The Why's and Wherefore's of a Food Addiction
Food Addictions: Seeing them for what they are
What is an addiction?
It is simply this. You no longer feel that you have the choice to stop. IT seems stronger than you. It also gives you a false sense of pleasure, pleasure which inevitably turns into pain. When it comes to food, the definition of an addiction applies so strongly to a lot of people.
The science behind a food addiction:
Scientifically, food addiction is a cluster of chemical dependencies on specific foods or food in general; after the ingestion of high palatable foods such as sugar, excess fat and/or salt, the brains of some people develop a physical craving for these foods. Over time, the progressive eating of these foods distorts their thinking and leads to negative consequences which they do not want but cannot stop.
It is now clear that clinicians view food addiction as not just as one bio-chemical illness but rather as a cluster of several different chemical dependencies and other disorders. Over at the food addiction institute, they are always looking into the science behind a food addiction. You can visit the FAI for all the blurb here: http://foodaddictioninstitute.org/what-does-science-say-about-food-addiction/
How many peeps are suffering from food addictions?
It's difficult to know how many people are suffering from food addictions because of its ambiguity and the very fact that many people don't realise they have a food addiction, but the most prominent side effect of food addictions is obesity or weight issues.
In the UK, data on overweight and obesity among adults (defined as people aged 16 and over) are mainly from the Health Survey for England (HSE). Results for 2014 showed that 61.7% of adults were overweight or obese (65.3% of men and 58.1% of women). By 2050 obesity is predicted to affect 60% of adult men, 50% of adult women and 25% of children (Foresight 2007), so it’s coming down, but it is still alarmingly high, and we all know this to much higher in other countries around the world. You can visit the HSE on obesity here:
Facts and statistics about obesity:
The Health Survey for England data shows that between 1993 and 2014, the prevalence of severe obesity was consistently higher among women (increasing from 1.4% in 1993 to 3.6% in 2014) than among men (increasing from 0.2% in 1993 to 1.8% in 2014).
The science says that in most cases, severe obesity is caused by an imbalance between energy input and expenditure (obvs!!). However, some cases are due to identifiable and specific genetic defects (e.g. leptin deficiency, MC4 receptor mutations), damage to the hypothalamus (from trauma, tumours or surgery) or drugs (e.g. antipsychotics).
Severe obesity is associated with lower educational attainment, reduced employment prospects and lower socioeconomic status, although the directionality of this association is not known.
What do I have to say about this?
Well, you can chuck as much science as you like at a food addiction and yes, it is caused by chemical imbalances and other physiological or demographic issues, but we don’t all come into this world with those imbalances – they start at some point in our life, but where? When? And how?
It’s got to be that some of those 58% of adult women who are obese, got that way because they were not addressing deep rooted emotional issues and instead were directed to food to avoid or soften the pain, or as a result of conditioning, programming and experiences. Nurture, rather than nature. Surely, if we can go back to the root cause of where these imbalances started, rather than sticking a plaster over it with medications and 100% abstinence, we can start to heal the imbalances and the actions that cause the imbalances to allow for moderation in eating and healing in the physical and emotional causes and effects of obesity?
In my humble opinion, I believe that food for many, is a channel for you to protect or block out painful memories or emotions or trauma from childhood to young adulthood that has not been communicated and released from the emotional attachment to it.
The feelings behind a food addiction:
Addictions often arise as a result of not being able to communicate eloquently your true feelings about negative messages being received with authority, repetition and impact in the past.
This could be as children (which is why it's difficult to communicate effectively), or later on in life and can come in many forms - being told 'you should be seen and not heard', being made to finish all your dinner so you could have a dessert, even though you were full, to witnessing or experiencing a situation that made you think 'if only I could be bigger then I could stand up for myself' are just a few examples.
Right or wrong intentions from these authoritative influences, with impact and repetition, these have created beliefs inside of us that we need to be bigger to protect ourselves, or that food is the answer when you are happy, sad, poorly, angry, stressed, relaxing etc.
Over time, food becomes our nemesis and saviour, all at once.
Food temporarily softens the anguish, pain, sadness, or heightens the joy, relaxation or celebrations. But once that immediate pleasure is reached, our thoughts soon turn back to pain, in the form of guilt, regret, irritable bowel and tiredness, which forms a vicious cycle of reaching for something that will soften the feelings...food...and so it becomes a repetition - reinforcing the addiction.
