Emotional Eating: Consuming your life piece by piece

At Eden Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre we deal with many addicts on a daily basis.  However society has created an image that rest in our minds of a stereotypical addict. This stereotypical addict is generally addicted to either alcohol or drugs. But what happens when the person is neither addicted to alcohol or drugs? What happens when the individual is addicted to eating? As a society we have grown accustomed to criticizing addiction. The sad reality is that our understanding of what addiction is, is often very limited. It’s with this limited view we criticize the drug addict and embrace the food addict. The sad and unfortunate reality is that emotional eating is socially accepted. There is no difference between one individual that uses food to cope with stress and one that uses cocaine. Both parties rely on a substance for relief regardless of what that substance is.

Emotional eating or often referred to as  stress eating is using food to make yourself feel better, eating to satisfy emotional needs, rather than to satisfy physical hunger. The effects of certain foods can lead to addiction in a matter of time. Sugar is found in a vast variety of food products and is one of the worst culprits. The reason for this is because sugar possesses great addictive properties and because it is legal, cheap and socially acceptable. Furthermore it has massive effects on the reward centre of the brain, this involves neurotransmitters like dopamine.

Experts agree that sugar can potentially be just as addictive as cocaine. When the drug addict uses a substance, dopamine is released in the brain leading to a euphoric sensation, sugar does the same. Researchers in France found that the consumption of sugar can be experienced by the brain as even more rewarding and attractive than the effects of cocaine. Unfortunately emotional eating is not seen as a problem until the person reaches a state of obesity. It is argued that obesity is the direct result of binge eating and food addiction. Dr Gabor Mate, author of “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” believes that the roots of addiction are all the same. He argues that addiction can take any shape or form, any activity can be addictive.

From the compulsion to collect stamps to the need to enjoy copious amounts of sweets, addiction is present. Ashley Gearhardt the creator of the Yale Food Addiction Scale believes the struggle individuals face with food addiction compared to those faced by let’s say alcohol or drugs are very similar. In both cases the addict will often break their own rues “I’m not going to drink today or I’m going to eat healthier today”. As soon as they start drinking or eating the intensity of the substance is just too powerful and controlling it in that moment becomes virtually impossible.

At Eden we often see family and friends criticize the addiction and very rarely ask why the addiction is present. It is a well-known fact that past traumas and addiction go hand in hand. Just like with any addiction, food addiction can be caused by traumas that occurred in the individual’s past or day to day struggles. These individuals tend to connect food with comfort, power, safety and generally other positive emotions that they need. This vicious cycle fuels the emotional eating pattern. They eat because they are stressed and then stress because they have eaten so much and so the cycle continues. These individuals are also sensitive to changes in their daily life and any added stress will lead them finding comfort in their substance of choice. At Eden we believe that people use substances for many reasons. One of those reasons is to mask the pain that they feel on a daily basis. It’s often said by addicts that they are not addicted to the substance but rather addicted to the momentarily relief of pain that the substance offers them.

At Eden Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre we believe regardless of what the individual is addicted to they need intervention. Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle-Napoleon Hill.

-Shaun Pyper, Counsellor, Eden Recovery Centre (011) 244 9916