Food addiction: Is it real?

It’s 10 a.m. and you’re itching for a Diet Coke. Maybe you’re holding off, trying to make it until noon to crack open your first can. Maybe you’re on your second or third, or maybe you’re heading down to the convenience store to re-fill your 32-oz. cup you bought on the way to work this morning.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

I’ve written before about my love affair with soda, and even shared tips on beating the habit. But for many people, it’s not as simple as that.

Food addiction is a complicated issue. Many people doubt its existence, saving the word “addiction” for things like cigarettes and hard drugs. But the fact is, food addiction is real, just as real as any other physical addiction, and its consequences can be dire.

Lately I’ve been realizing that I may have more food hangups than I thought. I’m not jonesing for soda like I used to be, but in the past few weeks I’ve caught myself looking for a reason to get fast food. Years ago, hitting up the drive-thru on my way to work used to be a daily occurrence. Thankfully I’ve come a long way from those days, but when I realized I’ve been having the urge just as strongly, even though I haven’t been acting on it, I recognized the fact that this is more than a run-of-the-mill craving. But there’s one more thing that makes this really look like the problem it is: In contrast, even though I love chocolate, I could take it or leave it. Same with soda, potato chips, ice cream, or any other indulgent treat. But with French fries, I can’t stop thinking about them. I plan my son’s preschool drive around which fast food chain I want to go to. I calculate whether I have enough cash on hand to grab some while I’m out on my next errand so my husband won’t know I’ve hit up fast food again. And on and on.

This, my friends, is a problem.

brain-954821_960_720Food addiction is a sensitive subject, one that I’ve wanted to address for a while but haven’t felt qualified to do so. Luckily, an old friend of mine offered to help me out.

Jodi Wheatley, MS RDN,is a registered dietitian with a masters degree in dietetics. She is the founder and owner of Nutrition from Within, a Utah-based nutrition consulting firm. Jodi is also a certified life coach, and has a certificate in adult weight management. I knew Jodi in high school but we lost touch over the years. We “bumped into each other” on Facebook recently and I felt a new connection with her when I saw the work she is doing to help others get their nutrition on track, heal their relationship with food, and free themselves from food addiction.

When Jodi asked if she could share her insights on food addiction, I immediately said yes. It’s a topic that needs to be address again and again, because food addiction has many disguises and is most likely to be met with denial than action.

Luckily, Jodi can help you out. She wrote a guest post on food addiction, which follows this paragraph and is kicking off a new program for 2016 called “Breaking the Chains,” a 13-week program to help you finally free yourself from food for good. She’s offering it at a deep discount, so if what she says here resonates with you, be sure to head on over to her website and get signed up.

Addiction can be seen as a confusing word.  It can be taken in such a negative light.  Other negative words, such as, “lazy” and “no will-power” tend to be closely associated with addiction.  Yes, addictions are harmful and they captivate us, but when someone suffers from an addiction of any sort, we might do well to not judge so quickly.  Those who do not struggle with an addiction probably do not understand just how much addicts truly suffer, how much they are overwhelmed with a burden they desperately want to be free from, but which they feel powerless to overcome.  On top of that, they feel shame for having an addiction.  Instead, we could try to have more compassion for that person, or better yet, more compassion for ourselves if we are the one with an addiction.  We as people tend to be our own worst critics.  It can be hard to accept if we have an addiction of some sort.  We may tell ourselves, “No I don’t have an addiction.  I can stop at any time.”  However, in order to truly be free from this overwhelming burden, one must accept the reality of the addiction, recognize that it does NOT mean one is lazy and has no will-power, and most importantly, that one is not powerless to overcome it.

Food addiction specifically is one that people frequently deny they have or that it even exists.  Have you ever noticed that if you tend to binge eat, you reach for those foods that are high in fat, sugar, or salt?  Those foods have been shown to leave one wanting more because they taste so good.  The act of eating tasty and delicious food releases endorphins into the body.  Endorphins help us to feel good and give us a sense of well-being (Nogueiras, 2012).  The problem with eating foods high in sugar, fat and salt is that it leaves us wanting more.  We then feed ourselves more foods that are highly tasty or highly palatable, which then is an overload to the brain’s pleasure center.  The overload causes a decreased sensitivity, which creates a need for more and more.  A viscous cycle that can be detrimental to our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is the result.

I have been studying food addiction for the past three years now and it is fascinating.  Food addiction is a form of bondage and it is a definite cycle.  When we are in bondage, we are not able to live up to our true potential.  One’s true potential, I believe, is magnificent and glorious.  There are hundreds and thousands of situations, life trials, heartaches, and down-right traumatic experiences that can keep us in bondage.  We can be stuck in a cycle which may seem impossible to get out of.  However, my message that I want to convey today is that there is a way out of bondage.

Those with a food addiction turn to food for comfort and an emotional release.  Anytime you turn to something to deflect the pain that is felt, then you are denying yourself the freedom that can be felt from true healing in your heart.  True healing in your heart takes work, perseverance, and tears.  It also takes a willingness to really reflect and ask yourself some questions as to why things may not be working like you may have hoped.

My approach to good nutrition and health as a dietitian is a little different from the “norm.”  The clients I see are encouraged to focus on the inside, before any meal plan is given.  We go through a lot of questions and self-reflection, and it is a step-by-step program.  I have spent the last several years “coming out of my shell” because I found myself in a situation where I did not want to be, and which was not good for me.  The only way I began that journey was by asking the question, “How do I change myself?”  That question can lead us to amazing things, if we are willing to do the work, to change, and to take on a different perspective.  The step-by-step program provided at “Nutrition From Within” is no “magic pill” but it works.  The program empowers individuals to take charge of their lives and to truly live their dreams.  Click here for more information about a program starting in January 2016.

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