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3 posts from October 2011


Identifying Your Addictive Foods

Similar to emotional eating, treating food addiction involves a therapeutic process of gaining insight and awareness into unresolved emotional issues. Besides that, the food addict must also identify and stop eating the foods he or she is addicted to.

A food journal can be a valuable tool in this process. Try writing down the foods you're eating, as well as your thoughts and feelings before and after eating. You'll also want to record your physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, hunger, pain, irritability and anxiety.

After a week or so, reading back over your answers is bound to reveal some patterns. For more clarity, support and guidance, bring your food journal to a therapy session or an appointment with a dietician who specializes in food addiction (contact us for referrals).

Here are three questions that may help you hone in on foods that are addictive for you:

  1. While I'm eating this food item, am I already thinking about the next time I will eat it?
  2. When I finish eating this food item, do I feel a sense of loss or panic because it's gone?
  3. Do I think about this food item many times through the day?

For a more comprehensive food addiction assessment, click here to take the Yale University Food Addiction Scale.


Jane's Story of Food Addiction

All her life, Jane noticed that other people around didn't seem to look at food the same way she did. While she waited all day for school to be over so she could come home and snack (usually right up until dinner), other kids hung out with friends, worked in the library or played sports.

While her sister would have her Halloween candy in her desk drawer for months (and Jane knew, because she would sneak in there and eat some – but never enough to be noticed), Jane's was usually gone in just a few days.

When she grew older and started to be more conscious of her weight and appearance, Jane tried diet after diet to slim down and get some control over her eating. She would diligently follow all the rules, and then after awhile she would reward herself with a treat for being so "good." That little taste of whatever it was would set off a whirlwind pattern: eating, hiding what she was eating, scheming about how she could eat more, and feeling a deep sense of shame for having blown another diet.

When one of her co-workers was hospitalized for medical complications due to alcoholism, Jane actually envied him, wishing someone would lock her up to keep her away from her "treats." She had no idea that she was dealing with a condition just as debilitating and pervasive as alcoholism. That, in fact, certain foods triggered an alcoholic response in her body – once she started with them, she couldn't stop. Jane was a food addict. Are you?


You Can't Heal Food Addiction by Treating Emotional Eating

Not everyone with a compulsive or emotional eating disorder is a food addict. There are many people who can heal their emotional issues with food without ever having to acknowledge or give up an unhealthy relationship with a specific food or type of food.

And for others, those foods can be as problematic as alcohol is to the alcoholic. Even one bite can set off a chain of physical, biochemical reactions in the brain and body.

While a food addict may have as many unresolved emotional issues to work through as the emotional eater, a food addict also has to deal with the physical dependence. Though some people (including professionals) are unsure or uninformed about the theory of food addiction, research has shown that some foods, including sugar, can be just as addictive and harmful as other serious drugs.

Dr. Mark Gold, head of psychiatry at University of Florida in Gainsville, has done a lot of work in food addiction research, along with many others.

It's not as simple of identifying yourself as either an emotional eater or a food addict. In some cases, you might not know the food addiction is there until you start to unravel the emotional problems. As a first step, you might review this self-assessment created at Yale University:

Another challenge is that while most therapists are equipped to deal with emotional eating, very few therapists have the training and understanding to treat food addiction. That is a specialty here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, and we take a highly individualized approach to support people through the process of identifying the true nature of their food issues.

We are also beginning to train our interns in this area, as well as enlightening other students and therapists with our seminars and presentations.

It's not easy to face addiction – once you "put the food down" (stop eating the food you're addicted to), more emotions can come up and you may even feel a sense of loss from giving them up (you can contact us for more details about our "Grief, Loss and Food" workshop).

On the other hand, it can be validating to realize that your compulsion around food is not due to a lack of willpower; it's a chemical reaction that's the same as gluten or lactose intolerance. And that can be a real relief after struggling for so long.