Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Food, the addiction

I read a study today which supported something I have contended for quite some time, but is often doubted by many. The study compared responses in the brain to food to responses to addictive substances. It was a small study of only 48 women, and not constructed with impeccable validity, but the brain scans suggested that the brains of those who are addicted to drugs and those potentially addicted to food are having the same sorts of responses.

This isn't an "a-ha" moment for me in which I am asserting triumphantly that I was "right" because one little study lends credence to the notion that people actually can be addicted to food. Frankly, brain scans are of little interest to me in "proving" what I believe. I have always seen addiction as a psychological issue. The fact that physiological analysis can be done to back that up is gravy. It's behavior that matters, and behavior that must be changed if people want to change their lives in the directions they'd prefer to go.

I knew I was addicted to food. I say "was" but recent events make me wonder if I still am and always will be. As my last several posts indicate, I've been in a state of enormous difficulty in my life as of late. It's the result of ongoing issues which, as of about 3 days ago, are starting to be resolved. It's important to note that, for the last 5 months as things have gotten worse emotionally, I have been hungrier than ever. This could be mere coincidence, but as of the breaking point after which things started to clear up and solutions looked like they may be at hand, that constant hunger has vanished.

I've written before that we are programmed to eat when stressed, but I'd gotten past the point where normal everyday stress drove me to eat. It was only the oppressive and psychologically damaging weight of long-term emotional difficulty that set off that hunger. Even in the face of it, I wasn't overeating, but I was having to battle wanting to eat all of the time regardless of my sense of actual physical satiety (that is, there was food in my stomach and sugar in my blood stream). I was starting to feel as if I'd jumped back to the point where I'd have to spend all day thinking about food and trying not to overeat, but now I realize that was not what it was.

The bottom line was that, while I consciously do not have a food addiction and do not think about having a pint of ice cream to comfort me, unconsciously and/or biochemically, I still have the same stress responses that compel me to eat when I am under prolonged difficulty and intense stress. I didn't act on the impulses to my detriment, but it was adding another layer of emotional wear and tear to my life as I struggled with a plethora of other problems.

This reminded me all too clearly that much of my weight loss to date has occurred under relatively ideal circumstances. Those who are in far less positive circumstances than me are going to struggle more as they respond both biologically and psychologically to overwhelming urges to eat when stressed. While I didn't need this reminder to empathize with others who are trying to lose weight, I was given it nonetheless.