What You Need to Know About Food Addiction

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2001

Dear Annette,

Do you believe that wheat and sugar can actually be addictive, as the Food Addiction Anonymous  12-step model suggests?  

- Just Wondering  

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Yes, in some stages of addiction, this is so.  I have studied the progression one goes through to reach total food addiction.  I have simplified this addiction it into three major.  Since I believe there are three distinct stages, I do not believe that all food addiction can be treated the same.  Treatment should reflective the progress of the addiction, but they do not.   The FAA model treats everyone as if they are in the last stage of addiction.  Other counseling models treat all stages with educational materials.  This is not enough for those in the last stage of addiction. 

Stages of Addiction

There are three types of food-addicted individuals. Each stage has its own definite characteristic behavior and thinking. These stages are the emotionally, psychologically, and psychologically addicted individuals.

It starts because people love food.  They love its smell, taste, and the crunching sound it makes.  They equate good times and good feelings with food.  It is precisely these reasons that people over-eat or eat food because it is there, not because they are hungry.  This sets the stage for addiction to begin.

1.  The emotionally addicted person's cycle starts when s/he is unhappy, stressed, or feels loss of control and chooses to change mood through food consumption. After s/he has eaten, and gained the wanted mood change, s/he feels in control again. After this wears off, the guilt or shame from food abuse sets in, causing him or her to feel unhappy again. This chemical high wears off and depression sets in.  It sets up another opportunity to abuse food and the cycle begins again.

2.  The psychologically addicted person has developed when this cycle is engaged in consistently and this pattern of response is set. This allows the "addictive self" to have control over the "normal self."

3.  The physiologically addicted individual is formed when the cyclical behavior of the causes the body to gain a tolerance to the chemical-high gotten from foods. This causes the addicted person to increase the abuse of food to get the same high. Going without the chemicals gotten from starches and sugar causes the physiologically addicted person to go into physical withdrawal or depression.

The psychologically addicted person needs large amounts of food to get the chemicals s/he needs to stop depression and/or cope with life. This causes the bingeing or acting out behavior to become out of control. The addict acts out more frequently and in a more dangerous manner. S/He may engage is such behaviors as bingeing and purging. These actions may frighten the addicted person into stopping the addictive behavior until s/he rationalizes himself or herself into resuming the behavior.

After the "addictive self" has taken over, it substitutes "addictive logic" to explain away the illogical actions the individual is engaging in. These excuses are denial of the abnormal changes in the person's life. When the "logical self" tries to point out flaws in the "addictive logic," the "addictive self" points out the pleasurable aspects of the addiction. This delusional way of thinking becomes a part of the individual.

The more individuals substitute food for control over life's problems, the more isolated from others they become. This is because questions about the individual's "addictive logic" are perceived as an attack on the individual himself or herself. This causes problems between the addicted person and others. The addicted person pulls further away, further isolating him or her. Negative thoughts, illogical thinking, self-defeating behaviors, and bad feelings about oneself classify food addiction as a personality and emotional disorder.  These are the characteristics that the FAA model is set up for. 

I believe that there is a chance for people who have been in this model and have abstained from eating sugar and wheat for a time, to be able have their body function physiologically normally again.  Psychologically, these people would have to be strong-willed over their wants and ever vigilant not to fall back into to any of the above stages of addiction. 

 

This is explained by the following…

Processed Sugar Can Cause Addiction and Depression

Processed white sugar has no nutritive value left. White sugar has been distilled from brown sugar which was distilled from molasses. The molasses came from sugar cane or sugar beets (Whitney, Cataldo, & Rolfes, 1991). Processed white sugar is an addictive chemical (Sheppard, 1993). Processed sugars such as white, powdered, brown, molasses, and even honey have had some or all of their chemical bonds broken down between their basic components due to the amount of processing . Processed sugars present as a simple potent sugar which is easily and quickly absorbed by the body.

Processed sugars and carbohydrates, which turn into sugar, cause a rise in the insulin level of the blood. This also raises the endorphins level, a natural mood upper in the brain. These sugars causes the body to have a chemical high, mentally, which results in a lift in mood. .

Continuous large doses of sugar and/or carbohydrates, overtime, usually cause the brain's endorphin sites to slow production or close sites to regulate the amount of endorphins in the brain. When the body cuts back on endorphins production it reduces the amount of endorphins available in the body at any given time. The lack of enough endorphins in the brain causes slight to deep depression.

To maintain a normal level of endorphins in the brain the individual must eat more sugar and/or carbohydrates to get out of depression and maintain a normal mood level. This causes a vicious cycle of addiction, physiologically (Nay, 1996). This is also directly comparable to the cycle that is developed after excessive endorphins are released into the body from the use of alcohol. Excessive alcohol usage causes many of the dopamine sites to shut down. To get the natural high given by endorphins the alcoholic must drink more alcohol to get the same effect (Shkurkin, 1994; Sheppard 1993).

