Addicted to Sugar?
You have probably heard it before -- "I'm addicted to sugar!". However, most people use this term loosely, half joking. The truth is -- the idea that a person can be addicted to food has recently gotten more support from science. Experiments in animals and humans show that, for some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also activated by food, especially highly palatable foods which are foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat. Now --the thing that makes food different from other addictive substances?? We, as a human beings, NEED food to SURVIVE. We don't NEED cocaine, heroin, nicotine or alcohol to live. We do however need to eat, every day. Complicates things doesn't it?? Too often you hear about people quitting addictive substances "cold turkey". "I haven't had a drink in 2 years. Just quit one day." (by the way it is VERY difficult to quit this way...). But -- can we just "quit" food? Nope, not without the consequence of death.
Just like addictive drugs, highly palatable foods trigger our brain chemicals such as dopamine that make us feel good and happy, temporarily. Once we experience that, our brain remembers that pleasure and craves to do it again. Sometimes these pleasure signals override other brain signals that we are full -- and so we keep eating and eating.
Food addiction issues are not a one size fits all. You don't have to be certain weight, age, or ethnic group to suffer. It can damage relationships and increase risk of depression and suicide, much like drugs. I see many clients in my practice who suffer from a range of eating disorders - many who suffer from binge eating disorder -- which until recently people did not even consider to be a "thing". People who overate and didn't make themselves purge were just seen as having a bad day and told to shake it off and move on.
It's not that easy.
If you find yourself hiding food, eating to the point of feeling ill, when certain foods aren't available you may go out of your way to find them; you avoid social situations that have food present, your life revolves around food or eating -- then you may be suffering from an eating disorder. (Notice how I didn't mention anorexia or bulimia! -- not all eating disorders come in these 2 packages).
If you are suffering it's important that you talk to someone to help you break the cycle of compulsive eating. In my practice I use a mixed approach of therapy models including cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR - since I have found that triggers for overeating need to be identified, desensitized and re-programmed into healthy coping skills. Most of the time, it is truly NOT about your weight -- but it comes from your belief that you are not good enough, not attractive enough or not in control of your life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with this, please reach out to a local psychotherapist