I feel like eating all the time. Even after a big meal, I keep on snacking. I have a food addiction and I can’t quit.
I tried not buying or cooking food that I like most, but eventually I will either order online or go out and buy.
Please help me. I am only 32-years old.
I am already fat and my efforts to cut food and slim down are not working at all.
Being a woman, I am seriously worried about my health, but I can’t stick to my diet plan.
- A reader who wishes to remain anonymous asks
Answered by Sneha John, Child & Adult Psychologist, LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre, Dubai
Thank you for reaching out to seek help for this concern. I appreciate your openness and vulnerability in sharing about the food addiction. A food addiction has a deeper, psychological cause. It takes place when you eat a large portion size in a short amount of time to alleviate underlying emotional distress. Eating huge portion sizes even when you are not feeling hungry can surely can cause a momentary sense of relief and comfort. However, such eating patterns can cause disruption in normal everyday functioning in the long term.
Eating disorders and their types
Food addictions come under the category of an eating disorder. Eating disorder are emotional health conditions that cause people to adopt harmful eating patterns. They are related to thoughts and emotions.
There are different types of eating disorders:
Anorexia nervosa: This involves taking extremely restricted amounts of food because of the intense fear of being fat. Food is avoided by denying the feeling of hunger, refusing certain types of food, having concerns about eating in public, withdrawing from friends, vomiting using laxatives, excessive exercising, expressing the concern of being fat consistently, complaining of abdominal pains or lethargy and adopting food rituals (eating food in certain orders, excessive chewing or rearranging food on the plate).
Bulimia nervosa causes a person to binge eat frequently, consume high carbohydrate or starch-based foods and then purge the food by using laxatives, fasting, exercising or vomiting.
Binge-eating causes a person to eat large amounts of food without feeling hungry, more quickly than normal and until uncomfortably full.
Anorexia and bulimia typically occur among adolescents. Binge eating, on the other hand, can take place in people from all ages but are typically seen among young adults.
Factors contributing to the onset of eating disorders
The root cause of eating disorders involve four major components.
The first being biology. There is strong evidence that eating disorders are genetically inherited.
Having a close relative with an eating disorder may make a person more susceptible to developing one. People who also have a history of dieting and other weight-control methods would put themselves at greater risk in developing an eating disorder.
As binge eating is the topic of discussion, as you binge eat, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine that is responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure. Hence, you may sensitive to dopamine.
Gender is also an important factor to be considered. More females than males tend to experience an eating disorder. Bing eating is experienced by women at some point in their lives. A possible reason for this could be because women tend to be constantly exposed to unrealistic standards in social media, for example, images of celebrities attaining a size 0. This may pressurize them to adopt the same weight and look a certain way.
Apart from biology and gender, psychological factors are an integral part of acquiring an eating disorder. Perfectionism is one of the strongest risk factors for eating disorders. Such people may have a strong need for control. Perfectionism leads to unrealistic standards and expectations set for oneself. Eating disorders are also linked with body image concerns. Body image comprises of how you feel internally about your body. Having a negative body image may cause dissatisfaction about your appearance. This may cause you to compare your body image with peers or celebrities. Dissatisfaction with your body can lead to feelings of guilt, shame and persistent sadness.
Having anxiety disorder as a child could also be another contributing factor. Childhood trauma is also linked to the development of an eating disorder in adolescence.
Eating disorders are mainly influenced by psychological and social factors. Body shaming, bullying, teasing, loneliness and isolation are also determinants of eating disorders.
Treatments for eating disorders have produced promising results. The most commonly used treatment is psychotherapy. There are a variety of counselling approaches that have been effective. Among these, cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical therapy are most popular.
Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches you to recognize how certain thoughts and feelings may be connected to unhelpful behaviours. It helps you evaluate your thoughts about your weight, shape and self-image. You would be taught to reduce negative feelings and unhelpful behaviours such as binge eating.
Dialectical behaviour therapy, on the other hand, helps you learn healthy ways to deal with your emotions and regulate them. It helps you improve stress tolerance and your interpersonal relationships.
Spend time reflecting on things
While getting prepared to seek professional help, it would be helpful for you to engage in a self-reflection exercise. Acknowledge that your thoughts, feelings and beliefs are causing the internal turmoil. Very often, it is common for us to blame ourselves for our eating patterns. However, as we slowly distinguish the root issue from the precipitating factors, we would not blame ourselves for being the cause of the problem.
Seeing a change in your eating patterns would also require honesty. Start with being honest to yourself about your pattern of binge eating. You may ask questions such as, “Am I an emotional eater? Am I worried about the way I look due to my body size?” Do I eat when I am bored or tired?” These are all triggers that precede food consumption. Knowing what these triggers are, and being honest with yourself about your food behaviors, is the first step to changing them.
Think about changing your daily routine. Swap highly processed foods with healthier options. Make a conscious and mindful choice to do so. With the help of a dietician, establish a simple meal routine so that you can eat at specific times and portion sizes. Ensure a balance between food-centric and non-food centric activities. For example, allocating time for a jog before or after breakfast/dinner. Be mindful of the choices you make to help you stay on track with a healthier life.
Support system is vital
Last but not least, invest in a good support system of friends and/or family to encourage you as you embark on the recovery journey. Recovering from an eating disorder can often be a lonely journey for many. Even as unhelpful thoughts assail your mind, gently redirect your thoughts towards your goal, which is getting better. Practice appreciating yourself for taking the step to seek support. As you begin to focus on getting better, the inner critic would quieten down.
Tell your family and friends about your plan to create a healthy lifestyle change, and encourage their support. You may even encourage them to join you on your journey. For example, your friend wants to have pizza every Thursday night after work. To continue on your recovery journey, practice being assertive. You may say “Having pizza creates a barrier for me to be successful in my recovery even if it is just once a week. I don’t think I will join you tonight, or perhaps we can try a different option?”
Training yourself to be assertive and asking for what you need may be challenging initially. However, cultivating this skill would help you be successful in maintaining healthy habits as well as thoughts.
If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please let us know if you'd rather stay anonymous.
Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.