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Eating Disorder or Food Addiction

Who is going to win? YOU or your DEMON?

What is an eating disorder or food addiction?

Eating Disorder or Food Addiction as it is commonly called is a very serious problem and one of the main reasons some people just can't control themselves around certain foods, no matter how hard they try. It  manifests itself in the uncontrollable craving for excess food that follows the ingestion of refined carbohydrates, primarily sugar and flour substances that are quickly metabolized and turned into sugar in the bloodstream. Addiction and obesity both run in families, and experts believe that genetic components account for at least some of a person's vulnerability. But animal research also suggests that the environment—mainly, how often you're exposed to an addictive substance—can shift brain neurochemistry, increasing the likelihood of food addiction.

Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the "reward" centers in the brain, involving brain neurotransmitters like dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, one of those chemicals that is responsible for transmitting signals in between the nerve cells (neurons) of the brain. When it is released from the first neuron, it floats into the space (the synapse) between the two neurons, and it bumps against receptors for it on the other side that then send a signal down the receiving neuron. 

But when most people talk about dopamine, particularly when they talk about motivation, addiction, attention, or lust, they are talking about the dopamine pathway known as the mesolimbic pathway, which starts with cells in the ventral tegmental area, buried deep in the middle of the brain, which send their projections out to places like the nucleus accumbens and the cortex.

Some of its notable functions are in:

  • movement
  • memory
  • pleasurable reward
  • behavior and cognition
  • attention
  • inhibition of prolactin production
  • sleep
  • mood
  • learning

Although dopamine has many complex roles and functions in the body the one we are most interested in is the pleasure button. This means food, sex, and several drugs of abuse are also stimulants of dopamine release in the brain, particularly in areas such as the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex.

What are the causes of eating disorders and food addiction?

Food addiction is a very serious problem and one of the main reasons some people just can't control themselves around certain foods, no matter how hard they try. It  manifests itself in the uncontrollable craving for excess food. The foods that seem to be the most problematic include typical "junk foods," as well as foods that contain either sugar or wheat, or both; substances that are quickly metabolized and turned into sugar in the bloodstream.

Food addiction is not about a lack of willpower or anything like that, it is caused by the intense dopamine signal "hijacking" the biochemistry of the brain.

What are the symptoms of food addiction?

1.   Constant obsession with what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and how to get more food.

2.   When you give in and start eating a food you were craving, you often find yourself eating much more than you intended to.

3.   Constant snacking.

4.   When you eat a food you were craving, you sometimes eat to the point of feeling excessively "stuffed."

5.   Eating at strange times like in the middle of the night.

6.   You often feel guilty after eating particular foods, yet find yourself eating them again soon after.

7.   Hiding eating habits from friends and family or eating in secret

8.   You sometimes make excuses in your head about why you should eat something that you are craving.

9.   Bingeing and then purging, exercising, or taking laxative pills to "reverse" the binge.

10.  You have repeatedly tried to quit eating or setting rules (includes cheat meals/days) about certain foods, but been unsuccessful.

11.  Eating to accompany pleasurable activities like watching TV or talking on the phone.

12.  You feel unable to control your consumption of unhealthy foods, despite knowing that they are causing you physical harm (including weight gain).

13.  Associating food with punishments or rewards.

What are the treatment options for food addiction?

1.  Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is an evidence-based psychological treatment that was developed through decades of scientific research.

Research shows that CBT is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety. It is also an effective treatment for problems such as depression, chronic pain, disordered eating, anger issues, addiction, and low self-esteem. CBT focuses on helping them identify appropriate behavioral responses for day-to-day challenges. It teaches the food addict how to handle the negative thought patterns that can lead to bingeing.

2.  Psychotherapy

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is a leading evidence-based treatment for those eating disorders in which binge eating is a feature. Typically, recovery from disordered eating is a long and arduous process.  It is important to recognize that recovery involves not just the absence of disordered thoughts and behaviors about food and body, but recovering one's self—developing a sense of authentic identity, and cultivating self-acceptance and reverence for one's self.

3.  Nutritional therapies

Nutrition therapy is an integral part of the eating disorder (ED) treatment and recovery process.  The primary role of nutrition therapy is to assist patients in normalizing their eating patterns. Normalized eating encompasses

Eating adequately to meet the body's daily nutritional needs.

A balanced and sustainable relationship with food, free from negative or distorted thoughts about oneself. Listening to and trusting your body's internal cues to determine hunger and fullness

4.  Twelve-step programs

Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA) and Overeaters Anonymous (OA) are 12-step programs that take inspiration from the Alcoholics Anonymous model of recovery. These groups can help food addicts manage their addictions in a supportive and encouraging environment. Being part of a group of people with a similar problem allows a food addict to develop positive friendships in a safe, nurturing environment.

5.  Medication

Eating disorder treatment depends on your particular disorder and your symptoms. It typically includes a combination of psychological counseling (psychotherapy), nutrition education, medical monitoring and sometimes medications.

