Eating disorders are conditions, such as Bulimia (bingeing and purging), Anorexia (restricting food intake) and Binge Eating Disorder (repeated and/or prolonged bouts of overeating), where people tend to use food to help them cope with difficult emotions. People with eating disorders use food or at least try to use food and unusual eating behaviors to make them feel better.
This may or may not work in the short run, but it seldom proves successful over the long haul. Because feelings and difficulty dealing with feelings are center stage with eating disorders, they are thought of primarily as psychological disorders. Some kind of psychological therapy can often be helpful, as can training in how to deal with difficult feelings. It is common for treatment for eating disorders to work at some point to try to help people learn how to eat moderately.
What is food addiction and how is it different than an eating disorder?
Food addiction, by contrast, like other addictions, is a brain disease. This means that the more a person eats the foods they are addicted to, the stronger their cravings for those foods become. This is due to chemical processes going on in the brain. These chemical processes not only change the brain in a way that reinforces cravings, they interfere with clear thinking. This makes it all the harder to abstain from eating the food or foods you are addicted to. The cravings associated with addiction are so strong and thinking is so impeded that psychological therapy and other kinds of training in how to cope with feelings tend to be much less effective or totally ineffective, if used exclusively. And, again, trying to teach someone with food addiction to eat their trigger foods moderately is almost always unsuccessful. Moderation is not the appropriate treatment for food addiction. When moderation is prescribed to the food addict, it can cause harm and needless suffering.
What people addicted to one or more foods need to learn (and be supported with) is how to abstain from their trigger foods, so that their brains can heal and the cravings can diminish and ultimately go away. This is extremely difficult. That’s why recovery from addiction to one or more foods requires both abstinence and extraordinary support, usually over an extended period of time.
What does this really mean?
Obesity, eating disorders and food addiction (chemical dependency on food ) are three different diseases, and each demands a different treatment. If a person is just overweight or obese (with no eating disorder or addiction), the traditional prescription of diet, exercise and life style change will work. What works, essentially, is will power and motivation.
If a person is an emotional eater with an eating disorder (whether overweight or underweight but not addicted), then there are a number of good ways to help the person develop effective skills for dealing with feelings without food or food behaviors and to work on resolving underlying psychological issues. The goal is to learn to eat all foods in moderation.
If a person is food addicted (has a substance use disorder and a problem with specific foods) but does not also have an eating disorder, then the established principles of addiction recovery will work: completely eliminating the addictive food substance, education about developing extraordinary support, and emotional and spiritual work to recover from deeper problems caused by the addiction.
Just Say It!! Many people are being treated for the wrong disease and are therefore being given the wrong treatment plan.
For these people, the main problem to is misdiagnosis and mistreatment. However, many – if not a majority – of people who are addicted to specific foods also have problems with being overweight and have complicating emotional issues. In the medical community the presence of two or more co-exiting conditions is called co-morbidity. Thus, each aspect of their medical problems needs to be treated effectively, carefully taking into account the other things that they are dealing with. If a person’s food addiction has progressed very far, its usually most effective to focus first on abstinence from binge or trigger foods. This situation can make treatment of food addiction complex and demanding, but full recovery is possible. Tens of thousands of food addicts have been experiencing prolonged periods of living in recovery.
Points to remember:
Food addiction is a chronic disease characterized by a person’s seeking foods the individual is addicted to and for whom use of that foods compulsive, and difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.
Brain changes can occur over time with compulsive eating. This can challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with one’s ability to resist intense urges to eat these foods (sometimes described as cravings.) This is why people who suffer with food addiction can often relapse, even after long periods of successful abstinence.
Relapse is the return to eating these foods after an attempt to stop. Relapse indicates the need for more or different treatment. It may also mean that another food is triggering the relapse.
Certain foods such as sugar can affect the brain’s reward circuit by flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. This overstimulation of the reward circuit causes the intensely pleasurable “high” that leads people to consume a particular food or particular foods again and again.
Over time, the brain can adjust to excess dopamine, which reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high felt when first eating these foods—an effect known as “tolerance.” This often results in seeking to eat more of these foods, in an attempt to achieve previous levels of satisfaction.
For a great many people, abstinence is the solution.