Food addiction affects millions of people worldwide, but are all addictions similar and should they be treated the same?
The primary difference between food addiction verse drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other addictions is that everyone needs to eat in order to survive. When discussing other addictions such as drugs and alcohol, it is important to realize that individuals do not need drugs and alcohol to live unless they have a medical condition that requires specific medications. The goal in the treatment of many addictions, especially, drugs and alcohol is usually abstinence, which may appear to be an unrealistic goal when it comes to food addiction. It isn’t really, and here is why.
Through research, scientists have found that when a person is battling any addiction, the pleasure center in your brain undergoes natural changes. When it comes to food addiction, we see the same changes happen when a person eats the hyperpalatable foods typical of the processed food fair. Our food industry has changed dramatically over the years. A majority of foods produced in the United States are intentionally manufactured in such a way that they surpass the reward properties of traditional foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Food chemists achieve this by filling foods on the market with increased levels of fat, sugar, flavors, and food additives.
Eating an overabundance of these hyperpalatable foods causes a surplus of dopamine (the brain chemical that makes you feel a sense of pleasure) to flow, overwhelming the brain. This is the very same thing that happens when a person indulges in drinking or using drugs. The brain can’t handle this excess of pleasure for a long period of time and it causes the body to decrease the total number of dopamine receptors (the only way to feel pleasure is when dopamine bonds with its receptor). In result this decrease in receptors causes your own perception of pleasure to decrease causing you to want more of the drug, alcohol, or sugar, fat and salt.
This is how food addiction begins and if addiction runs in your family genes, the chances of becoming addicted to food is significantly higher.So want can you do to overcome or prevent overeating and food addiction?
Here are some effective tips, tools, and strategies to help you fight against food addiction and weight gain.
Determine if you are addicted to food or if you are an emotional eater. Yale University researchers created a quiz to help you determine if you are addicted to food. Take the quiz located on EatingWell.com website or AddictionsUnplugged.com. Another helpful resource is the book Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction. This book provides a lot of resourceful information along with many tool and strategies to help someone overcome food addiction.
Create a food diary. Write down what you eat and examine what you ate and the reasons why you made those food choices. Also, examine what food makes increases your appetite and makes your eating habits become out of control? If you find the foods that trigger your desire to overeat, and you have determined that you are a food addict, or don’t want to become one, then you may have to abstain from it.
Abstain from Triggering Foods. Once you have determined which foods are triggering (these are most often sugar, flour, even grains, and dairy, for some), it is imperative that you abstain from them. None of the following suggestions will work if you continue to eat these foods – which actually make you want more. The only way the desire for them wanes is by no longer introducing the “desire” the food creates (that is the dopamine) into your system.
Meditation helps you to relax and focus. When you are relaxed and focused you are able to make better decisions. Meditation also helps to prevent you from being impulsive and using food as a coping mechanism or means of feeling satisfied. It also relaxes you, helping to prevent or eliminate anxiety or depression. These are conditions that can trigger overeating. Keep in mind, if you have tried this without success, you may be addicted to foods still in your daily diet. In that case, it is only once you have eliminated those foods that you can use meditation. You can use meditation to stay abstinent long-term, using this tool to stay clear from temptation.
Acupuncture is an effective technique that has helped people with addiction and even eating disorders. However, people using acupuncture must remember that they cannot rely on acupuncture alone. In order for acupuncture to be effective, the person receiving it must realize that they need to incorporate lifestyle and dietary changes into their daily regimen. Acupuncture, like mediation, can work if you are abstinent from the trigger foods. How it works: The needles are inserted into specific points on the body and in the ear release endorphins which have a calming and relaxing effect that makes it easier to deal with stress, frustration, and anxiety, which can trigger overeating and bingeing. In addition, endorphins affect the digestive and hormonal systems so acupuncture can help rebalance a person’s metabolism and increase their willpower.
Create long and short-term goals. Make a list of ten short-term and long-term goals. Focus on accomplishing one short-term and long-term goal each week. This will help you create a constructive plan for yourself. Creating goals will also, keep you stay on track and you won’t get overwhelmed and want to give up. This is often a reason a person will relapse to eating addictive foods – which have a self-medicating effect.
Find One-One Help. Eating Disorder Hope provides a list of therapists & specialists that specialize in eating disorders. Here is their website. If you are a food addict, look to resources that support people with addiction. Even alcohol and drug counselors can be helpful. There is a growing source of therapists that specialize in food addiction. See Acorn food addiction recovery services as one excellent agency at foodaddiction.com http://foodaddiction.com.
Find a support group. A great place to get support are the 12 step groups, such as Overeaters Anonymous. (OA). You can find face-to-face meetings, online and telephone meetings. You can find out more about them and others (FAA, Greysheet) on their websites. Another good website for resources for food addiction is addictionsunplugged . You can find them on the website. They have articles, books, support groups, lectures, workshops and doctors on call to help people with food addiction.
Never give up. Millions of people suffer from addictions. Battling an addiction can be very difficult, however, recovery is always an option and it can be achieved with the right help. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. You’re not alone.
Co-authored by Vera Tarman:
Dr. Vera Tarman has been working in the field of addiction medicine since 1994. She became accredited with the Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) in 2004. She has been the medical director of Renascent since 2006. She was a regular contributor to the call-in TV show Living Clean, Living Well as well as co-host on Addictions Unplugged, a community call-in show about addictions. Currently, she hosts a new show, Toronto Speaks: Addiction.