Eating disorder treatment also involves addressing other health problems caused by an eating disorder, which can be serious or even life-threatening if they go untreated for long enough. If an eating disorder doesn't improve with standard treatment or causes health problems, you may need hospitalization or another type of inpatient program.

6.  Adjust your taste buds.

When people eat too much fat, their sensitivity to it decreases, meaning it will take more fat to satisfy their taste buds.

Now researchers say they have found that it is possible to change a person's threshold for tasting fat.

Professor Russell Keast from Deakin University's Centre of Advanced Sensory Science said when a person had a high fat diet and was overweight, they would be less sensitive to the taste of fat.

"It's some form of re-tuning or adaptation of the senses," Professor Keast said. "When we get to a level where we can actually identify the taste of fat, it's actually very unpleasant."

"It's some form of re-tuning or adaptation of the senses," Professor Keast said.

"When we get to a level where we can actually identify the taste of fat, it's actually very unpleasant."

7.  Exercise regularly.

Milky Ways and Big Macs aren't the only things that satisfy the pleasure centers of your brain—so does exercise. Research shows it raises dopamine levels and increases the number of dopamine receptors in the brain.
Making a commitment to work out helped Littleton kick her chocolate habit. As a result of a vigorous exercise routine and a more sensible diet, she's lost 114 pounds in the past 3 years. "The feeling I get after I exercise is nothing like I'd get after eating chocolate," she says. "It's much better, and it doesn't come with guilt.

8.  Learn to eat only when you're hungry.

Not sure whether you're hungry or not? Then you're not really hungry. Real hunger builds up gradually. It's clear, persistent and physical. It's not the feeling you get when you walk past a restaurant or a sweet shop. Nor is it a response to being upset, to fear, to embarrassment, to boredom or to anger. Real hunger is a simple physical feeling in your stomach, which is worth waiting for. It means that your food is really necessary, so you can enjoy it to the full. And because your body truly wants it, it tastes better, too. Not sure whether you're hungry or not? Then you're not really hungry. Real hunger builds up gradually. It's clear, persistent and physical. It's not the feeling you get when you walk past a restaurant or a sweet shop. Nor is it a response to being upset, to fear, to embarrassment, to boredom or to anger. Real hunger is a simple physical feeling in your stomach, which is worth waiting for. It means that your food is really necessary, so you can enjoy it to the full. And because your body truly wants it, it tastes better, too.

9.  Deal with your emotions. 

These dreaded emotions can include a range of feelings such as sadness, anger, loneliness, stress, boredom, grief, or shame. In the moment, these feelings seem impossible to bear.

·         Remind yourself "I'm going to be ok" and "I'm not crazy"... this is a normal part of the recovery process

·        Plant your feet firmly on the ground

·        Count up 1 to 10 then back 10 to 1

·        Say out loud things you see and smell

·        Touch the wall, the floor and objects close to you

·        Call someone on the phone

·        Walk around and watch your own feet - listen to the sound

·        Listen to yourself breathe - Do deep breathing

·        Listen to music and count the beats

·        Don't be afraid to ask for help

·        Hug someone safe

·        Hold someone's hand (someone safe)

·        Tear up paper, throw ice, chew ice chips

·        Visualize the memory as an object and put it "away" (for example, the memory is a blue rubber ball and you put it in a toy box)

·        Focus on details... leaves on trees, blades of grass, fibers in carpet

·        Call your therapist

·        Call a Hotline

·        Hold and/or talk to a stuffed animal

·        Fight the voices - change the negatives to positives

·        Play an instrument

·        Gently wash your face, hands or hair

·        Do gardening, shovel snow or mow the lawn

·        Color in a coloring book

·        Rock in a rocking chair

·        Touch a familiar object that you carry with you (keys, a necklace) or listen to your watch ticking

·        Hold and pet your cat or dog

·        Make a list of things to do or shopping list

·        Write down who and where you are

·        Pray, talk yourself down or yell

·        Say what you feel out loud, even if you have to yell or cry!

·        Change your environment... walk out of the room, touch something different, change the sounds around you (put on music, turn on the tv, etc.), eat something
          different and "safe", smell something different (perfume, flowers, food, grass, etc.)

·        Visualize a stop sign

·        Dance to music

·        Say out loud "I am here right now"... assure yourself that this is a normal process for you

·        Do self-affirmation... read books, listen to tapes and write down good things about yourself

·        Identify your triggers (things that make you feel badly or have bad memories or flashbacks)

10.  Worried about a loved one? Speak out!

If you notice the warning signs of an eating disorder in a friend or family member, it's important to speak up. But that doesn't mean it's easy. The very idea can seem overwhelming. You may be afraid that you're mistaken, or that you'll say the wrong thing, or you might alienate the person. However, it's important that you don't let these worries stop you from voicing your concerns.

People with eating disorders are often afraid to ask for help. Some are struggling just as much as you are to find a way to start a conversation about their problem, while others have such low self-esteem they simply don't feel that they deserve any help. Whatever the case, eating disorders will only get worse without treatment, and the physical and emotional damage can be severe. The sooner you start to help a loved one, the better their chances of recovery.



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