Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Food Attachments and Addictions

The most common type of e-mail I receive is from people who seek advice about what clearly seems to be a food addiction (although they often don’t know it.)  The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines “Addiction” this way:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry … This is reflected in the individual pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. The addiction is characterized by impairment in behavioral control, craving, inability to consistently abstain, and diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships … addiction can involve cycles of relapse and remission...”

Hmmm.  Sounds like many of our relationships with food, doesn’t it?  Re-read the definition, keeping your eating habits in mind. 

Why am I bringing up addiction in a vegan blog?  Because in a 1995 Vegetarian Times article, David Herzog, Director of the Harvard Eating Disorder Center said that the percentage of his patients that called themselves vegetarian was about 33%.  This number is way higher than the national average of vegetarians, which is under 5%.  And what many people don’t realize is that eating disorders are a form of addiction.

Please do not think I am claiming that vegetarianism or veganism can cause eating disorders –that couldn’t be further from the truth.  What I am suggesting – as are the experts – is that people with eating disorders sometimes hide their restrictive diets under the guise of vegetarianism.

But I digress – even if you do not have a bona fide eating disorder, you could be one of the millions of people around the world that suffer from food addictions.  If you crave certain foods, at certain times or in certain situations, this is probably you.  For example, I recently decided to give up alcohol for a while and see how I feel.  I am not an alcoholic, but was very surprised at how difficult it was to forego that one glass of cabernet at dinner that I liked to enjoy with my book at my favorite vegan restaurant.  I may not be addicted to wine, but I sure am attached to having that glass at that restaurant as I read a book!

The first step to overcoming any hurdle is to acknowledge it.  If you can see that you have an attachment or addiction to food, then you can do something about it.  For example, you can seek a professional therapist that specializes in addictions or eating disorders, or for a less expensive route, simply read books or go to professional Internet sites to learn about the subject.  These small steps can be your first step to freedom from food.

The goal is to be able to get back to life.  This is, perhaps, the most liberating experience:  To break away from food addictions, and live life without thinking about the next meal, or what you shouldn’t have eaten yesterday that you did, or what you’re definitely not going to eat today; to go to your son’s soccer game without obsessing about what’s being sold at the concession stand, or to go to a movie without missing the plot because you’re trying to hold yourself back from the popcorn seller.  … To go out and live, free from attachments and addictions. For those of you whom this description fits, ask yourself if it’s time you finally got the burden off your back?  Is it time to get help?

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