Addiction describes a pathological disorder such as an excessive craving for a substance or activity that when in excess is quite often harmful and/or illegal.  Although an activity may not always be harmful, most of us immediately think of alcoholism, smoking, and drug abuse when addictions come to mind.  But addictions include other activities such as playing games, sex, working, gambling, shopping, relationships, speeding, stealing, exercise, one's general diet, and even impulsively eating certain food items.

All of us have experience with addictions.  Not only our own, but those of our acquaintances.  Some addictions are so commonplace they are accepted as normal activity.  But addictions in general are not the focus of this chapter.  My focus is on addictive eating habits and there is a surprising number of them.

Food addictions come in many diverse forms.  Some people can't stop eating and they graze all day.  Some people starve themselves, afraid they will gain an ounce.  Some overeat at every meal.  Nearly everyone craves certain flavors, textures, sweets, salt, crunch, various drinks, pastries, cold, hot, bitter, spicy, convenience, dining out, and/or more.  Additionally there are the many social/sporting events, holidays, and traditions that revolve around food preparation and consumption.  Could the list of addictions even include mental perceptions or beliefs that proper foods can only be organic, free range, kosher, biblical, fat free, vegetarian, non GMO, gluten free, and/or have other descriptive nomenclatures not associated with the basic ABCs of what is and is not fit to eat?

Mastering the Bliss Point

The idea that people can have food addictions is relatively new in psychiatry yet the food industry has been marketing into food addictions for decades.  It's not that the food industry has evil intentions, rather its goal is to increase profits by getting consumers to prefer their products over the competition.  To do that they must satisfy the consumers' needs.  For instance, if consumers preferred grass-fed beef over grain-fed beef, you can rest assured the food industry would flood the market with grass-fed beef overnight!

To figure out consumer preferences, all large food companies spend millions of dollars per year on tasting panels and analysts.  Each study precisely rates the many variables in one processed food product to determine the "bliss point" in consumer preference.  The analysts make hundreds (if not thousands) of minute variations of the same product and then record the responses from their panels.  When they complete a test they know exactly how to tweak the recipes (ingredients and cooking methods), packaging, and advertising to "master the bliss point."  

When the bliss point for a product is mastered that product is literally designed to make the consumer physiologically and mentally dependent on it.  Instead of eating it once a week, it may become a daily event.  A daily event may become hourly, and so on.  You know the slogan,  "Betcha can't eat just one" from the 1963 advertising campaign slogan (by Young & Rubicam) for Lay's Potato Chips.

 Are You a Food Addict?

To determine if you are a food addict, a psychiatrist would ask the following questions:

     •  Do you eat differently in private than when with others?

     •  Do you eat in secret?

     •  Do you eat or snack even when you're not hungry?

     •  Do you want to eat when you are depressed or feel out of sorts?

     •  Do you eat large meals and then purge by vomiting or by taking laxatives?

     •  Do you eat foods that will cause your body to have a negative reaction?

     •  Do you eat foods that you know are unhealthy over the long term?

     •  Do you have feelings of guilt after you eat?

All addictions involve loss of control.  Addictions are both physiological and psychological.  So if you have answered "yes" to even just one question, most likely you are a food addict!

Strangely enough, people with food sensitivities have cravings for the very foods that cause their negative mental and physical symptoms.  For example, diabetics, people with bipolar disorder, or depression and loneliness often crave sugar!  Obese people crave foods with all the wrong fats, and so on.  When these people eat sweets or a bag of potato chips they get a high.  But soon after they suffer feelings of guilt which is even more depressing.  In turn that means they eat more of the same to restore the lost high.  They are out of control.

No one class, sex, or age of person is immune to food addiction.  It may be overeating, craving for sweets, salt, crunch, or a compulsion to count calories that is the addiction.  Beyond that, nearly everyone is addicted to the foods they have been eating.  It is this addiction that keeps nearly 100% of all the people who have heard of The Real Diet of Man from changing to it even when they know that decision may represent the difference between life or death.  Most people are hung up on the same flavors, same food types, same appearances, same levels of convenience, same restaurant fare, same diversity, and same aromas regarding the foods they've been eating during the past year or more.  

Is There Any Hope?

Yes, but like dealing with any addiction breaking a food addiction is not easy and it always starts with recognizing and accepting the fact that there is a problem.  Then one must exercise tremendous discipline.  The proper diet must be identified.  Then a manageable program must be initiated.  It is a rare individual who can change abruptly.  Most people will have to set out a plan whereby new foods are introduced and over a period of weeks the consumption of old improper foods are slowly eliminated.  It also helps to participate in some physical exercise.

To implement a habit change ask yourself these three specific questions:

  • "What do I need to do?"
  • "When should I start?"
  • "What am I going to change and how will I make that change?"

This is not just a mental exercise.  Write the questions down with your answers below each question.  Carry the piece of paper with you.  Refer to it as often as necessary to stay the course.  After 30 days start over by writing down the questions and answers once again.  Repeat this process until the new habit is formed.

In general, the time it takes to break addictions varies.  For heroin and other opiates it can take over 150 days.  Most people take 90 to 120 days to break serious addictions.  Luckily, the pallet can adjust quicker than that.  An old saying is you won't really like a food until you've eaten it 21 times.  I don't know how true that is, but for sure in time your mind will recognize real food as good tasty food if you eat it numerous times without reintroducing the old food it replaced.  Sure, you'll fondly remember the old foods, but by exercising discipline and being proud of your newfound appreciation of the better foods you can whip your food addictions

Ted Slanker
March 18, 2013

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