Physically, the body has been given a massive dose of sugar that goes straight into the blood system. It is the bodies business to keep the body's blood sugar stabilized. The body injects a massive dose of insulin. Insulin tries to neutralize the sugar by acting as a downer.

The sugar's effect on the body is short lived and wears off within an hour. The effect of the insulin has greater staying power. It is there long after the sugar wears off. This causes another mood swing. This time the mood is one of depression. Physically the body experiences lethargy. This usually causes the individual to use sugar to feel better (Whitney, Cataldo, & Rolfes, 1991).

In conclusion, when processed sugar is stopped there are two chemical related reasons for the resulting depression. There is the glut of insulin depressing the system and the lack of endorphins in the brain.

Continued abuse of the body in this way can cause physical and/or mental problems such diabetes and some bi-polar disorders (Whitney, Cataldo, & Rolfes, 1991).

The difference between fructose, that is the natural sugar in fruit, and processed sugars is that fructose still has its chemical bonds intact. This causes the body to take a longer period of time to break down the different chemical bonds. As the body dissolves each type of sugar it is releases a moderate amount of sugar over time. This gives a continuos energy boost to the body and a slightly elevates mood (Whitney, Cataldo, & Rolfes, 1991).

To get away from sugar craving, or sugar fits, individual's can use fructose, fruit's natural sugar, to mediate the effects of the processed sugar or sugar substitutes. Natural sugars are not as potent as the concentrated processed sugars or sugar substitutes. The lack of concentrated sweetness causes people to favor processed sugars or sugar substitutes over fruit in sweetening food (Nay, 1998; Sheppard 1993).

After an extended use of fruit and an elimination of processed sugar or sugar substitutes from the diet, the body becomes more sensitive to the sweetness or the fruit. The fruits blandness gives way to enhanced sweetness as the effects of processed sugar dissipates from the body. The brain will usually register the withdrawal of the concentrated processed sugars as the fruit having increased in sweetness (Nay, 1998: Sheppard 1993).

The benefits of using fruit instead of processed sugars and sugar substitutes is that the body does not have to work so hard to control the mood high's and lows. The body is not addicted to the chemicals in processed sugar. This causes less chance of overworking the system which leads to body breakdown and illness (Rememington & Parent, 1983).

Chemical sugar substitutes are not good substitutes for processed sugar. They, like the processed sugars retard the bodies ability to lose weight. They stimulate the body's metabolism to crave more sweets (Baker & Baker, 1987; Rememington & Parent, 1983).

 

References

Nay A. (1998). A Holistic Approach to Weight-loss. Unpublished manuscript.

Rememington, D., Fisher, G., & Parent, E. (1983). How to lower your fat thermostat. Utah: Vitality House

Sheppard, K. (1993) Food addiction. (2nd ed.). Dearfield Beach, FL: .Heath Communication, Inc.

Shkurkin, K. (1994, December). Master's class in Substance Abuse. Presented at University of La Verne: Elmendorf A.F.B., AK.

Whitney, E., Cataldo, C., & Rolfes, S. (1991). Understanding normal and clinical nutrition. Saint Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Company.

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The body needs time to purge itself from the chemicals in processed sugar and wheat starches to allow the body to restart the chemical sites having to do with the production of endorphins, which shut down due to excessive consumption of processed sugar and wheat starches.  The person also must have in place a set of healthful coping behaviors so s/he does not engage in unhealthful eating behaviors to cope with life’s problems. 

 

With continual prayer for success physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally, paired with educated and purposeful good behaviors, it believed a person can return to normal healthful eating and a mentally healthful life-style.

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For your benefit, I have included a list of good coping behaviors.  They are as follows…

 

Coping Tools

Many people have poor coping skills.  So when bad or stressful times happen, they chose food, drugs, or indulge in other behaviors to an excess, to bury all their problems. Instead of choosing to participate in unhealthy behaviors to relieve distressing feelings or procrastinate; use these coping tools to cope with the problem, until you can get fix it. 

Never trying to cover problems up.  They will always come back.  When they do they are usually worst than they originally were. 

The problem you have been hiding from yourself tend to fester and finally explode.  Then you have to deal with all of them at once.  You could not deal with the problems one at a time, but now you have all of them to deal with all at once.  This often results in suicide.  Instead of choosing suicide, get help immediately!

The following is a list of things you can do to cope with problem while rationally thinking of ways to work them out.:

rent a video

go fishing

work on the car

get a spousal back rub

clean the house

do a service for someone

go bowling

do a hobby

fix something

go to the library

read a book

write a letter

bird watch

visit a friend/neighbor

window shop

cloud watch

clean up the yard

go hiking

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Annette Nay Homepage


     
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