Have you ever started eating something, with the intention to have just one piece or slice, and found that you couldn't stop? You might be surprised at how many other people have similar issues with food. Food addiction is real, and can wreak havoc on the lives of those affected. Fortunately, recovery is quite possible, and many people find that they can learn to lead sane and happy lives without excess or compulsive eating.
First off, How do you know if you have a problem?
You may be struggling with a food addiction and/or compulsive eating, if any of the following are true:
*you can't stop eating after being full, and sometimes eat to the point of discomfort.
*you never seem to know when you're hungry or when you're full
*you have regular bouts of guilt, shame, or self-loathing after eating
*you feel obsessed with what you will eat next, what you just ate, or how you will "work off" the effects of your eating
*you have strong food cravings
*certain foods seem to trigger more hunger, and you find yourself eating more than what seems reasonable
*you exercise excessively to "get rid of" (purge) the extra food. Note that this can be a form of bulimia.
*you have periods of restricting your diet, followed by periods of food free-for-alls. ("yo-yo dieting")
*you have become obsessed with different diet trends, including paleo, vegan, macrobiotic, or raw foods, and find these diet "rules" preoccupy you
There are certain foods that can trigger this type of behavior more readily. Many people have found that the following foods tend to lead them to overeat:
*bread products, including cereals and granolas
*chocolate or other desserts
*creamy, fatty foods, such as nut butters
*refined carbs, such as white rice
*sweet or salty foods that come in bulk servings in bags/boxes Example:chips, trail mix, loose nuts, french fries)
*foods with natural sweeteners, including energy bars
*alcohol consumption can also lead an otherwise normal drinker to overeating sugar or other foods
Food addiction appears to act as both a behavioral and a substance addiction. Some people find that if they ingest any amount of sugar, it serves as "an alcoholic food" for them, and triggers craving and obsession for more. While this is a contentious topic in the addiction field, many recovering food addicts swear by the reality of the substance addiction. For others, the behaviors around food have the most problematic effect.
Some common triggers for people to overeat, or eat compulsively, include:
*being too hungry
*being too tired, and thinking the food is necessary for energy
*being in a rush, and feeling anxious
*feeling anxious at a social event,such as a party or potluck
*social events where the focus is on eating triggering foods
*access to "novelty" foods, where it's easy to justify overeating
*having poor boundaries or ability to say "no" to offered food
Many issues around food are intimately connected with issues of body image, self-esteem, and exercise/movement. While more women than men appear for eating disorder treatment and self-help groups focusing on food, men can be plagued by the same issues.
If you think that you may have a problem with food, know that help is available to you. It's important to get to know what your triggers are, and what healthy coping skills you may need to cultivate. Evidence shows that people in recovery from any sort of addictive process do best with a healthy community of support, whether from friends, family, self-help groups, or professional assistance. Many people find that they need to engage their spiritual life to find meaning and strength in their recovery process; Overeaters Anonymous (OA), a 12-step program based on the AA program, has proved invaluable to many people who couldn't find relief through more traditional methods. OA is open to anyone who has a problem with food, no matter what the nature of the problem, or the body size of the person.
Many of the symptoms of food addiction are common in eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Some people's food addiction leads to a need for residential eating disorder treatment, to address the physical as well as the emotional aspects of healing. Others find that they can find significant recovery through outpatient treatment and/or self-help groups. If you feel you have a problem with food, it's important to get an assessment with someone trained in differentiating between these disorders, so they can point you toward proper treatment.
Certain health conditions also can predispose one toward eating certain foods in an addictive fashion; often a combination of treatment with a psychotherapist/counselor and nutritionist or dietician can provide the support needed for recovery.
Teri Dillion, LPC, LAC
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