After spending 9 long hours at work, Janet is frazzled. After picking her kids up from day care and throwing something together for dinner, she’s depressed and angry at the turn her life has taken. It seems as if every day has turned into one long series of work and errands, and once evening sets in so does her depression.

Once the kids are finally off to bed she heads for the kitchen to relax and have a snack. Time slips by quickly, and she spends the next 2 hours eating junk food she keeps hidden in the pantry. Once she’d done, just like every night, she feels sick with guilt. She knows she has a problem but she can’t seem to stop. Every month she gains more and more weight, but eating is the only time she feels better.

Situations just like this happen every day all across the country. Although food addiction is much more common than 30 years ago, it’s an epidemic that’s also killing us.

The numbers are so high they’re almost mind-numbing. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 65% of Americans are overweight or obese, and our children are facing the same epidemic. Over 17% of kids today are overweight, and that number is climbing higher each year. For the first time in 100 years life expectancy is predicted to go down, thanks in large part to America’s food addiction and the various health complications that come with it. Diabetes, cancer, hypertension, heart disease, and more than 25 other conditions have been linked to obesity. We’re literally eating ourselves to death, and bringing our kids along with us.

We shouldn’t be surprised, really. Americans work more hours than any other industrialized nation. We’re stressed out, time starved, and watching our health and vacation benefits slide down the tube. With as little time as most people have these days, companies make it almost too easy to self-medicate with food. Drive-thru’s are everywhere and meals-in-a-box fill the grocery store shelves, laden with empty calories and tasty goodness. We watch over 40,000 commercials per year, and many of those are for fast food restaurants, soft drinks, and snacks.

Since so many of us are turning to food to combat our stress, it may be hard to recognize a food addiction versus normal “snacking”. Compulsive overeaters often lose control when they’re eating, going on “binges” that can last hours. The average food addict is 60% overweight, and practices no form of weight-control. If you’re worried you might be a compulsive overeater, asking yourself the following questions will help clarify the problem:

o Have I tried and failed to control my eating before?
o Do I binge-eat, especially when I’m feeling angry or sad?
o Do I hide food?
o Do feel guilty when I’m done eating?
o Do I think about eating even when I’m not hungry?
o Do I eat until I feel sick?

A “yes” to any of these questions can point to the more serious problem of food addiction, especially if you are overweight or obese.

Nowhere in the country is food addiction more wide-spread than in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia. According to the CDC, these 3 states now have the highest incidents of obesity in the country with more than 30% prevalence in the population. States such as Texas, Michigan, Tennessee, and 10 others aren’t far behind.

The problem, while bad for us, is even worse for our children. The CDC estimates that instances of childhood obesity have tripled in the past 30 years in school-aged children. They are also less likely to have a healthy adulthood. Another study shows overweight or obese children have an 80% likelihood of being obese once they reach 25.

While the numbers are sobering, there are proactive steps you can take if you, your child, or someone you know is addicted to food.

Joining a support group such as Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous will put you in touch with others who are going through the same thing. Having someone to talk to is especially important when you’re on the path to recovery. You might also consider seeking one-on-one therapy. Understanding the emotional triggers to overeating is the first step to understanding the problem.

Another important step you can take is to get active. Instead of thinking about food, doing something active instead will keep your attention off eating.

Many people have the mistaken idea that exercise has to be sweaty and intense. Doctors stress that this isn’t so. Activity of any kind will offer health benefits and burn calories. Things like housework, gardening, and yard work, often looked at as “chores” and many times are outsourced to service providers, are great ways to get moving. So canceling your cleaning service will not only save you money but will also help you get in shape.

It’s also important to limit the amount of soda and sugar laden foods you keep in the house. If your kids come home to an empty house they’ll reach for these first, so make sure they have a wide variety of healthier choices. That limitation will also work for you. If there is nothing sugary in the house to binge on, you’re less likely to do it.

Lots of families today spend hours in front of the TV, either watching mindlessly or playing video games. Limit you and your child’s screen time to an hour per day or less. If you’re worried about them watching while you’re at work, make it impossible by taking the power cords with you everyday. They can’t watch if the TV won’t work. Instead of watching, play games, read, or go outside and play.