Sep 21

Food Addiction: Includes Chocolate, Sugar, Carbs

Is there such a thing as food addiction?

Dr. Nora Volkow, psychiatrist, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, believes there is. She’s made it clear that it’s still a controversial notion, however.

Additionally, Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., an addiction researcher, notes the following (Psychology Today):

When you think about it, the notion isn’t far-fetched: Drug addicts continue to take drugs, in increasing amounts, even though they’d often like to stop (at some point) and in the face of negative consequences and the common loss of other important life functions (like family, work, etc.). Obese individuals are quite the same, eating more and more food regardless of their desire to adopt a healthier diet and in-spite of ridicule, low self-esteem, and decreased functioning that often accompanies extreme weight gain.

Well-known nutritional specialist Dr. Joel Fuhrman also believes that food shares with drugs the ability to get us hooked. Whether it’s “chocoholism” or sugar addiction or carb addiction or the umbrella term encompassing all of the above, food addiction, Fuhrman explains in “‘Just One Bite” of Junk Food Fuels Food Addiction and Obesity” how our brains can succumb:

The science on food addiction has now established that highly palatable foods (low-nutrient, high-calorie, intensely sweet, salty, and/or fatty foods – those that make up the majority of the Standard American Diet) produces the exact biochemical effects in the brain that are characteristic of substance abuse.

Junk food is ubiquitously available, legal, cheap, and socially accepted; therefore, it becomes the drug of choice for many of us.

These concepts go way back. Dr. Andrew Weil co-authored From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs (1983; updated in 2004) with Winifred Rosen. The title says it all. Another book that addresses chocolate’s strong appeal is Dr. Neal D. Barnard‘s Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings—And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (2004). The Amazon.com Review capsulizes Barnard’s take: “…(C)hocolate triggers the release of natural opiates in the brain. It’s a drug ‘strong enough to keep us coming back for more’.”

Relatedly, the 2014 documentary Fed Updirected by Stephanie Soechtig, found the culprit of obesity-related illness to be sugar. Adds Michael O’SullivanWashington Post: “…(T)he real problem isn’t sugar, but sugar education. If consumers only knew that the stuff is not just addictive, but poisonous — one of the film’s experts calls it a ‘chronic, dose-dependent’ liver toxin — they might make better choices at the checkout counter.”

Do you have issues with food addiction? Psychologist and nutritional expert Sherry PagotoPh.D., outlines six possible signs to look for when considering whether or not you are addicted to food and then eight steps toward overcoming the addiction. Click on her Psychology Today article to assess your own eating tendencies.

May 16

Calling People “Fat”: A Trend That Reclaims the Word

Two new books are notable for their contribution to the discussion on whether food is an addiction and whether calling people fat is appropriate and/or helpful. Well, the first book is, anyway; the second doesn’t actually mean to be.

Morning Joe anchor Mika Brzezinski‘s book gets personal. In Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction–and My Own she owns up to her own significant struggles with eating and body image issues, hidden previously to the world because all we see is her thinness.

An excerpt from her Introduction:

This is the book I have been afraid to write . . . terrified actually. It deals with an issue that is radioactive for me. How I eat, diet, and look has tied me up in knots my entire life, and I know I am not alone. I have been held hostage by food since I was thirteen years old. My body started filling out more than the figures of other girls in my class, and that set off what has become a thirty-year battle with my body image. Food has been my enemy. My determination to be thin has led me to extremes, and I’ve done damage to my body and my mind in the process.

What “extremes” exactly? Nanci Hellmich, USA Today, lists the various issues:

For years, she has maintained a cycle of overeating, starving, binging, running. She has struggled with multiple eating disorders, including a brief bout with bulimia, binging and purging, and a type of exercise bulimia where she would gorge then run for 10 miles. And one psychologist said she had an unhealthy obsession with eating healthful foods, which some call orthorexia nervosa.

Brzezinski made a deal with another journalist, her best friend Diane Smith. The latter, perceived as “fat” and unhealthy by Brzezinski—who told her so—would strive to lose a desired goal of 75 pounds; the former, perceived as “skinny” and unhealthy by Smith, would try to gain 10. And they would write this book about their experiences.

It doesn’t matter what size you are, they advise, your eating and emotional issues can be just as in need of tweaking as the next person’s. Brzezinski, from an interview for New Haven Living:

….(H)alfway through my therapy I’m like, ‘I don’t know who’s more screwed up—she may be totally overweight but I am messed up in my head. My eating disorders have been lifelong, out of control, and they have owned me. Writing together forced me to confront some realities that are far more troubling than I initially thought. I thought I had everything under control because I could control my weight, unlike Diane, but it was very strange how much we have in common.

In the same interview, Smith comes out against calling people fat:

I think we have to stop shaming people. I felt ashamed for the way that I looked. You have to stop blaming people and saying, ‘You’re fat—why don’t you stop eating?’ because it’s not that simple. If you read the book you’ll find all different reasons people have issues with food—internal and external.