Often enough, the foods we find we are addicted to, often lead us back to a time in our lives' when we felt special, loved, valued, good, appreciated...and all the great feelings and emotions associated with that - that's why it is such a good feeling when we reach for them. But that short term gain is leading to long term misery.
Food addictions leave you with knock-on physical effects such as belatedness, tiredness, lethargy, even achiness, from sugar and heavy processed carbs.
The emotional effects of food addictions are normally the ones our mind struggles to let go of, like guilt, shame or embarrassment.
Oftentimes, you are driven to eating it in secret, hiding it from friends and family because of the guilt and shame you associate with it, not realising that it’s the guilt and shame that is fuelling the addiction and if you were to take that away, the foods you were addicted to would have to lessen their addictive grip.
Why am I so passionate about sharing a holistic viewpoint of food addictions?
Well up till 2015, I was a food addict, I had been addicted to biscuits, coffee, cake, bread, pastry, chocolate, milkshakes since the age of 16 and probably even earlier than that. But I was also a personal trainer, fitness instructor and massage therapist…the irony of it! That cruel irony drove me to be a secret eater because of the shame and guilt and hypocrisy of it. Despite my intentions to be as healthy as I preached to my clients and my weight yo-yo'd for years. After a family bereavement, I hit rock bottom and the only way from there was up, with the help and support of therapists and my husband, when I eventually stepped back from my shame and guilt and told him all about it. You can read the full story here: www.bu4life.co.uk/my-story
What I learned from my food addictions:
Moving through different levels of consciousness and awareness, I realised in hindsight that when I was in the thick of the addictions, I was unware of the hold food had over me and its purpose, I was unaware that there were unresolved emotions that needed accepting and letting go of. There was an ego-driven pain body inside of me, literally feeding off my insecurities I held since childhood. As my awareness grew, I was able to observe that part of me that was still an insecure, frightened, heartbroken child, I was able to separate her from me and then reassure her that she was perfect; perfectly loveable, wanted and good enough in every way, before embracing her once more and becoming her parent from that moment on.
But where did the food addictions come from?
In my recovery since, I learned that my food addictions were fuelled by subconscious overwhelming feelings and beliefs that I wasn’t loveable enough, or good enough, and food was the closest I could get to feeling the feelings of being wanted, feeling rewarded, valued, because the filters I looked through life through up to that point had not recognised the thousands of other ways I was getting those things from other people, my career and my family. All because that unconscious programming from way back was controlling the show.
Seeing a food addiction for what it is:
In the plain light of day, a food addiction represents imbalance in one of more areas of our life; emotional, physical and/or spiritual. As we become aware that this is the case, we are then given a torch to shine a light to it, see it for what it is; a cover up, a protective barrier, cotton wool to wrap you in.
It will lose its intensity as you start to explore how to let go and allow those layers to peel back, knowing you are safe and strong. In the process of accepting, letting go and transforming, you may even become grateful for the obstacles you have had to overcome in your life, because they have given you the awareness and the ability to recognise what is available to you when you are free from food addictions and living a life of healthy moderation.
‘You have to know what darkness is to appreciate the light.’
Where to from here?
Well, for starters, if you think you have a food addiction of some sort, then start to identify it/them and then shine that light up at it to show it for what it is; a mask, a cover up, a protective barrier.
Then you can start to take away the power it has over you to control what you eat.
Recognise what foods you have an unhealthy relationship with. Write them down somewhere, a journal or diary, it’s time to start loosening their grip on you!
Start observing when you crave or eat the foods you wrote down to the last question. Are there emotions you can pinpoint? Times of the day? Times of the month?
This is a big one. Confide in someone you trust implicitly and let them know your full food addiction story; how long, why you think, when it happens and ask for their support in helping you overcome it, by being there to chat if you need them. Speak to them, write them a letter, email or message. You are literally releasing the control that guilt and shame has over your food addictions here.
I know first hand how vital it would've been to have someone understand completely what you are going through. I had to figure that out for myself, it's now my mission to ensure as many women as possible have that support to reach out to. For support, guidance and coaching, you can join our weight loss wonderland over on Facebook here, grab yourself a complimentary 30 minute call to bust your food addictions down here, or enrol for the upcoming BDBTT (Break it Down, Break Through and Transform) Masterclass here!