Food Addiction: What to Expect and How to Approach It Successfully
So, what if your 'emotional eating' isn't 'emotional'?
It's true, for many of the women I work with, emotional food issues are the root cause of their unwanted eating behavior. Finding their needs and authentically filling those needs in a way that isn't food is the only way they will ever have the easy, breezy, free relationship with food.
But what if your emotional eating isn't like that?
You get killer cravings, think about food all the time, and when you do eat it's pretty rare that you ever feel properly full or satisfied.
But, you don't really feel emotional about it.
It's not just when you feel strong emotions. It's not just when you're bored or under-stimulated. It's definitely not just when you're lonely.
It's ALL. THE. TIME.
Here's what's behind it and what to do about it.
Are your emotions just buried crazy deep?
No. You're not crazy, and you probably don't have such deep emotional issues that you're suppressing them so far down you don't even know they're there.
Sure, after living like this you're going to have some pretty dense emotional baggage with food... but you just don't feel like emotions can be the end of what's going on here.
And they're not.
You may be addicted to food.
Addicted to food - is that even a thing?
Some experts argue that you can't be addicted to food because you have to eat food to live. You'll often hear them say things like "It's like breathing. We all need air, and you don't hear of anyone getting addicted to breathing!" Case closed.
Uh, wait. What?
Ok, sure, no one gets addicted to nice, clean, breathing air... but they sure as hell get addicted to stuff you can inhale in the air.
And sure, people don't get addicted to beef, broccoli, or boiled eggs... but they sure as hell get addicted to some of the stuff that goes into some foods.
And an increasing amount of researchers agree: Food addiction is real.
So, let's talk about the two main ways that happens and then what you can do about it if you're feeling uncomfortably familiar with what I'm talking about.
ood addiction basics - leptin + dopamine
Leptin is the hormone that makes you feel full and like you want to move around. Fat on your body actually produces leptin because your body doesn't need a ton of excess fat, so when you start to gain weight, the leptin system should kick in and make you less hungry and more active.
But, for you, that's not happening.
You're hungry all the time.
So what's going wrong?
If you're feeling insatiable hunger and killer cravings it could be that you have some out of control blood sugar going on. This leads to you having more insulin (what your body uses to deal with the sugars you eat) in your system to control the blood sugar.
Insulin blocks leptin in the brain.
The cause? Eating a diet high in refined sugars.
Or it could be...
Or, if hunger's not such an issue, but its cravings you just can't say no to, it might be your dopamine.
Dopamine is you pleasure chemical. It's strongly activated by some foods. When it's strongly activated again and again, some of the dopamine receptors in your brain switch off because it's all a bit too much stimulation.
So, you've got to eat more of the activation food to get the same awesome feelings. You've GOT to go eat more food and feel good again.
This is exactly how addiction works.
Neuroscientists studying brain scans say that the brain's pleasure and motivation centers light up in the same ways not matter what super-dopamine-stimulator you're taking - particular foods, cocaine, or heroine.
The cause? Eating a diet high in refined sugars.
Seriously? Sugar, drugs and being addicted to food?
People get really, properly addicted to those drugs. Like, they steal, kill, and wreck their lives to get them. Sugar might be on the spectrum, but it's obviously at the lower end... right?
For one thing, sugar is super cheap and sold everywhere. There's no need to get violent in the search for sugar (though... when the cravings hit and someone gets in your way? Ever felt that rage?). But more shockingly, think of the hundreds of thousands of people, worldwide, suffering from type 2 diabetes. Some of these people get told by their doctor that if they don't stop eating so much sugar, they are going to have a leg amputated.
You'd think that would be a very powerful motivator, right?
The possibility of losing a limb.
Well, many of them simply can not stay away from the sugar. They are so addicted, they lose a leg rather than quit sugar... because their brain chemistry won't let them.
And no - it's obviously not like this for everyone. Just like not everyone gets addicted to cocaine or heroine, not everyone gets addicted to sugar.
But some do - and it becomes the only thing that makes you feel good, alive, and happy.
What do you do if you're addicted to food
Is this is sounding like you:
Does the idea of giving up sugar freak you WAY out? If the idea of a life without sugar feels like a dull, lifeless, pleasureless hole you'll never crawl out of... that's when you know you've got a problem.
That's the leptin-resistance or the dopamine resistance at work in your brain chemistry.
And the answer is to do the thing that scares you most: Quit sugar*.
* Quick disclaimer: I don't think this is right for everyone - but if you're struggling with what feels like an addiction to food, and it's not purely emotional, then it is definitely an avenue you want to explore. For real.