Nevertheless, Brzezinski advocates that we do need to talk more about people being “fat.” Another part of her book’s Intro:

Remember the days when people whispered about cancer and called it ‘the big C,’ as if naming it bestowed power? Now we’re doing the same thing with weight problems. We need to stop the whispering, start talking louder, and use the F-word: fat.

But let’s not forget that “fat” is not in fact a disease like cancer. Nor is “skinny” for that matter. The “cancer” is not fatness, it’s the eating, the emotional issues. Calling people fat and shaming them about their size is still a no-no in my opinion.

Meanwhile, popular comedian Jim Gaffigan‘s new book is Dad is Fat. Although about parenting his five young kids, being “fat” is clearly a theme for him. His standup routines also often focus on food and eating.

Apr 03

Weight-Loss Surgery: Experts Advise About the Realities

Yesterday’s post was about the new book Stranger Here by Jen Larsen, whose fantasies about the effects of having weight-loss surgery weren’t exactly fulfilled.

One of the main reasons preconceived fantasies about weight-loss surgery may not come true is a lack of insight about the real needs an individual is trying to get met. In a recent article in The Guardian, Dr. David Kerrigan, the director of an obesity clinic in the UK, stresses the importance of addressing one’s underlying issues prior to choosing the surgery.

Fifty percent of 100 female patients studied by his clinic a few years ago were found to have had a history of physical or sexual abuse. A similar finding, as well as additional related ones, are cited by Dr. Carolyn Ross, an eating disorders specialist in the U.S. From her post in Psychology Today:

In Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study, people with morbid obesity had a high incidence of severe trauma, such as abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or living with an adult who abuses substances, is mentally ill or in jail. Taking away the food doesn’t address the addictive behavior or the emotional pain that these behaviors are covering up, leaving patients at high risk for cross-addictions.

Although the above-cited risk is a common phenomenon with all types of addictions, there seems to be something about food addiction that many in our society don’t clearly see. Is this because of our collective fat phobia, both internalized and otherwise? People just see weight loss in and of itself as so desirable that they ignore the rest of the picture?

But let’s say someone does get help for the issues coexisting with his/her overuse of food and then opts for bariatric surgery, otherwise known as weight-loss surgery. Patients also need to know in advance, states Dr. Ross, not only the risks of surgery but also the lifestyle changes needed post-surgery—as in, the rest of their lives. She lists the following important considerations:

1. Following a strict eating plan for life.

2. Addressing how you will deal with your home environment. What type of emotional support will you have? How will you stay on a strict diet when others in your home are not?

3. Can you commit to taking supplements for life?

4. Can you commit to exercising regularly for life?

5. Do you fully understand the possible risks that surgery poses, including bleeding, infection, bowel obstruction, ulcers, gallstones and death?

How is dealing with all of the above possible? Expert nutritional guidance, counseling, and/or specialized support groups for post-surgery patients are all widely recommended.

Aug 24

Food Addiction and Other “Woman” Issues: Caitlin Moran

Award-winning British author Caitlin Moran writes about the stigma attached to women with food addiction in an excellent recent essay called “I Know Why the Fat Lady SingsWhen she visits a female friend participating in an intensive addictions recovery program, Moran learns something and then makes an interesting observation:

As my friend told me, sitting on the end of her bed chain-smoking, an institution full of emotionally troubled substance abusers turns out to be no fun at all.

‘There’s a pecking order,’ she sighed, shredding her cuticles with her opposing thumbnail. ‘The heroin addicts look down on the coke addicts. The coke addicts look down on the alcoholics. And everyone thinks the people with eating disorders—fat or thin—are scum.’

And there’s your pecking order of unhappiness, in a nutshell. Of all the overwhelming compulsions you can be ruined by, all of them have some potential for some perverted, self-destructive fascination—except eating…

Specifically, overeating and/or food addiction is neither sexy nor crazily dramatic. It actually looks kind of functional, ordinary. Caitlin Moran delves deeper into how moms, for example, can have their food-as-a-drug and have a life too:

…(B)y choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep, soporific calm of carbs—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, stop in on your parents and then stay up all night with an ill 5-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of scotch.

Overeating is the addiction of choice of ‘carers,’ and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of screwing yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the ‘luxury’ of their addiction, making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that is why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.

I sometimes wonder if the only way we’ll ever get around to properly considering overeating is if it does come to take on the same perverse, rock ‘n’ roll cool of other addictions. Perhaps it’s time for women to finally stop being secretive about their vices and instead start treating them like all other addicts treat their habits. Coming into the office looking frazzled, sighing, ‘Man, I was on the pot roast last night like you wouldn’t believe. I had, like, POTATOES in my EYEBROWS by 10 p.m.’

Caitlin Moran also happens to be the author of the new-ish book How to Be a Woman, which covers feminist topics in addition to food addictionHolloway McCandless, Shelf Awareness, compares it favorably to other recently popular books by female authors: “As funny and careerist as Tina Fey’s Bossypants, as divulging as Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother and as earthy as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.”

Visit her website for more info.