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Food Addiction = Disease: Stages & Consequences

Posted on 08 February 2009

I'm going to draw heavily again from Kay Sheppard's book on food addiction along with my professional and personal experience to lay out for you the stages and consequences of the disease of food addiction. It's when we look at food addiction as a bad habit that needs to be changed by sheer force of will that we get into trouble - we fail inevitably and then the roller coaster of despair, anxiety, depression, mood swings and self-loathing begins. The conventional medical world has been slow to see the connection between food addiction and obesity, or food addiction and anorexia and/or bulemia. The link is obvious to me, although the classic criteria of food addiction have not made it into the conventional bible of such problems: Our Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, if you look under "Bulemia," you'll find there is tremendous overlap with food addiction.

Kay Sheppard states that the path of food addiction is one of ups, downs and many side trips. I happened to own my food addiction relatively early in the process, mostly because I had the blessing to care for many women who were food addicts who recovered through an abstinent eating plan and 12-step. I had never seen people maintain a healthy weight as these women, and it intrigued me.

Kay talks about how young food addicts have more interest in food than their peers, who can often take it or leave it. She recommends a careful assessment of past behavior and attitudes as they relate to food to reveal addiction.

Below is a list of symptoms taken directly from her book:

Stage I: Preoccupation with Food

Food addicts spend an "inordinate amount of time seeking, talking about, and involving" himself or herself with food. Movies = popcorn, Holidays = special food (e.g., my mom's yummy Yorkshire Pudding for Christmas, latkes for Hannukhah) ; "the food addict sees life in relationship to the next opportunity to eat." Other facets of Stage I: Sneaking food and/or stealing food & money; discomfort in no-food situations; keeping secrets; concern about weight; self-loathing; and eating after others stop.

Stage II: Loss of Control and Attempts to Control

Kay describes this next phase as loss of control over the amount of food consumed and over behavior. Life becomes unmanageable. This leads to many attempted diets: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Fat Flush, Nutrisystem, etc. Other features? Self-deception; making excuses; lethargy, irritability and depression.

Stage III: Final Stages -- Efforts to Control Binging Fail Repeatedly.

This includes over-exercising, use of laxatives or diuretics, and cycles of failure may become more frequent. Eventually there is a withdrawal phase of greater isolation and "numbing out" in food - with loss of interest in family, friends and other pursuits, work and family problems, emotional , physical, moral and mental deterioration, neglect of good nutrition, food is the main source of security, panic: obsession and compulsion take over, and then, in time, complete defeat. Medical consequences of food addiction are legion: high blood pressure, pre-diabetes or diabetes (adrenal fatigue helps hasten this regardless of weight), high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease (our #1 killer in the US), and cancer. There are also lesser known conditions such as gallbladder disease, hepatic steatosis, lung impairment, hormonal imbalances (especially estrogen dominance and adrenal fatigue), obstetric complications, gout, joint dysfunction, etc. The emotional and psychological effects may be even worse: bulemia, depression, anxiety, guilt, poor self-esteem, shame and self-contempt. Fortunately, there is a solution. Kay's book is a great start along with joining a 12-step program such as Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts. If you are suffering and want to heal, call today or show up at a meeting.

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