Did you ever eat well beyond full for days upon days without any relief from a full belly? Did you ever eat tray after tray of sweetened pastries? Do you think about eating every wakened moment? Do you shake when you abruptly stop eating certain foods? Have you been on a series of diets with little to no success? Well, if you’ve said yes to more than three of these questions you just might be a food addict.
Food addiction is defined as an uncontrollable urge for excess food, particularly refined carbohydrates such as sugar and flour substances, which are quick to metabolize. The disease, food addiction, is truly a disease—it’s biochemical in nature because the body of the food addict reacts differently to some foods than the bodies of other people. A common link between food addicts is sensitivity to sugars and certain carbohydrates.
Food addiction is often scorned upon by the public, some doctors, and even eating disorder treatment centers. I’ve heard some call this idea cult-like thinking.
Eating disorders are broken down to anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. As far as eating disorders go, anorexia and bulimia get the most attention. But it turns out that binge eating is the most common. It’s not uncommon for a binge eater to wolf down five chocolate eclairs in one sitting and still want for more.
A new survey of more than 9,000 Americans published in the current issue of the Journal of Biological Psychiatry found that binge eating disorder occurs in nearly 4 percent of people, whereas anorexia and bulimia occur in 0.6 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
Binge eaters typically consume more than 1,500 calories in one sitting between meals when they’re not particularly hungry, and they binge at least two times a week. As a result, they’re five times as likely to be severely obese, which puts them at a greater risk of obesity-related problems like heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, and colon cancer.
Binge eating is an ingredient to food addiction. Not all binge eaters are food addicts; however, all food addicts binge eat. I liken food addiction to heroin or any drug or alcohol addiction in that sufferers find that taking a small taste of chocolate leads them to inhale en entire six-pack of bars followed by a bag of chips and anything else they can get their hands on. This is the same loss of control noted with all addictions followed by the same remorse after. Depression ensues along with self-hate.
Sadly, most binge eaters suffer alone telling no one of their secret never getting the help they need. Psychiatrists tend to treat binge eating as an anxiety/eating disorder prescribing Topamax or Meridia. Yes, these medicines may slow down the urge to eat but it’s treating the symptom rather than the problem. Instead, treatment with goals to change and redirect the thoughts, perception, and behavior can produce long term, life changing results. This is not to say medication is not needed in some cases for it most surely is. In some situations medication is needed with therapy.
It’s my experience, as a clinician, hypnosis and cognitive/behavioral therapy, along with removing sugar, flour, and wheat from the diet, produces amazing long–term results—quieting the monster within normalizing the eating.
You may be a food addict particularly if you demonstrate the following behaviors several times per week or more:
1. I think about what I’m going to eat at all hours of the day regardless if I just ate a full meal.
2. I plot and plan and worry about cutting down on specific foods. I promise I’ll just eat one slice of cake and save the rest for later, and of course later never comes because I consumed the entire cake.
3. I feel sluggish or fatigued from overeating. I passed out in a nearly finished bowl of spaghetti.
4. I eat past full in spite of pain from my distended stomach.
5. I hide foods and eat them in the locked bathroom (turning on the bath water to drown the sound of opening packages of sweets and crunchy starches) or bedroom where no one can see me.
6. I suffer from withdrawal symptoms when I try to abstain from specific foods like chocolate candy bars, ice cream, cake, or pasta.
7. I steal foods and have left or considered leaving my child unattended to get my food fix.
8. I panic when my “trigger foods” run low or at the thought of never eating them again. I’ll simply curl up in a corner and die if I can never eat chocolate cake again!
9. I must have certain foods regardless of who I might hurt to get them.
10.I eat full meals right after I just ate a full meal—there is no full button.
11. I sleep in a reclining chair or with several pillows propped under my head for fear of regurgitation from previously inhaling a large amount of food in a short period of time.
12. I turn down most events to stay home alone to eat.
So, what’s the answer to recover from such a debilitating disease?
In my practice I find the most success with patients is combining cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, and for some who are comfortable with a twelve-step anonymous program (Food Addicts Anonymous) geared for spiritual recovery from food addiction.
I also suggest eating three meals a day plus a metabolic boost every four hours to prevent hunger and reaching blindly for the wrong foods out of sheer panic.
Avoid sugar, flour, and wheat and instead add fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low fat dairy, whole grains and starches, and a tablespoon of fat to your daily food regime. In addition, eat a wide variety of foods rather than consuming the same types of foods at each meal to avoid developing sensitivity to these foods as well.
Remember to never let yourself get too hungry and carry foods with you when you know you won’t be home or close to a place where you can get the right foods.
No doubt it’s challenging to overcome food addiction in our environment, which is almost unlimited amounts of tasty processed foods laced in sugar, fat, and starch but you can, I’m living proof.
Photos by: Benjamin Crego and Dr. Lisa respectively