Why do some people find it so easy to give up sugar, dairy, and gluten, while others struggle?
Why do some people manage to stay committed and focused on their fitness plan and others fall off the wagon, only to promise they’ll do better next time?
The answer is simple. It’s called food addiction.
Or you can call it an eating addiction - which this European medical study from 2014 says is more accurate. (1)
That’s because no one food is addictive (although I would make an exception for Luke’s warm chocolate cake and hazelnut ice-cream) but eating is.
An eating addiction, according to the UK Addiction Treatment Centre (UKATC), (2) needs to be split into two distinct categories: binge eating disorders, and compulsive eating disorders.
Binge eating sounds like what it is - you end up eating over and above what you would normally do, and for an extended period of time. Think of binge drinking, and you get the picture - except that this isn’t just something you do in one night, or a weekend. This is your life. Binge eating is a medically recognised disorder that manifests itself in many ways, but the most common is that sufferers will eat when they are not physically hungry, and will routinely eat past the point of feeling full. Contrary to the idea that sufferers enjoy the food they’re eating, and that’s why they’re eating more of it - binge eaters are actually miserable after they eat, and feel very guilty and that food has taken over their life.
As the UK Addiction Treatment Centre points out “people suffering from binge eating disorder often mention not having the ability to restrain themselves from eating. They eat because their bodies and minds crave food at a level that would otherwise be deemed irrational.”
The UKATC says that compulsive eating is an addiction where a person feels compelled to eat for reasons other than physical hunger. This could be reasons as mundane as boredom, or something far more serious like self esteem issues, insecurity o being a victim of abuse.
Whatever the reason, compulsive eaters like binge eaters are miserable. They don’t want to let food control their lives, just like drug addicts or alcohol addicts don’t want their substances to control their lives.
TREATING FOOD ADDICTION COMPASSIONATELY
How would you treat an alcohol addict? The world famous 12 step Alcoholics Anonymous Programme or AA is heavy on spirituality, but it’s worth just looking through it as a guide for how to treat eating addiction as well - but let’s just replace food here for alcohol:
1. We admitted we were powerless over FOOD - that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to FOOD ADDICTS and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
AA also practices abstinence from alcohol but pairs you up with a buddy - someone who has gone through what you are going through - so that if you fall off the wagon or are tempted to drink, there’s someone you can talk to.
You can see how this puts things into perspective with regards to food addiction, right?
The UKATC says most food addictions start in the mind, and so the goal of treatment is to “identify what causes compulsive thoughts and behaviours so that these can be managed.”
There are some common threads that run through most food addicts:
underlying emotional stress
more and stronger cravings for food
a need for comfort that only food can provide
an inability to say no to food when entertaining or being entertained
How would you treat an alcohol addict? Most modern, humane societies adopt a compassionate approach to sufferers because they understand that this is not a choice, it is an addiction.
Same goes for food addicts. No one starts off trying to stuff their face with a whole tub of ice-cream. No one wants to eat bread or pizza and sabotage their diet. But the addiction is strong, and without help or support, just like the alcohol addict, you will fall off the wagon.
So that’s where IFC comes in. They offer services where you can talk to trained professionals not just about your fitness goals, but also about the times when you feel nervous or insecure about starting on this journey. They are also there when you need to formulate a plan, or just need someone to talk to about the difficulties you’re facing to get to your goals. They don’t judge, they offer compassionate motivational and realistic services that will help you get to where you want to go.
It’s not easy, but they were there for me and they can be there for you.
1) “Eating addiction”, rather than “food addiction”, better captures addictive-like eating behaviour (link)
2) Food Addiction: Facts and treatment options (link)