Using Food as a Drug

Sunday kicks off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the behavior of using food as a drug, which can lead to food addiction, a type of eating disorder.

Many people use food as a drug to feel better, but eating and drinking excessively for pleasure can lead to food addiction, a serious problem and form of self-sabotage. Additionally, the interval voices that chide you as you have another plate of pasta or another glass of wine adds to your stress level, which of course, increases your cortisol demand and contributes to hormone imbalance.

Food addiction is a vicious cycle. For example, if you eat a sugary or starchy breakfast, you might crash mid morning leading you to reach for caffeine or sweets to jack up your sugar levels again. Then the cycle repeats itself in the afternoon. The carb overload creates imbalances with insulin and cortisol, as well as depletes the natural chemicals that allow for communication between the cells in your brain that help you feel good. The feel-good neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, are especially susceptible to sugar spikes, and when your diet is poor, they won’t function well. When these brain messengers are affected, you’re vulnerable to depression and more sugar cravings. If you can’t handle the low between your fixes, you have a food addiction.

In her book, The Truth About Beauty, Kat James discusses signs that can help you determine whether you’re addicted to food:

  • You need a sugar or caffeine fix to get you from lunch to dinner.
  • You think about food a lot when you’re not eating.
  • You reward yourself with large amounts of food and then feel guilt or shame.
  • You feel the urge to binge when you are upset.
  • You skip meals on purpose and then gorge in one sitting.
  • You get a buzz from food.
  • You salivate over food advertisements.
  • You prefer to eat alone, so you can eat all you want in peace.
  • You obsess about your next meal even you are full from the previous one.
  • You deal with your out-of-control appetite by having nonfat frozen yogurt, large plates of vegetables, or fat-free chips.
  • You worry about getting enough food when you have to share.
  • You keep eating even after you experience physical discomfort from an overly full stomach.