Before You Self-Diagnose Food Addiction
What image pops up in your head when you read or hear the term “addiction”? I imagine, for a lot of people, there’s this screenshot of a desperate or lost teen popping pills and binge drinking to feel accepted while numbing painful memories of the past, or possibly some woman hiding in a bathroom stall while she sticks a needle in her arm.
Historically, addiction has represented uncontrollable, yet dangerous behaviors that are born out of the wombs of fear, pain, and desperation. Over time, I’m sure that perception remained true in many cases, but I believe it has evolved.
Currently, 1 out of every 10 people in America over the age of 12 is classified with addiction. Easily, that means that every single one of you knows at least one person who is an addict, if not yourself.
I think about modern addiction, and our easy ‘access’ to it with all of the technological advances, innovative pathways, and reinvention of many ‘old school’ substances and activities that supplied the reward systems—creating a higher probability for more people to experience addiction.
For example, gambling: if you have addicted to gambling fifty years ago, you had to travel somewhere—most likely a long distance— and enter into a public environment such as a saloon, casino or bar.
But today, you can gamble on anything from anywhere in the world without leaving your home, office or hotel, and your options are pretty endless. What about drugs fifty years ago? Was it less prevalent as we see it now because access (and variety) was limited? How was addiction perceived then compared to now? How was it diagnosed and then treated?
Is addiction a genetic disease? Brain disease? Or a socio-economical disease?
Has addiction evolved to be all of the above and does that make it harder to overcome?
Today, I believe we make it easier for situations to be labeled “addiction”, while at the same time providing shortcuts for it spiral out of control. Growth in technology has given us quick access to just about anything we desire, from pornography, drugs, gambling, gaming, shopping, food, to sex, etc.
Can we become addicted to anything? The evolution of products from their natural states to something “quick”, “convenient”, or “on-the-go” over time has provided us this subliminal message that anything easy, fast and convenient is better.
In the process of all of this, we’ve become a society of people who are lazy, entitled, and sadly misinformed. Parallel to this gradual evolution of conditioned attitudes, we are exposed to an expanding environment of conflicting, contradictory and diseased messages delivered by our news, media, & Hollywood cinema that portrays and objectifies the human body by applying unrealistic ideals through conjured-up stereotypes. while simultaneously contradicting themselves with unhealthy and completely false suggestions about health, fitness and/or happiness by promoting and advertising alcohol, nightclubs, fast food, packaged desserts, pharmaceutical drugs, fat burners, diet shakes, and injections.
“Addiction could very-well be an ill circumstance that stems from the exposure of our vulnerabilities – designed by our economical hunger for convenience- to the contradictions of our socially-conditioned mindsets.” – Sara Eye, Austin Primal Fitness & Nutrition
• You can’t be happy unless you’re attractive, and you’re not attractive unless you look like this [fill in the blank} supermodel or bodybuilder.
• Eating is for enjoyment, and food is more enjoyed when presented as novel combinations of refined, processed grains and sugar, and also- accompanied by wine.
Result: You pursue happiness in this simultaneous effort of trying to fit into a size 32 jeans while eating bottomless pasta bowls and binge drinking. Hmm… Here’s another:
• You cannot achieve positive results without deprivation, pain or suffering.
• No one has the time to do ____ _, here’s an app, program, or pill for that.
Obviously, the aforementioned pursuit of happiness failed, so now you need to cut calories by skipping breakfast and upping your workouts to 5 CrossFit classes a week.
But then you realize that’s having the opposite outcome you desired and decide that you simply don’t have the time to shop and cook food and eliminating alcohol is quite unreasonable, so you go to the store and pick up a bottle of fat burners.
We promote beautiful bodies and ideas about health & fitness based on social expectations, at the same time we promote convenience, fast food, and alcoholism. When those two contradictory messages fail to conjoin and produce the outcomes we’re led to expect, we end up with a population of frustrated people who have been taught to believe they are entitled to six-pack abs while they increase their habitual intake of alcohol and fast food.
