Sunday, March 25, 2018

Food Addiction: BMI = 28.6

Have you ever ordered a pizza thinking, “I’ll have a couple slices for dinner and keep the rest for lunches this week,” only to end up eating the whole thing by the end of the evening? Have you ever planned to have a small square of brownie for dessert and wound up eating the entire slab? If these sorts of things happen to you more often than you would like to admit then don’t worry – you are not alone.

Over the past decade, scientists have discovered that food addiction is a reality. If you are a food addict, as I was, then don’t be shamed into thinking you lack willpower. I struggled, for years, trying to find the willpower to avoid snack foods, to keep my cheese consumption moderate, and to stop drinking so many sugary beverages. I didn’t understand why other people seemed to be able to regulate their eating, yet I just couldn’t muster any self-discipline.

I didn’t become a food addict overnight. I used to be quite athletic and had a healthy diet. At least the core of my diet was healthy, but I also ate a bit too much snack food. A few problems and a physical injury sent me into a downward spiral. I turned to food for comfort. I ate fewer and fewer healthy meals as my diet became overpopulated with comfort foods.

When my diet began to capsize, I sometimes found myself with overwhelming cravings for vegetables. I would find myself at a local salad bar loading up on broccoli, coleslaw, chic peas, and spinach. Those cravings slowly went away, however, as I became ever more reliant on comfort foods to feel better.

Over time, I eventually became averse to vegetables. I know now that this is a strong indicator of food addiction. Another sign is the desire for ever more flavourful and calorie-dense foods. I’m pretty sure that my interest in food-porn was part of my addiction. I loved videos of melted cheese cascading over fries mixed with ground beef and onions. Does that sort of video sound familiar to you?

I used to think that ‘dieting’ was impossible. I knew my diet was awful but rather than looking at nutrition I just tried to eat less. This, of course, didn’t work so I accepted it as proof that I couldn’t lose weight. After a few weeks of skipping meals my desire for stronger flavours and greater calorie-density just grew. It was a vicious cycle. I thought that being skinny meant starving all day everyday. I thought that being skinny meant having super willpower to stand-up against what I found to be overwhelming cravings.

I even managed to convince myself that I didn’t want to be skinny. It seemed that the only real advantage would be that I would live a few years longer – but I would be living without the food I loved, unable to enjoy life.

I didn’t know I was addicted, let alone that the addiction could be broken. If you or someone you know is addicted, as I was, then let me warn you that breaking that addiction is not something to be approached haphazardly. I set out to develop my willpower without realizing that what I had designed was a functional dietary rehabilitation program for myself. I didn’t know that, once the addiction was broken, the cravings would go away.

The disappearing pizza appearing throughout this blog didn’t really disappear. I removed slice after slice, taking photos, for illustration. It’s the first time I’ve had a whole pizza in my home since going through rehab. I ate one slice – the second biggest one just to prove I didn’t have to eat the biggest slice – and I intend to take the rest of the pizza to work tomorrow for my coworkers. I’ll let you know if I manage to do that. I know I won’t eat the whole thing. Since eating that one slice I have a bit of a headache. I no longer have a tolerance for so much salt, fat, and nitrates. It tasted good, and I enjoyed it, but feel no craving for the rest of that pizza. A few glasses of wine might change that.

If you are thinking of trying a dietary rehabilitation, I recommend that you find some support and seek the counsel of your doctor. As I’ve been reading about food addiction I’ve found articles that mention medication that can help. I used to think that bariatric surgery was just a cop-out, but some of the articles cite scientific studies that say such surgery doesn’t just make the stomach smaller, it changes the endocrine balance in a way that aids in overcoming the addiction.

I was incredibly fortunate that my rehabilitation worked, especially considering that I didn’t even realize that I was breaking an addiction. There are a myriad of techniques that can be employed in breaking food addiction and I intend to write about as many of them as I can. In the end, you won’t recover from such an addiction by just trying to curb a few of your worst habits. An intense rehabilitation program will be required. The good news, though, is that your willpower is not at fault here – you are not a weak person. It will take some willpower to undertake an intensive rehab program, but you are likely much stronger than you think.

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