Sunday, April 14, 2013

Could It Be Food Addiction?

When I did my experiment in abstinence form trigger foods last month, I enjoyed an amazing stretch of 14 days when I didn't overeat.  Even better, I would get into bed each night with a newfound feeling of peace, and I wold get up with a new enthusiasm in the morning.  Here is an interesting paradox that I discovered.  The feeling of well being I got from eliminating sugar and grains from my eating plan led to thoughts that I could handle sweets after all.  Then, whether because of holidays, or parties, or just because the treats were available, I would give myself permission to eat them.  Nine times out of ten, one slice or even one bite would lead to an out of control episode of eating my favorite fix of sugar and flour mixed with fat, salt, and preferably chocolate.

I have written before about my first white bread binge at age five, and now at nearly age 49 I'm still on that merry go round of abstaining, fooling myself into thinking I'm cured, and then going off on another food bender.  But wait, the news isn't all bad.  In the past, when I have brought up the subject of food addiction, most people I talked to would look at me as if the concept of being unable to stop eating sweets until the point of pain was completely foreign to them.  Now, thank goodness, there is serious research going into the theory that food addiction might be real.  Here is the abstract from a study on food addiction that appeared in the research journal "Appetite".


There is growing interest in conceptualizing obesity as a “food addiction.” The current study investigated the prevalence and correlates of “food addiction” (FA), as defined by the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) in 178 (133 F, 45 M) persons seeking weight loss treatment. Participants had a mean age of 51.2 ± 11.7 years and a body mass index of 36.1 ± 4.8 kg/m2. Fifteen percent of individuals met the YFAS proposed diagnostic criteria for FA. Those who met criteria for FA reported significantly greater depressive symptomatology. There were no differences in BMI, age, race, or gender between participants with and without FA. Among those not meeting criteria, 35% reported 3 or more symptoms in the absence of self-reported clinical distress or impairment. YFAS symptom count was also significantly correlated with depressive symptoms. These findings suggest that 15% of adults presenting for weight loss treatment meet YFAS criteria for FA. The clinical significance of this classification is unknown and needs to be validated in prospective studies.


  • Food addiction
  • Obesity
  • Depressive symptomatology

  • The study found that 15% of participants had food addiction as measured by the Yale Food Addiction Scale.  In addition, the study found a correlation between food addiction and depression.  Looking back at the past month, I realize that I usually reached for my "Fix Foods" when I was feeling angry or disappointed in myself.  This leads me to a theory that I have been developing for some time:

  • The combination of the unrealistic demands we put on ourselves, coupled with images of impossible slenderness, youth, and physical perfection from the photo-shopped media, lead to feelings of depression which 15% of us ease temporarily with excess food.

  • So what is the solution to the depression- food addiction cycle of sadness?  More researchers, doctors, and sufferers are realizing that it is helpful to get off of the sugar/flour/excess food merry go round for good.  In the past, the clinical position has been that healthy eating consists of being able to eat all foods in reasonable amounts.  That meant that abstinence couldn't be the goal.  If you never ate sugar than clearly your food issues weren't  resolved.  Now, the Yale Food Addiction Scale is becoming well known.  You can take a short form of the self-test at: 

    In two weeks I'll be attending my 30th High School Reunion.  I had hoped to be able to enjoy myself by eating a reasonable amount of whatever I wanted at that party.  Now I'm starting to think that letting go of sweets for good might result in a lot more peace and happiness that trying of eat just one slice or piece of anything.  Perhaps I am one of 15% of the population that has a food addiction, and the only reasonable amount of my fix foods is  none. I should note here that the "Appetite" study was among overweight individuals, so I should say 15% of the overweight population as determined by BMI.

    In the past I have told myself:
    "I should be able to eat treats."
    "I should be thinner."
    "I should have more willpower."
    "I should look like the women on TV"

    With a cruel voice in my head telling me lies like these, why wouldn't I feel depressed, and then eat sweets to momentarily quiet the voice?

    I predict that more and more, those of us who struggle with overeating will get the support we need to try eliminating trigger foods without judgement.  If we are only 15% of the population that struggles with their weight, that explains why so many people don't understand what were going through, but if we speak up about our experience we are more likely to foster understanding from the medical community and the public.

    I think it's about time.

    1 comment:

    1. I agree with your plan. Jillian Michaels says to eat 5 clean meals and snacks for every cheat. I don't think it's worth it for me: even if it's celebratory.


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