Connection of food addiction with alcoholism

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[Why dieting does not always work. What food addiction is... and the remedy.]

Do you gain more weight than you lose after every diet? Does your weight constantly yo-yo leaving you depressed and frustrated?

Have you tried most any method to lose weight regardless of the cost or health risk?

Do you eat when you're angry, anxious, or bored?

Do you hide food and "sneak eat"?

Failing to win the battle over obesity most likely is not a lack of willpower but rather a lack of information on the most widespread, misdiagnosed and misunderstood of all addictions... food addiction.

How did I diet my way up to 260 lbs? From the first time I stepped on the scale at Weight Watchers at the age of 9, I have been struggling with this frustrating battle for over 30 years. I have tried every commercial diet program; bought all the books; watched Oprah; tried food combinations from the so-called sound to the bizarre; took dangerous pills and liquid diet mixtures in spite of news reports of the risks and deaths resulting from such a regimen. I was obsessed with being thin and obsessed with being fat. Almost every binge ended with the fantasy: THIS would be the last supper; tomorrow I will get back on track. I can't remember a day where I wasn't focused on food, eating it or not eating it. Depression and self-loathing were my daily mantras.

Why didn't I have this willpower that everyone shamed me about? I am bright. I could accomplish other things successfully.

It must be my family issues I was eating over. Therapy, that would do it. So I went for years, bingeing after each session.

Madison Avenue did their part in reducing any self-esteem with their waif-like models and slogans like "Give us a week we'll take off the weight." I bought into the whole campaign. This is so simple, I know the caloric count of everything. I should know how to get thin by now. But I kept failing and failing and failing. What was wrong with me? Why didn't I have any self-control?

Finally, just when I was about to give up, a friend who also suffered from chronic obesity returned home from a month-long stay at a treatment center. When he returned, something had changed. He was losing weight, without struggling nor confined to some impossible, restrictive lifestyle.

Somewhat ambivalent, I entered the same treatment center. It was there I finally learned why I never a chance of sticking to all the things I had tried. I wasn't crazy and it wasn't about will power. I was a food addict and, as long as I ingested sugar, flour and wheat, I would forever be stuck in this yo-yo syndrome. It was there that I met a remarkable woman named Kay Sheppard, the author of Food Addiction, the Body Knows. She is a certified eating disorder specialist, but, more importantly, a recovering food addict.

I never heard of food addiction and I was never was told it was a disease that parallels alcoholism. I figured sugar was probably not a good thing, but was it wheat and flour that robbed me of decades of happiness?

When the food addict, like the alcoholic, ingests their addictive substance, a pilot light sparks in a specific area of the brain associated with addiction call the hypothalamus, sometimes referred to as the pleasure center. A biological chain of events then occurs which produces an abnormal metabolism in the neurotransmitter system. This creates an overwhelming craving for more of the substance without regard to the negative consequences. This is the classic medical model of addiction.

Food addicts are not weak-willed nor do they have a bad habit or behavioral problem, rather they have a metabolic, biochemical imbalance. Food addicts are obsessed with food, preoccupied with weight and appearance, often with a severely distorted body image. They experience a progressive loss of control over the amount of food they eat. Food addiction spans the range from overeating, bulimia (purging) to anorexia.

Food addiction is a chronic, progressive and ultimately fatal disease. It is chronic because the condition never goes away; progressive, because the symptoms always get worse, never better; and fatal because persons who persist in the disease will die an early death due to its complications.

If you persistently attempt to stop or control your food intake without any long-term success, the likelihood is that you fall into the addictive category. For most food addicts these trigger foods are refined carbohydrates, flour, sugar in all its forms, and wheat. Having "just one" will fire up a phenomenon of craving that is so overwhelming that all logic and resolve fall by the wayside.

Although alcoholism is accepted and treated as a disease, for the most part the medical community and weight-loss industry are completely ignorant to this disease concept. This is why I had failed so often with commercial weight-loss programs. Many of them include these addictive substances with the goal of making the addict into a "normal" eater through behavioral techniques and reduced portions. It would be as illogical as telling the alcoholic to just limit their drinking to controlled amounts of Miller Lite.

Once I began carefully reading labels, and eliminating these substances, the craving, much to my surprise, completely went away. Without having to "control" my appetite or mentally debate every item I purchased in the supermarket, I successfully lost 115 lbs and maintained this weight loss for many years.

The disease is threefold in nature: physical, mental and spiritual. If you only focus on the physical, staying slim and beautiful will be short lived. This is where support groups are so important. Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA), a 12-step program, embraces this philosophy, is free and currently has two meetings in St. Petersburg. The only requirement is a desire to live a happier, healthier and saner lifestyle.

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By Marian Baylin

Marian Baylin is a local resident and writer living in St, Petersburg. She is an active member of FAA. (727) 328-1685. www.foodaddictsanonymous.org.

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