So when that doesn’t work out, we’re left with nothing but our conditioned beliefs about effort. Because we have been provided every shortcut, easy way out, or excuse to achieve or obtain something we want throughout every situation our entire lives, that is the very instinctive behavior we apply to every problem as it arrises.
And the problem is that the list of problems we have to solve on our own is getting shorter. We have computers, robots, software programs, smartphone apps, and auto-generated systems that continue to do our thinking, solve our problems, perform our tasks and, ultimately, produce our outcomes without any effort on our part other than a tap, click, or swipe.
Is it reasonable for us to diagnose ourselves a food addict?
This is the problem I have with the term “food addict”. Or “addict” period. I am not saying addiction is not real. What I’m saying is that it’s used too loosely, and often self-applied. We’ve been conditioned in a contradictory environment our whole lives and brought up to feel entitled to everything.
When you had a hard day at work, you’re entitled to a few beers. When you win your soccer game, you’re entitled to pizza and ice cream. When you get a winter bonus at work, you’re entitled to go shopping.
Whatever it may be, it’s all innocent and meaningless until all of these things are developed into self-soothing, habitual comforts and the moment we’re told they are not healthy for us we panic. This is because, suddenly, the very thing(s) we’ve depended on as mainstay comforts are now being objected as negatives.
And now there’s a contradiction between something bringing joy and comfort being labeled a ‘bad’ thing. The absolute second you label something, it gets out of control, but I need to save that topic for another time.
Case in point: you’re now realizing that beer and whiskey aren’t so great for your health, and you want to change your health but you don’t want to give up something that brought you comfort before, so this happens:
• You want to lose weight and reduce health risk
• You realize that drinking is contrary to your goals
• But you don’t want to give up drinking
• But doing something you enjoy while knowing its bad makes you uncomfortable
• You’re entitled to enjoy yourself and be soothed, especially since everyone else gets to!
• But you can’t do that consciously if it’s considered “bad”
• So in order to continue doing that consciously, you take the label off of ‘it’ and put one on yourself: boom- you’re an addict.
• There. Now you can’t help it. Drinking isn’t bad. You are.
So, it’s not alcohol’s fault, and, technically, it’s not my fault either. It’s the addiction. Cheers!
I certainly believe that addiction is a real thing, but self-diagnosing yourself with addiction is like speeding on ice. The problem with describing yourself as an addict (or labeling yourself) is that you will actually invite that reality, and when that happens you will experience an awareness of what addiction really is.
Suddenly, you will understand that addiction is not a disease simply developed by the plague of “life is hard”. If you thought giving up alcohol, or sugar, or processed food was hard before, you’re in for a rude awakening when you invite true addiction into your life.
My theory is that being taught to be so self-entitled leaves you completely unequipped to face personal challenges, and so we slap a label or disease onto everything to excuse ourselves from those challenges.
We are victims now because the responsibility for our actions is proved to stand beyond our “control”. And whether it’s food, alcohol, drugs, sex, caffeine, gambling—whatever— you intentionally stepped over that line because it’s emotionally secure to not be responsible for risky or unhealthy behaviors. And now you surpass the borderline moderation you practiced before and go full-force into tapping your reward systems aggressively.
The Feel Good Hormones
Epinephrine, dopamine, serotonin… all those naturally occurring hormones secreted in our bodies when we reward ourselves are part of our messaging system to the brain. Is that good? Yes. Is that good? No.
We develop this messaging as children. When parents reward kids with ice cream because they had to get a shot at the doctor’s office, the child’s messaging system is being trained to always deliver that code “yes, ice cream makes pain go away”
So as adults, when we learn that is, in fact, not the healthy way to address pain, it’s kind of too late to just not ever do that again. We’re programmed! And so are the neurotransmitters of the brain!
That is why it feels antagonistic, emotionally, to tell yourself that eating 3 cupcakes when you’re stressed is “not good”. So does that automatically make you an addict? Not yet! But I think those circumstances predispose us to addiction, 100%.
