When it’s Not About the Diet - Rhona Epstein

When it’s Not About the Diet

Spring is here! Warmer weather brings thoughts of shedding our winter layers of clothing—and weight. Typically April begins the dreaded swimsuit preparation season, when many of us revive our New Year’s resolutions of getting into shape. Workouts. Diets. Fretting and frustration. All in an effort to achieve that great beach body.

For most of us, those strenuous diets are short-lived. Did you know there’s a reason why diets don’t work for many people? Some people are addicted to certain foods.

When a person’s behavior with food is like alcohol to an alcoholic, no matter how much they try to control their cravings—until they understand and acknowledge the problem—it is continuously sabotaged. For a food addict, trying to control their eating without an understanding of which foods trigger their bingeing, no matter what the wholesome motivations are, the compulsion and drive to eat takes over and the person is left on the merry-go-round of bingeing and guilt—what a vicious cycle!

Addiction is one food in particular can be the culprit. We all know cocaine is addictive. What is not as well-known is that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine. In fact, research indicates sugar is not only the cause of a plethora of health problems, but it also can affect the brain. Had this data been more widely communicated we might have handled those sweet treats more cautiously, right?

However, for a food addict—a growing segment of the population—addiction to sugar and other foods can have severe reactions. Their physical and emotional reactions are so extreme that it has devastating effects in their life—from low self-esteem and body image, to struggles to function in normal everyday living. It is not overstating that families are affected. Sexual relationships are affected. Overwhelming feelings of shame, guilt and hopelessness hold these victims captive, separated from an abundant life.

An alcoholic or drug addict has resources for treatment, but what options are available for food addicts? Regrettably, not as many exist—but there are options. Because these resources are not as widely known, most practitioners don’t have a programmatic understanding of how to treat food addiction. Typically, they recommend behavioral techniques. Or they look at underlying emotional issues. These are important, but without the science and treatment information, they can never fully recognize the addictive nature of food and how some foods for some people are no different than drugs or alcohol to a substance addict.

For example, we would never tell a drug addict to take their drugs in moderation, nevertheless most practitioners will tell people to eat sugar and cake and cookies in moderation even though the person binges out of control on those very foods. Like substance abuse, abstinence is the key. Recent research supports this reality, and even more importantly, patients have achieved successful changes to their emotional and physical wellbeing.

As a caring professional, it’s important to have resources available for your clients. Binge eating, bulimia and obesity can greatly hinder therapy if it goes untreated. A great way to begin is with 12 Step Meetings for food addiction. Most have meetings available in your area, and these groups also have phone meetings (www.oa.org).

“Who the Lord sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36). This freedom is meant for every believer. With knowledge and the right support people can live in their promised freedom. Cravings to foods that trigger abuse will disappear with abstinence from those foods, as well as the spiritual/emotional help we give as counselors. We can give hope to the hopeless and help see people set free from bondage.

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