There are basically four types of eating disorders, but not all are classified as food addictions. Anorexia and bulimia are defined as disorders, whereas compulsive overeating and binge eating are typically classified as food addictions. But, what exactly is the basis for food addiction? Is there a substance in a particular food that chemically addicts people to it, causing them to eat uncontrollably? Well, many proponents of the addiction brain disease model would have you believe exactly that! Hypothetically speaking, the impaired function of dopamine a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with pleasure and reward is thought to be directly related to food addiction. And, this so-called impaired function could make some people more vulnerable to compulsive overeating. Furthermore, they suggest that some foods cause more brain reward than others. Consequently, they are more addictive! In other words, high fat, high sugar foods such as doughnuts are more addictive than soup! In reality, there are many innocuous substances and activities that have an effect on the brain such as sugars, amino acids, and even exercise. However, that doesn’t mean they are the root cause of food addiction! Although there is no official definition of food addiction, Many would describe it in much the same way as other substance dependence: “Eating too much despite consequences, even dire consequences to health; being preoccupied with food, food preparation and meals; trying and failing to cut back on food intake; feeling guilty about binging and overeating.”
Now, if you haven’t already guessed at this point, I vehemently disagree with the above-mentioned nonsensical hypothesis!!!! In my opinion, there is no such thing as a food addiction! This conjecture is nothing more than an opportunity for the pharmacological community to manufacture a new magic bullet for something that doesn’t exist, and is absolute absurdity at its finest! As with every addiction and compulsion, food addiction is a diversion from emotional distress. So in that sense, there really is something to be said for the phrase “comfort food!” As an addiction recovery coach who has traveled across the U.S. helping hundreds of people overcome addiction, I have uncovered the root cause of eating disorders and food addictions. You see, there’s a common denominator at the root of these afflictions, and it’s called low self-esteem! Time and time again, these self -esteem issues are founded in the emotional distress caused by none other than family dysfunction. The debilitating effects of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, or control and inadequate parenting literally pulverize ones self-esteem. Therefore, the key to overcoming a food addiction is to liberate oneself from dysfunctional behavior and restore self-esteem.
Both Binge Eaters and Compulsive Overeaters tend to be overweight, although the characteristics of compulsive overeating differ from binge eating. Compulsive Overeaters may overeat in one sitting, but many of them eat all day long. Most Compulsive Overeaters find dieting unsuccessful since their emotional distress precludes them from adhering to a weight loss plan. Their eating patterns are directly connected with their emotions. In essence, eating is used to comfort and divert the Compulsive Eater’s attention from their emotional pain. Compulsive Overeaters and Binges Eaters often hide behind their physical appearance, using their weight gain as a shield against society. In their mind, this extra layer of padding protects their fragile self-esteem and also discourages others from socially interacting with them. They feel inadequacy, shame for being overweight, and generally have a very low self-esteem.
One of the more common mainstream approaches for compulsive overeating is Overeaters Anonymous, which has adopted the 12-step philosophy of alcoholics anonymous. The goal of the program is a spiritual transformation, but ironically, the program tends to focus on defects of character, personal short comings, and admissions of powerlessness. This approach leads to self-incrimination, and it actually prevents a spiritual connection. A Compulsive Overeaters level of self-esteem is usually at the bottom so, why teach them self-incrimination and self-pity? I believe that admitting you are powerless does not promote empowerment nor does it restore self-esteem! In my opinion, many of the twelve steps are unnecessary and counterproductive to addiction recovery. In fact, most participants get stuck in their emotional wounds and contract what I like to call wounditis (victimization.) Combine this with the disempowerment of labeling someone as a Food Addict or Compulsive Overeater and you have a recipe for a self-esteem disaster.