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In American society food is often associated with good times and happiness. Highly processed foods also have a significant impact on the neurochemicals in the brain. For millions of people eating becomes a coping mechanism of sorts. In this episode we will differentiate between over eating and food addiction, identify triggers and interventions for food addiction. This is a very cursory overview at a problem that is contributing to the high rates of obesity in America.
Examine the difference between overeating and food addiction
Evaluate myths about food addiction
Explore the behavioral and biological mechanisms underlying food addiction
Identify ways to address food addiction triggers
Why I Care/How It Impacts Recovery
Excessive food consumption is socially acceptable and food addiction rarely causes imminent legal problems, so it can go unchecked for a long time
For some people, addictive behaviors started with food addiction
For others, when their substance of choice was removed, food was available for self-soothing
Regularly using food to self-soothe is, at the very least, a relapse warning sign if not a full-blown relapse.
Food Addiction vs. Overeating
Food can become an addiction, when it is used to
Escape from negative feeling states AND
Continues to be used despite negative consequences
The person experiences psychological withdrawals and cravings when he or she cannot access food to cope
Overeating is often a bad habit, but can be stopped with education, planning and mindfulness
Food Addiction vs. Overeating
Experiments show that, for some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by other addictions are also activated by food, especially highly palatable foods.
Highly palatable foods are foods rich in:
Signs and Symptoms
You frequently crave certain foods
You often eat even when you are not hungry.
You eat much more than you intended to, sometimes to the point of feeling excessively “stuffed.”
You often feel guilty after eating particular foods
You sometimes make excuses in your head about why you should eat something that you are craving.
You have repeatedly tried to quit eating or setting rules (includes cheat meals/days) about certain foods, but been unsuccessful.
You often hide your consumption of unhealthy foods from others.
You feel unable to control your consumption of unhealthy foods, despite knowing that they are causing you physical harm (includes weight gain).
Signs and Symptoms cont…
You eat certain foods so often or in such large amounts that you start eating food instead of working, spending time with the family, or doing recreational activities.
You avoid social situations where certain foods are available because of fear of overeating.
You have problems functioning effectively at your job or school because of food and eating.
When you cut down on certain foods (excluding caffeinated beverages), you have symptoms such as anxiety, agitation
Eating food causes problems such as depression, anxiety, self-loathing, or guilt.
You find yourself eating more and more often due to stress
Food addiction is an excuse for over eating
FALSE: Someone with a food addiction is using food to cope and activate reward pathways to help them feel “normal” or “calm.”
Any emotional eating is wrong
FALSE: Just like having a few drinks occasionally after a hard day does NOT qualify a person as an alcoholic, occasionally eating to self soothe is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation
Our society actually teaches self-soothing through food, so one would expect using that as a fall-back occasionally
Abstinence is key
FALSE: Unlike addiction to illicit drugs, a person cannot quit eating.
Elimination of an entire food or food group is rarely recommended as it makes it more likely for a binge.
Since one addiction will likely be replaced by another, understanding and awareness of WHY the person is eating is more important than eliminating a food
Binge eating is caused by certain foods
FALSE: Binge eating is caused by a need to numb, escape or feel pleasure.
Highly processed foods are more likely to activate these reward pathways due to their easy digestion and prior conditioning
Food Addiction is the same a loving food
FALSE: People who love food can stop eating when needed. Food is not serving a protective function
Certain foods are more rewarding. Get those foods out of your house for now
Temporal separation and extra effort required will make accessing those foods less rewarding
Make sure there are lower calorie rewarding alternatives—apples, bananas
This will ease the transition. Even if you are emotionally eating, it can help reduce the guilt
Only eat at the table and without television
Try to “close the kitchen” at a certain time
Identify your other tools
Get 4 sheets of paper. One for each of the following feelings: Boredom, Anxiety, Anger, Depression
On each sheet, identify three or more things you can do to alleviate that feeling.
Go on a walk/run
Listen to music
Clean the house
Surf the internet to learn about …
Get a baseline
For a week, keep a food journal of what you eat, how much, whether or not you were hungry and what your emotional state was
This will give you an idea about how often you eat when you are not hungry, and your food choices.
For the next week
Keep a food journal of what you eat, how much, whether or not you were hungry, what your emotional state was and alternative activities
Do 15. If you are not hungry, drink a glass of fluid, then go do something else for 15 minutes. Many times the craving will pass
Identify triggers and ways to deal with them
Time of day
Other people eating
Olfactory (smell) triggers
Poor time management
Address mood issues
Identify 3 ways you could have used this information in the past week.
What was the situation?
What did you do?
How effective was that for you?
If you would have had this new information, what could you have done differently?
How would that have changed the outcome?
How can you start integrating this knowledge into your routine
Food, especially processed foods activate the brain’s pleasure circuits (for some more than others)
You may have a food addiction if you are:
Spending more time than intended preparing to eat, eating or recovering from eating
Eating for reasons other than hunger
Forgoing other interests
Experiencing guilt or shame about eating
The first step is to figure out what you are eating and why
Identify triggers and interventions for non-hunger eating
Explore other ways you can deal with stress, anxiety, anger, depression and boredom
Eliminate vulnerabilities by getting enough rest and proper nutrition
Address underlying mental health issues
More Information and Resources
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