It’s no surprise to anyone that, in general, we are getting heavier. With the fast pace of modern life, we have limited time to work out what’s good and what’s not. It’s quicker and easier to pick up a ready meal or order in. And slowly those inches and pounds add up.
Also, it can be easy to acquire bad habits through no fault of our own. It’s hard to be objective about what and how much we are eating. Emotions come into play, there are rationalizations and denial.
So you can better understand your own relationship with food, take some time to examine your behaviours around food and look out for the signs of addiction.
The physical effects
If you eat badly, obviously the weight will pile on. Maybe you’re in your twenties, and it seems that no matter how much you eat, you can stay thin. As you reach your thirties, that’s no longer the case. Also, if you are eating unhealthy things, that can also show up in acne, bad breath or dental problems. You might be out of breath more often.
At the more extreme end, this can lead to diabetes, heart problems and liver problems.
The mental health aspect
Addiction is all about mental health. Eating, denying that you have eaten, feeling guilty, low self-esteem and then eating to get rid of those feelings can turn into a never-ending cycle. If your mental health is suffering, it’s probably time to make some changes.
Thinking about food too much
Has food become a major subject in your internal dialogue? Are you often thinking ‘how long until lunch / snack break / dinner?’ It may not be the food itself, it may be the idea of the food. The buying, the unwrapping or preparing. The thought of buying something nice, just for you, that no one else knows about.
Maybe it’s the amount – have I got enough chocolate in case I wake up in the middle of the night and feel hungry? Better buy some more just in case…
Hiding from the truth
Do you ever buy extra food, then eat it before getting home, so that no one will see? Do you eat in the car to avoid a confrontation about food? Is there a stash in the house, perhaps biscuits hidden away? Do you say to yourself ‘I have to hide some food away or someone else will eat it first!’
Have you stopped off at a café or a burger joint to have an extra meal, to warm up the stomach muscles before dinner?
If you’re hiding, concealing or not admitting the truth to others, it suggests you already know that it is a problem. How much are you hiding from yourself?
Making excuses, breaking rules
‘It’s just one more slice…’ – does this sound familiar? ‘If I skip lunch tomorrow, I can have extra dessert tonight…’ (of course, lunch still happens as usual). Do you set yourself targets, and then when you fail those targets, make an excuse for yourself? ‘I was watching a sad film’, ‘Look at the state of the world!’, ‘Someone was mean to me’…
When you make a plan, buy the groceries, and know when you are going to cook and eat, then – something happens. A friend has a break up. Someone in the family is ill. Do those plans go out the window?
Having cravings after meals
After eating a satisfying meal that contains all the good stuff and plenty of it, is there a voice in your head saying ‘but what would really finish the meal off is…’? You are full, your body knows it’s full, but there’s that nagging feeling of wanting more. This is a sign that your brain has got used to the dopamine rush that some foods give. The level which used to mean ‘enough’ has now gone up. It is not the food that you need, it’s that you have started getting used to the brain chemicals.
Other parts of life are suffering
Has your performance slowed down? Are you still able to put in the hours and get work finished on time? Or are you feeling tired, both mentally and physically? Do you skimp on family time, work time, just to have more alone time with food? Do you put off doing exercise, because you know that it will hurt first before getting better? Are other people starting to pick up the slack?
If you recognise three or more of these signs in yourself, it could be a warning that it’s time to do something. Consult a doctor, see a nutritionist or other health professional. It can often be much easier to go to a qualified stranger than to talk to friends, as they will have seen it before.
Dr Bunmi Aboaba is a Recovery Coach specialising in Food Addiction Helping clients to achieve a healthy relationship with food to meet long-term health goals. Dr Bunmi’s work covers the full spectrum of disordered eating, including overeating, compulsive eating, emotional eating, addicted eating and other associated patterns.
Also, Dr Bunmi is the creator of the first Certified Food Addiction Certification to support nutritionists, personal trainers, dieticians and clinicians to help their clients achieve long-lasting results.