How To Spot The Signs of Food Addiction - & Why it Affects More People Than You Think
Addiction. That seems like a pretty scary word, doesn’t it? And probably not a topic you’d expect to see discussed on a blog with an emphasis on light-hearted comedy!
Like those I looked upon sadly last Saturday morning: a group of tired, downtrodden men who were waiting patiently in line for Liquor Land to open at 9am; invisible to everyone rushing by.
Like the mother of a child I used to tutor, whose 2nd son was born addicted to heroin and had to go through ‘rehab’ before he even left the hospital.
Like the man whose face was plastered across the cover of a recent local newspaper – the mocking headline describing the gambling problem that had cost him his home and his career.
Those are the kinds of people who often come to mind when we think of ‘addicts’.
Or then there are the more ‘socially acceptable’ addicts, like smokers.
I’ve never smoked, aside from a brief teenage attempt to look ‘cool’ in 1997. As an interlude to this pretty sombre sounding post(!), I’ll tell you the reasons why my attempt to be one of the cool kids failed miserably:
- Any attempt to inhale the cigarette smoke resulted in a coughing fit so violent I was sure I was going to throw up a lung.
- Hanging around behind the school gymnasium with the ‘hard kids’ who smoked; I never really fit in. I remember one time offering to light the cigarette of a particularly tough (think, half a shaved head before it was ‘on trend’) girl’s cigarette, in an attempt to be welcomed into her ‘gang’. Only to get flustered, drop the cigarette, and send it rolling across the playground. Not only did I embarrass myself and anger the scary girl – I had to give her 20p to buy a new one from whoever was in charge of the contraband that week. (Yes, my high school was very ‘Orange is the New Black‘…)
- Deodorising my entire being with half a can of Impulse O2 every day after school, so my mum wouldn’t smell the evidence of my smoky habit – well, it became too damn expensive for someone on my teenage budget.
Alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, even sex – we know these addictions exist, and may even have experienced them ourselves, or seen people we care about succumb.
But rarely did I ever consider myself an addict. Until two years ago.
A friend and I were discussing food addictions. The first image that came to both of our minds: a person struggling with obesity. But what if food addiction is a little more subtle and insidious than that? What if more people were actually exhibiting addictive behaviours, without thinking of them in that way? What if we ourselves had addictive tendencies around food?
Then something came out of that conversation that brought everything into focus. We came up with a comparison. Read the following statement, which clearly comes from an addicted mind:
“I can’t seem to wake up this morning. I need heroin. I can’t seem to get through a day without heroin at the moment. Oh no – I’m really craving it now! Are you going out? Would you mind grabbing me some heroin while you’re out? Just a little bit – I’m trying to be good. Yesterday I was so good – I didn’t have any heroin all day. Until 4pm, and then I was really craving it, so I had a little bit. I told myself I wasn’t going to have any today, but I’ve got a busy day ahead and I just NEED it. I’ll go to the gym tonight – I know I need to get healthier…”
This sounds pretty intense right? If you heard someone in your workplace talking like this, you’d think that they needed some serious help – and fast.
Now read the paragraph again, but replace the word heroin with chocolate. Or coffee. Or bread. Or Red Bull. Or whatever it is that triggers these types of cravings in you.
Does the conversation now sound familiar? Normal even? Notice how the addictive behaviours and language are exactly the same – it’s only the drug of choice that has been altered.
Do you ever use words like ‘craving‘? I read an article once that said,
“Craving is a socially acceptable way to refer to addiction.”
I had never thought of it like that before – but it’s kind of true, right?
I used to get the most intense chocolate cravings. Every night after dinner, I would NEED chocolate. I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I had some. And then after I had eaten it, I’d feel guilty and gluttonous.
Now I have to say, I’m not against chocolate – I still enjoy it from time to time and never cease to marvel at the amazing range of cruelty free chocolates that are now available.
But this feeling of craving. This behaviour of convincing ourselves we ‘need’ something when we don’t. This binging to satisfy this psychological need. This is not how our bodies are designed to function.
When I found out I was wheat intolerant and gave up gluten, I struggled. I would manage a couple of weeks without bread, and then have a massive binge and eat half a loaf in one go. I had to ask my boyfriend at the time to actually hide the bread in the house, so that I wouldn’t see it and be tempted. Inevitably, I’d eventually stumble upon his hiding places, and he’d come home to me doubled over with stomach pains after having yet another bread binge. We started referring to these times as me being in a ‘bread coma‘. We joked about it. Laughed about how amazing bread tastes and how being gluten free was “basically torture”.
But now I look back on those days of chocolate cravings and bread binges, and I realise that wasn’t normal. I was suffering symptoms of addiction.
It wasn’t necessarily my fault. After a long journey battling a myriad of digestive disorders, I now realise that some of these could have been contributing to these cravings. My body was undernourished, in need of carbohydrates, and in need of fuel to feed the nasty yeast that was getting out of control in my gut.
But I’ve learned over the years that if I am healthy, and nourishing my body with the correct fuel, then these cravings simply melt away.
I’m not perfect. If I happen to de-prioritise my own self-care during busy times in my life, then you can bet that I start to feel these ‘creeping cravings’ come crawling back into my day again. But now I see them as a good thing. A warning system that I haven’t been giving my body what it needs. A chance to re-evaluate my health and tweak things where necessary.
If you’re experiencing something similar, I hope this post may have triggered some self-examination on your part too. Next time you find yourself saying, “I really NEED chocolate right now!”, question what your body may really be needing. You may find, like me, that it takes you on a journey of health that you never knew was possible.
Please continue the conversation below. But before you do, remember this: Debate is great, hatred is not. Think before you type. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama