In the last post I came clean about my food addiction.
I admitted that, despite my fascination with nutrition, I had real difficulties actually eating healthy myself.
To my big surprise, a lot of people could actually relate to what I was saying.
They had experience the same thing.
They also felt that they were addicted and sometimes powerless over their consumption of certain foods.
Realizing that almost no one is talking about this issue and that it seems to be pretty common, I’ve decided that I should probably spend some time on the subject.
As someone who has a long history of battling addiction, I believe I have a fairly deep understanding of how it works.
In this post I am going to explain what it means to be an addict. In this case, a food addict.
In my experience, it feels pretty much exactly the same as drug addiction and nicotine addiction.
A key component of food addiction (and any addiction, really) is cravings.
You could say that a food craving is an intense desire to consume a certain food, stronger than normal hunger.
Often when we crave something unhealthy like ice cream, cupcakes, pizza or whatever, it’s not because of hunger.
Hunger can be a part of it, and it can make the feeling stronger, but essentially it is a “need” for something other than energy or nutrients.
Having cravings for unhealthy foods when you’re already overweight and have just eaten a large, nutritious meal, doesn’t have anything to do with your body needing nutrients or energy.
What a Craving Feels Like
Let me explain for a second what a craving feels like, at least what it feels like to me.
For obvious reason it is impossible for me to read minds, but this is how I experience it and a few of my recovering addict friends say that a craving feels the same way to them.
Well, a craving can usually appear quite suddenly.
It is a subtle feeling that is hard to describe, a desire for something like ice cream or pizza.
When it happens, you start thinking about a food in kind of an obsessive way.
If you try to stop thinking about it and focus your attention on something else, it can be hard. Or impossible.
For example, let’s assume that you have decided to set rules for yourself and only eat unhealthy on Saturdays. Saturday is your “cheat day.”
But today is a Tuesday… and suddenly this craving appears.
The decision you had made not to indulge until Saturday becomes challenged by the new idea that you should indulge today.
Now, there will be some kind of “internal dialogue” where your inner voice is “arguing with itself” about whether you should cheat, or not.
A great way to picture this is to imagine that your inner voice consists of an angel and a devil. The devil rests on one shoulder, the angel on the other.
The angel wants you to stick to your decision to wait until Saturday, but the devil wants you to break your own rule and cheat today.
During these moments, it can become very hard to remember the exact reason why you wanted to abstain.
The “inner voice” (basically, your thoughts) is likely to invent a reason as to why you should indulge and have whatever you are craving.
The logical decision you had made before (only cheating on Saturdays) becomes forgotten and the idea that you should cheat today “wins.”
More often than not, this will lead to you having whatever it is that you were craving… potentially leading to the other two main components of addiction that I choose to call “binge” and “relapse.”
The moment you finally decide to indulge, the “binge” begins.
A binge is an episode of uncontrolled eating, during which a person consumes an excessive amount of food.
It is not uncommon to eat food to the point of feeling sick and then afterwards feeling guilty and ashamed.
A binge can feel a little out of control.
You keep eating, keep on reaching for another bite again and again without giving it much thought. It’s as if you’re running on autopilot.
You’ve given into the craving, all defenses are broken and now you will eat and eat and eat until your “desire” is satisfied.
During a binge, you might eat a lot more food than you had intended at the moment you decided to give in to the craving.
For example, you may have decided to just eat one slice of cake, but ended up eating the entire cake.
Feeling ashamed of binge eating is pretty common and many people prefer to eat alone and hide this behaviour from others.
The third component of food addiction is called “Relapse.”
This means that because you gave into the craving and indulged in whatever it is that you are addicted to, that your addiction has been either reinforced or reestablished.
It’s hard to realize the significance of this unless you’ve abstained for a long time.
For example, let’s say that you decide you’ve had it with unhealthy foods, you become really motivated to lose weight and you manage two whole months without a single bite of junk food.
One day, you decide that you’ve managed to display such remarkable self-control and willpower that now you’ve “gotten” it.
You think you will be able to control yourself this time and that having ice cream for that one time isn’t going to harm you, right?
Two months of abstinence, feeling awesome, losing weight and seeing results… all ruined.
Now you start eating unhealthy foods again, all the time.
This is what “relapse” is. When you’ve abstained for a certain period of time, then indulge and suddenly find yourself back at the starting point and have a hard time quitting again.
After a relapse, it can often be next to impossible to get back on the wagon, that motivation you felt during your two months of abstinence will be gone.
Some people are able to “cheat” occasionally, then get back on the wagon next day.
But I honestly think that for many people, when the motivation runs out (it often does) then a full-blown relapse will occur.
Those who have a history of yo-yo dieting may relate to this.
You may not relate to exactly what I am saying, but still have big problems with junk food.
That’s okay. We’re all different and we may not experience this in the same way.
But if you’ve been unable to quit eating junk food in the past, or simply unable to set rules for yourself, then it is fairly likely that you have the same problem.
I should end this post with a reminder that the only thing that consistently works to overcome true addiction is complete abstinence (CA).
For addicts, moderation fails. Every time.
To make things simple, we can categorize people into two groups:
1. Those who can eat unhealthy in moderation.
2. Those who can’t.
Which group do you fall into?
You should ask yourself this question because the answer just might save your life.