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.
Sure, we know that it's popular these days to have something called "healthy boundaries". If we leave our work at the office, say "no" to offers we don't like, and ask people to step off our toes when they're too close, we may think we've got the whole boundary thing licked. But there’s more to boundaries than we typically tend to think.
Fundamentally, boundaries are meant to help us find safety. They delineate where our (mental, emotional, physical) space ends, and where another's may begin. When we have healthy boundaries, we take responsibility for our needs, thoughts, and feelings, and we allow others to have their own needs, thoughts, and feelings, without taking responsibility or needing to somehow change them. When we honor our boundaries, we set limits, and take adult responsibility for our experiences.
One way to think of boundaries is to recognize how we interact with them in several different categories:
1. Physical: How much space would we like between ourselves and others? What sorts of affection and touch do we want, and not want? How much sleep and self-care time do we need to feel our best? Usually, traumas such as accidents are primarily physical boundary violations. We can feel violated by life itself—as if we have lost trust in the integrity and ongoing well-being of our physical self. Sexual and physical assaults, while of course being physical boundary violations, can also be emotional and energetic boundary violations.
2. Emotional: How would we like to be spoken to? What sorts of feedback feels good to us, and what is unnecessarily hurtful? Can we allow other people to feel sad, angry, hurt, or fearful, without needing to “fix” them in some way? Can we allow ourselves to feel sad, angry, hurt, or fearful, without blaming it on anyone or anything else? Can we choose what we’re ready to share about our inner life with another person, at a pace that honors the safety and trustworthiness of the relationship?
3. Intellectual/mental: Can we respect other people’s viewpoints and ways of seeing the world, even if we strongly disagree? Can we respect that other people want to do things differently, have different preferences, and may understand certain concepts and situations differently than we do? This can be especially challenging in situations involving politics that we feel strongly about it, or if we feel we know "best" about how to do or see something.
4. Spiritual: Can we allow others to have their chosen spiritual life (or lack thereof), without feeling the need to change them, convince them of their wrongness, or force them to see things differently? Do we honor our own need for spiritual engagement or lack thereof, without needing to explain, justify, or rationalize our chosen belief system? Do we respect our need to honor our spiritual values instead of letting them take a backseat to our more everyday concerns?
5. Energetic: What kind of people do we want to be around, and what kind of people are toxic to us—and can we honor the need to chose our relationships carefully? If we can’t choose the relationship, can we arrange ourselves in a way so that we minimize contact with the unhealthy other? What sort of spaces and situations do we repeatedly find ourselves in—are they chaotic, confusing, abusive, and messy, or loving and joyful? The energetic boundary is closely related to physical and emotional boundaries. You may feel violated energetically if, for example, you are visually “sized up” by another person, or you find that someone has looked through your personal belongings or space without permission.
Oftentimes, our boundaries change over time, as we develop emotionally. Many people in early recovery from trauma, addiction, or substance abuse find that they need to uncover or develop their personal boundaries, to both protect them from relapse or further traumatization, and to encourage emotional growth.
I’ll post on How to Set Healthy Boundaries in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!
Teri Dillion, LPC, LAC
New: Ask Teri anything! She'll intermittently select and answer questions about topics related to posts here, or in No Pressure, No Diamonds.