(Photo by Natalie Baugh)
The Impact of Food Addiction
By Natalie Baugh
Addiction. When most people hear the word, their mind suddenly jumps to alcoholism or street drugs. Yet, one of the most common addictions is to food. A study was recently conducted in 2014, showing that at least 5.8% of the population has a food addiction problem. The study was the biggest yet conducted on food addiction, and was only conducted with middle-aged and older women. It is thought that the statistics may even double when accounting for the male population as well.
Each person views food differently. Some view it as solely a necessary part of survival, and yet others see it as a comfort mechanism. Whichever way it is viewed, the consumption of food is so closely knitted to each individual’s psyche. Most underestimate the power that an unhealthy relationship with food has on one’s overall wellbeing. Yet, often unknowingly, your relationship with food ultimately drives how you live your life.
Control, and the loss of control, is most often scapegoated through the consumption of food. Addiction comes in many shapes and forms. While most may see food addiction as an overweight, middle-aged individual, it may also be seen in the form of an insecure, thin teenage girl. Yet, the stigma needs to be discarded that food addiction stems from laziness or over-indulgence. The true face of food addiction is often seen in a young man who cannot afford to pay rent, a girl that lost both of her parents, or of a mom that gives all of her energy to everyone but herself. When a traumatic experience occurs in an individual’s life, they often feel a sense of loss of control over their life. However, even though situations may be occurring in their life that are uncontrollable, one aspect that most humans have control over is food. Food is then manipulated to one extreme or another, resulting in an eating disorder.
There are other reasons as well for why food addictions may develop. Many food habits we developed are instilled in us from our parents at a young age. The food habits depend on parent’s food preferences, income, and food practices that are required of the children. Even the practice of “cleaning the plate before you can leave the table” can cause significantly unhealthy relationships with food. And the type of food most often consumed also plays a significant role. Studies have shown a higher correlation between individuals who have food addictions to the consumption of high-fat, high-sugar foods. When food is consumed, dopamine neurons are triggered producing dopamine to go into the nucleus, which results in a euphoria and comfort effect. Studies have compared the similarities of food over consumption to drug addiction. In addition to fat and sugar, there are other additives that have been shown to have addictive qualities as well.
Ultimately, when addressing food addiction, one must find the root cause for the food addiction. Is the food addiction stemming from insufficient knowledge of how to eat a healthy diet, or are there deeper causes of the food addiction that stem from past traumas? If the first, it may be more easily corrected with education and direction. If the second, the individual must have the desire to address the root factors. It is ALWAYS best to consult medical professionals when treating food addictions. Registered Dietitians and counselors are most often necessary to treat the underlining problems. An unwillingness to conduct a lifestyle change will ultimately result in chronic diseases, and most often depression and anxiety. More importantly though, the individual must address their self-worth and how they treat their bodies. Food addiction, just as any other type of addiction, becomes an idol. If your self worth is low and you do not find your worth in Christ, then pride will take over and embed itself into other idols, such as food addiction. This is not to say that Christians do not struggle with food addiction. Even as a Christian, it is so easy to put aside your value and worth in Christ, and begin to focus on under or over eating food. In the end, the lack of self-control comes from forgetting how much Christ loves you, adores you, and treasures how He made you.
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Flint, A.J., Gearhardt, A.N., Corbin, W.R., Brownell, K.D., Field, A.E., Rimm, E.B. (2014) Food-addictin scale measurement in 2 cohorts of middle-aged and older women. 99(30):578-86. Doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.068965
Lindgren, E., Gray, K., Miller, G., Tyler, R., Wiers, C., Volkow, N., Wang, G. (2018) Food addiction a common neurobiological mechanism with drug abuse. Vol. 23, pp. 811-836. Frontiers in bioscience.