It is so easy to develop an abnormal relationship with food. We cannot live without it. Mood and food are inseparable in the sense that what happens at cellular level impacts how we feel and function. When a person has very unstable sugar levels this stimulates the production of stress hormones.
Often unhealthy choices are convenient. Many people who live with food addiction and obesity may eat healthy meals but tend to also constantly ‘graze’ throughout the day, far exceeding the recommended calorie intake without necessarily realising how much they are consuming daily.
Food makes us feel ‘happy’, albeit a temporary and superficial sense of contentment. Our relationship with food starts when we are very young, and it is especially important for parents and schools to consider their influential role in the development of healthy patterns in children and young adults.
Food is a cornerstone of our lives, and this makes it especially difficult for people with food addictions. It is not possible to stop eating, like one can permanently stop drinking alcohol or avoid drugs – food is a necessary part of life and is also an important focus of many social occasions. Instead, those who struggle with compulsive eating must learn how to redefine their relationship with food and this is often more successfully achieved with inpatient treatment.
All forms of an eating disorder benefit from a multidisciplinary team approach to treatment, involving for example a family physician, a dietician, occupational therapist, psychologist and psychiatrist, to help the person reclaim their life.
No one ever sets out to become addicted, whether to food or any other form of addiction. It is possible to break unhealthy habits before they become so deeply ingrained, and this starts with simply being aware. Keep a food diary, noting portions of everything that passes your lips including water, how many cups of tea and coffee and how many sugars in each, and all snacks between meals.
For patients it is important that they are honest with themselves and recognise if their relationship with food has spiralled out of control. They shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. For them, seeing the amount of food they have eaten written down can help to empower them to make small changes that can make a huge difference to their wellbeing and long-term health.
Food addiction is nothing to be ashamed of, as addictions develop in response to circumstances but there are ways to overcome these harmful habits. Shame and guilt can often lead to a person hiding their inner pain rather than seeking professional help when it is needed.