Every time you soothe yourself with whatever thing it is you’ve been conditioned to use, you spike those feel-good hormones. That is your reward system. The longer you do this, over time, the more it takes to spike the feel-goods. Right around the time, you have passed the healthy “doses” of soothing is when you begin to notice the side effects: excess belly fat, skin breakouts, weight gain, fatigue, etc.
Unfortunately, the other side effects get passed off as “aging” or “genetics”, such as joint pain, muscle fatigue, chronic injuries, depression, anxiety, and so on. This time in your life is when you re-evaluate your plan so you can take some type of action to get healthy.
But wait. What do you mean I should stop drinking, smoking, binge eating, or playing 12 hours of Candy Crush a day?
Wait for it. Here comes the label.
Neurofeedback and Reward Deficiency Syndrome
Returning to the part where I described the discomfort of applying logical & conscious truths to things and ideas you’ve been conditioned, since childhood, to believe otherwise. The battle of this inconsistency is also a chemical process involved with the neurofeedback in your brain- so in consciousness, it is hard to reconcile.
When you continue a pattern of seeking a pleasure substance or activity for reward, the more it will take to feel the reward, which means you will need higher ‘doses’ of alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, sugar, starch, sex, heroin, exercise, etc.
Then, as the pattern of higher doses continues, your body becomes incapable of producing those hormones by itself. For example, consider the prescription and dosing of antidepressants. The longer you take them, eventually the higher doses you’ll need to get the same effect.
As that happens, your body is no longer churning out those processes on its own because the drug literally took over that job and performs the function in place of your biochemistry, therefore your body literally stops knowing HOW, so if you try to get off the antidepressants you will have some VERY uncomfortable, painful, stressful – and dangerous- side effects.
Enter the Reward Deficiency Syndrome. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Marc Lewis describes the onset of RDS, which gives you a good idea of what it actually is:
“When we do whatever it is we’re addicted to (substances OR behaviors), the brain systems that “light up” include dopamine circuits in the nucleus accumbens and its neighbors in the prefrontal cortex and motor system. No surprise there. Blum lists half a dozen dopamine receptors that get in on the act.
But the prize goes to the D2 receptor. The D2 receptor is involved in attention, motor control, motivation….lots of important stuff. Here’s a detailed description. So what happens when the D2 receptor population isn’t quite normal (e.g., too many or too few)? What happens is that you are more likely to suffer from a whole host of things, including OCD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and— you guessed it— addiction.” – Marc Lewis, Ph.D
Nutrition (or lack thereof) is a big factor in addiction and RDS. Aside from the genes, we inherit inside the womb that predisposes us, we must consider nutrition and how we can easily end up lacking important amino acids that build up and strengthen our neurotransmitters.
Some of the more common ones are L-tryptophan, L-tyrosine, and L-glutamine. We become deficient in these by exposing ourselves to chemical toxins in our products and the environment, while living a sedentary life drinking alcohol & eating processed, refined and deep-fried foods.
So in conclusion: we’re a mess y’all. A complete disaster of society, all suffering from deeply seeded conditioned beliefs that contradict our taught ideas of health and happiness while navigating our way through life stressed out and malnourished lacking the capabilities to face personal challenges.
No wonder we crave literally everything. We grow up needing and craving food, alcohol, drugs, stress, and drama. We crave distractions because we never learn how to be silent. We crave stress because we never learn how (or why) to relax and recover.
We crave drama because it overshadows our own. And we crave substances and risky or extreme behaviors because we lack pleasure and thrill due to overconsumption, entitlement, and malnourishment.
I’m not going to end this article with any answers for you. If you’ve identified with any of this, then you now have the tools to reverse and/or correct the problem, and then you can prevent it from happening again.
Maybe you need supplements for a while, maybe you need to meditate or get more sleep… or all of the above. But if you’ve learned anything from all of this, then you have a pretty clear idea of which direction you aim at first.
My name is Sara. And I am addicted to caffeine, and dried coconut.
If you think you have a problem with food addiction, you probably do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in putting a label on it and then taking action to modify the behavior so it no longer fits into that category.