Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Methadone" for your food addiction - part 1

In my previous post, I talked about how I believe brain changes related to stress can result in food addiction for some people. When I say "food addiction", I don't mean psychological, but actual biochemical addiction. The neurochemical imbalances that result from early life stress (not trauma, folks, but negative stress which is chronic and of a particular type) prime some people to become compulsive eaters. This eating actually alters their brain chemistry in a way which restores a greater sense of psychological well-being by regulating parts of the brain which are not functioning in a manner which offers psychological well-being.

Before I get too far, let me say that I am not for a moment asserting that all fat people are in this situation nor that all people who suffer such stress become compulsive eaters. I can say that there is a very high probability that all people who experience such stressors in childhood have an imbalance of some sort to greater or lesser degrees depending on their particular biological vulnerability. Those who are most damaged  may deal with the imbalance in various ways. We all know that some people are prone to various addictions more than others. It could be alcohol. It could be drugs. It could be sex. It could be workaholism. Or, it could be food.

Since this blog is about me and my weight, and I have a strong sense that I am addicted to food and am a compulsive eater and that this is, in part, due to biochemical imbalances in my brain due to early life stress, I'm going to focus on this point. A lot of people talk about "how" you became something which is a problem is less important than what you do about it, but what I'm going to talk about points out the critical nature of knowing the "why".

If I assume that I have an imbalance which I'm addressing through food, then it becomes exponentially harder to restrict eating. Beyond the normal biochemical pressures that come along with blood sugar changes, the cellular push-back when you lower energy levels, starvation reactions, and changes in hormone levels that come along with eating less food, I also have to deal with the fact that I'm going to suffer psychological problems as a result of restriction. There are various ways in which to manage this which I will consider.

One is that you can take medications to handle the imbalance. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is hardly a good answer for people with weight issues because most of those types of drugs carry the side effects of metabolic syndrome/thyroid problems which result in weight gain. Also, personally, I'm not a fan of introducing toxins (and all medications are a form of poison) into my body if I can find another way of managing.

Another solution is to transfer the problem to another behavior or addiction. I'm certain that I worked with this aspect of my overeating when I first lost large amounts of weight in college by exercising 90 minutes a day. High amounts of exercise will produce the same endogenous opiates (e.g., endorphins) that help with neurochemcial dysfunction that overeating can produce. The problem is, and I learned this later as I got older, you cannot keep it up either due to time constraints, life circumstances, or injury. Exercising to keep up the "happy chemicals" in your brain is not a permanent solution.

You can also simply transfer your addiction to another equivalent addiction if such a one exists, but clearly this is also a poor choice. Taking drugs or drinking alcohol may, if you are so biochemically oriented, work for you. However, substituting one destructive behavior for another would not be a viable option.

What I have realized, and this is what has been working for me, is that you can choose to do the methadone equivalent of managing your diet and lifestyle. For those who don't know, methadone is a drug used to ween people off of more severe opiate addictions, especially heroin. The drug is given to people to soften withdrawal and allow them to transition away from drugs. Of course, when it comes to food, full withdrawal is never possible. We need to eat or we will die, so it's not as if you can simply walk away from your addiction.

I have been pondering the fact that people like me may simply need to approach how they eat from multiple perspectives that include the very important idea that food pleasure functions as an essential palliative for them. It isn't a weakness. It isn't a character flaw. It's part of a loop of chemical action in which some part of their brain (likely the HPA axis that I mentioned in the previous post) has become dysfunctional and certain types of eating restores a balance. The balance cannot be "fixed" permanently. It can only be dealt with through the ingestion of substances, whether it be food, illegal drugs, alcohol, or prescription medication.

In my next post, I will outline what I believe is a viable plan for people who suffer from this issue as I believe I do.

No comments: