Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Addicted to food

An article in yesterday's USA Today described a conference focused on determining if food has addictive qualities. Could food addiction be yet another cause of the obesity epidemic?

Overeaters Anonymous has long held this view; I attended OA meetings many years ago, and while we didn't say we were food addicts, as some narcotics addicts do, we identified ourselves as "compulsive overeaters."

[For the record, OA was helpful in many ways, but I didn't see much in the way of true recovery, if recovery was defined as weight loss. I no longer attend meetings.]

One of the researchers defines food addiction as:

"Eating too much despite consequences, even dire consequences to health; being preoccupied with food, food preparation and meals; trying and failing to cut back on food intake; feeling guilty about eating and overeating."

Um ... that would be me. And probably some of you, too.

Andrea quoted yesterday from Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now:

"Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain. Whatever the substance you are addicted to -- alcohol, food, legal or illegal drugs, a person -- you are using something or somebody to cover up your pain. That is why, after the initial euphoria has passed, there is so much unhappiness, so much pain in intimate relationships. They do not cause pain and unhappiness. The bring out the pain and unhappiness that is already in you. Every addiction does that. Every addiction reaches a point where it does not work for you anymore, and then you feel the pain more intensely than ever."

So Tolle thinks food can be addictive. That paragraph really resonated with me.

What is it that keeps pushing me into the pantry? I don't think I have a lot of pain and unhappiness inside me. In fact, I think I'm pretty happy.

And why didn't I get addicted to running, instead of booze or food?

What do you think: Is food addiction real or not? Discuss.

Our phone lines are acting up, after very heavy storms last night, and I may not get back online until tomorrow morning. I hope you'll share your thoughts about this theory. I'm truly at a point where I think it has to be more than calories in/calories out.


Andrea K said...

Sorry for the typo in that quote! I should have edited better.

I don't know if Tolle is saying that the actual substances in the food (sugar, fat, etc.) is addictive. In other parts of the book he also talks about using shopping and other non-ingested substances in an addictive way, too.

I think he's talking more about the behavior and our emotional responses. People get addicted to the adrenaline high of gambling or the instant gratification of shopping, and there is clearly no foreign chemical entering their bodies. I know I can get sucked in by computer games, because they are an escape, numb me to the outside world, and it feels addictive when I can't seem to pull myself away to clean my house or go to bed.

In my opinion, part of the addicting qualities of food is the process: going to the store and stocking up on our favorite foods, preparing them, making ourselves comfortable in front of the TV, then the actual act of eating. Yes, some foods give us the sugar high or the numbing, dopey effect of refined flour, but I still think it's the whole experience that we crave. While we're busy picking out our Twinkies and Mountain Dew or baking up a batch of brownies, it gives us something else to focus on and not what's really bothering us.

And then, when we do this enough, even when something isn't bothering us, this behavior becomes habit and takes on a life of its own.

I do understand why people try the 12-step abstaining approach to food and know several people who do. I find I can't do that, however, because it triggers too many feeling of deprivation for me, and once I make something "forbidden," I obsess twice as much over it, and when I do get a hold of it I eat it until I'm sick because I tell myself I'll never eat it again. Yeah, right!

But abstaining from sugar and flour does seem to work for some people, so I am not going to rule anything out. And the experts keep doing studies on this food addiction question, so the debate goes on.

Jack Sprat said...

Just last night there was a great piece on Fresh Air with Terry Gross about the nature of addiction. The researcher, Volkow, included food addiction in her analysis.

miss petite america said...

that paragraph about it covering up pain really resonated with me too. and while we can be happy people for the most part, every person does carry "something" that is a source of some degree of unhappiness which i think translates to their degree of addiction. i don't think i'm out of control addicted to food, but i do think there are definintely times i use it as a crutch more than i should. just like i would use drugs or alcohol. everyone needs something to numb the pain. i've just chosen the addiction that can also make me fat

but even being truly addicted to running can be bad too. anything in excess ain't so good.

and i know of very few people who really really can be moderate and rational and smart about all apsects of life.

ws said...

#1 I don't think food addiction is a cause of the obesity epidemic.

#2 I do think food addiction exists.

But, I think the obesity epidmeic is more a result of poorer food quality, greater access to unhealthy options and lack of exercise. That said, I also don't think weight loss is always as simple as calories in vs. calories out. However, for a preteen/teenager, the elimination of wasteful calories like candy, soda, fast food, etc PLUS the addition of exercise would probably help drop at least 10% of the excess weight younger people currently carry.

I have the guilt thing with food on very rare ocassions and usually only when I'm trying to cutback. However, I also think that I have a very addictive personality - I'm committed to doing things with full effort even to a fault.

I'd like to think I'm reasonably content also, but I feel I'm always susceptible to a new addiction, ultimately I think food would be a safer option than many others that exist.

Wasn't that a long winded explanation for my two short answers at the beginning.

mehitabel said...

I think it can be a real addiction, just like any other. I remember a friend telling me that she felt "lucky" that she was *only* addicted to alcohol, because she could live without it. Had she been addicted to food, she would have still had to eat, and it would have been a much harder battle.
In any case, today's post gave me a lot of "food for thought" as the saying goes--something to mentally "chew on." Hmmm--I'm noticing that food metaphors are really common.

Laura N said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura N said...

Okay, sorry, let me try this again.

Good stuff here. I just wrote the longest comment in the history of blogging, so if you want to read the full version (which is all about moi) go to my blog. =)

Here's my conclusion, though:
Ultimately, I think everyone has to overcome their addictions differently, and no matter what science comes up with, there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution.