to such young children. This is most certainly not the case in NZ. There is a quite a substantive body of research demonstrating quite convincingly that in large majority of cases obesity and related problems result from addiction to food root causes of which are psychological. That being the case no appetite suppressant can resolve it. Only careful tackling of underlying causes can. To that end OA really does a great job.

      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

      Like

  6. Great post — and thank you for your service in bringing this refuge to the fore.

    There are a number of other 12-step organizations for compulsive overeating so if OA isn’t the right one, people can keep looking. There is also an enormous body of evidence of the dopamine- and serotonin-zapping effects of sugar- and fat-calorie dense substances that affect the brain in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Addiction deprives us of the ability to feel pleasure in other ways than more and more and more of our addictive substance. This addiction is enormously complex but is now becoming part of the established medical and psychiatric canon. The latest textbook collection destigmatizes addiction in the same radical way that removing homosexuality as a psychiatric condition from the DSM.

    The latest and most accessible marriage of these findings and lifestyle can be found in Pamela Peeke’s The Hunger Fix. A 12-Step program is a great way to treat this illness but if you want to understand the science of it, there are more & more reader-friendly explanations that can be an additional tool in the battle.

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    1. Hi Frances,

      Thank you so MUCH for reading the post and taking time to write informative comment. I am very grateful for your input. I do have an interest in this issue which is both complex and multifaceted. De-stigmatizations of the addiction in through public forums is very important. More information we can provide the better. I have not heard of Pamela Peek’s The Hunger Fix but am going to look for it straight away.
      Once again many thanks for your input!

      Kind Regards,
      Daniela

      Like

  7. Food Addictions are hard aren’t they! Where does one get support? What ways to help face the addiction and receive not only encouragement, but empowerment are there? Well there are therapies, books, CD’s, coaching, help centers, interventions, and others…
    But, the greatest help is ‘Within’! A daily MANTRA can be healing, as well as transforming over time. May I suggest a free booklet…
    I highly recommend checking out a FREE eating practice booklet at LuLu . Com Just go to w w w . LuLu . Com & type in: Eating Practice in True Love (by JMM)

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  8. This is a very interesting post…..Food may seem like a harmless addiction to some until it starts affecting their weight in a sinificant way.
    I enjoyed reading this. It was very informative and well-written.

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    1. Thank you very much -:)!
      Indeed it does often seems harmless especially to observers, but it can and often does have serious implications on one’s health.
      Many thanks,
      Daniela

      Like

  9. I’m not super over-weight, but I consider myself addicted to food. Not all sorts of food, but still. Chocolate is my thing, I need it, I crave for it, everyday. Not in huge amounts…however, the amount I eat everyday is enough for me to have 10 kilos more than I’d like, and that worries me because I’m still somewhat “young” (32 :P) and I know the tendency of our metabolism is to decrease with age…plus, I also know that once a woman gets pregnant, especially more than once, it’s hard to get back to their previous shape…and I haven’t even gotten pregnant yet!!!😛 So, yes, it concerns me a little. But I don’t know if we should get super worried…I mean, there are times in your life that everything’s going great and you’re eating in a very healthy manner…other times things just suck, so we turn to food. Some people turn to drinking, gambling, cigarettes, sex…everyone has their own addiction. I think that as long as our addictions don’t hurt anyone else around us, it’s fine. I prefer someone who overeats than someone who drinks and drives and kills people on the road. I prefer someone who overeats than someone who smokes in other people’s faces and makes them breath damaging components…as if the air in our cities weren’t polluted enough😛 Anyway…the way I see it, everyone needs a sort of “cane” to lean on – from time to time, or all our lives, doesn’t matter. We know it’s harmful. But living unhappily isn’t any healthier, is it? I’ll die happily eating😉

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    1. I love your comment -:)! And I have to say right away … at 32 you are very young indeed! Chocolate … oh yes, you and I both and many others besides! I have struggled with my weight most of my life … like you I am not terribly overweight, but nevertheless I would like to weigh less … the thing is at this stage in my life (47) I have come to conclusion that the most important thing is not number on the scale, but rather how I feel … and that feeling depends on many factors besides the weight!

      Thank you very much for such thoughtful comment!

      Like

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