For all my Canadian readers (and any international readers planning to attend), here just a quick reminder that the deadline for early bird discount registration for the upcoming 4th Canadian Obesity Summit in Toronto, April 28 – May 2, ends March 3rd.
To anyone who has been at a previous Canadian Summit, attending is certainly a “no-brainer” – for anyone, who hasn’t been, check out these workshops that are only part of the 5-day scientific program – there are also countless plenary sessions and poster presentations – check out the full program here.
To register – click here.
Following the recent guest posts by Drs Vera Tarman and Pam Peeke on food addiction, many readers have left comments about how this notion rings true to them and how the ideas of treating their “eating disorder” as an addiction has helped them better control their diet and often lose substantial amount of weight.
Others have asked how to tell if they might be food addicts. For them, I am reproducing the following list of 20 questions taken from Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous.
Although it is important to note that “food addiction” has yet to be officially recognized as a medical/psychiatric condition and the following questions are by no means “diagnostic”, I would still support the idea that the more of these questions you answer with yes, the more likely you may benefit from discussing this problem with someone who has expertise in addictions (rather than simply going of on another diet or exercise program).
1. Have you ever wanted to stop eating and found you just couldn’t?
2. Do you think about food or your weight constantly?
3. Do you find yourself attempting one diet or food plan after another, with no lasting success?
4. Do you binge and then “get rid of the binge” through vomiting, exercise, laxatives, or other forms of purging?
5. Do you eat differently in private than you do in front of other people?
6. Has a doctor or family member ever approached you with concern about your eating habits or weight?
7. Do you eat large quantities of food at one time (binge)?
8. Is your weight problem due to your “nibbling” all day long?
9. Do you eat to escape from your feelings?
10. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
11. Have you ever discarded food, only to retrieve and eat it later?
12. Do you eat in secret?
13. Do you fast or severely restrict your food intake?
14. Have you ever stolen other people’s food?
15. Have you ever hidden food to make sure you have “enough?”
16. Do you feel driven to exercise excessively to control your weight?
17. Do you obsessively calculate the calories you’ve burned against the calories you’ve eaten?
18. Do you frequently feel guilty or ashamed about what you’ve eaten?
19. Are you waiting for your life to begin “when you lose the weight?”
20. Do you feel hopeless about your relationship with food?
Continuing with the theme of food addiction, here is another guest post – this one by Dr. Pam Peeke, a Pew Foundation Scholar in Nutrition, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland, and Senior Science Advisor to Elements Behavioral Health, the USA’s largest network of residential addiction treatment centers. She is author of the New York Times bestseller The Hunger Fix: The Three Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction. Her website is http://www.drpeeke.com/
For years, the popular culture has embraced the relationship between food and addiction. It permeates our daily vernacular— “I’m hooked on bread”, “I need a candy fix”, “I can’t get off the stuff”, “I’m a carb addict”. Grocery store shelves are filled with colorful cereal boxes labeled “Krave”, as the food industry capitalizes on the consumers’ never ending hunger for another fix. History was made when a major weight management company aired its first Super Bowl commercial, choosing a “food as drug” theme, narrated by Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul. Close your eyes, listen to the words, and you’d never guess that food, not drugs, was the focus. Companies and communities, however, cannot validate the phenomenon of addictive eating behavior—only science can do that.
Heeding the call to arms, nutrition and addiction researchers, led by Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, have spent the past ten years generating a critical mass of valid and credible science associating specific food products and addictive eating behavior. A tipping point was reached in 2012, when the peer reviewed and edited professional textbook Food and Addiction was published. A month later my consumer book, The Hunger Fix: The Three Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction, was released and the single most common response from my readers was “What took you so long?” We needed, and finally benefited from, new groundbreaking research.
We now know that certain foods, namely the “hyperpalatables”–sugary, fatty, salty food combinations— affect the brain’s reward center in a way identical to drugs and alcohol, triggering an abnormally high level of release of the pleasure chemical dopamine. Repeated hyper-stimulation of these reward pathways can trigger neurobiological adaptations that can lead to compulsive consumption despite negative consequences.
In 2009, Yale researchers developed the first assessment tool, the Yale University Food Addiction Scale, or YFAS, to identify individuals who demonstrated an addictive response to specific foods. Subsequent studies using the scale have shown that there is a wide spectrum of people who present with addictive eating behavior, especially in those who are overweight/obese, female, over 35, or who have existing disordered eating patterns such as binge eating disorder or bulimia. Ongoing investigations have noted that among women, there is a 90 percent association between food addiction and prior history of abuse, especially in childhood and adolescence. As well, the incidence of addictive eating in women increases with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
As scientific evidence continues to mount clarifying the connection between food and addiction, attention is now beginning to focus on treatment options. Treatment for addictive eating behavior is of particular interest to me as a scientist and a clinician. I recall one of my patients, a former alcoholic with a disabling sugar addiction, declaring, “If drinking is black and white – I drink or I don’t– sugar is more shades of grey than there are books.” Indeed, in contrast to drugs and alcohol, treatment for the psychobiological challenges of addictive eating is far more complex. In a prior blog, Dr. Vera Tarman addressed abstinence as one treatment option.
Who is the target treatment population? It’s not just obese, compulsive overeaters. It also includes thin, average and mildly overweight men and women experiencing a full range of eating disorders (ED), mood syndromes and substance abuse. Within these groups there are numerous intricate interconnections, interrelationships and co-occurrences. For instance, current research suggests that approximately 50% of those with an ED are also substance abusers, including 57% of men with binge eating disorder experiencing long-term drug and alcohol abuse. Cross addictions abound as people transition from drugs to cupcakes, from alcohol to sugar, and from bariatric surgery to alcohol. This complicated web of interrelationships is one reason that determining the precise prevalence of food addiction is such a challenge.
In essence, the larger the treatment population, the wider the spectrum of therapeutic modalities required, and thus, the greater the need to individualize and customize treatment for addictive eating behaviors. To address this challenge, I have created the Integrative Nutrition and Holistic Lifestyle Program at Malibu Vista in California. This women’s residential treatment program treats women, many of whom have co-occurring mood and food conditions, specifically addictive eating. This pilot program has garnered national attention including a recent NBC Today Show segment.
The program’s blueprint is based upon my three pronged, customized approach to: 1. mental/spiritual wellness (MIND); 2. whole food nutrition (MOUTH); and, 3. physical activity (MUSCLE). Therapists use a wide range of cognitive psychotherapeutic methods to treat mental health conditions including trauma. Body movement modalities include yoga, tai chi, and meditative walks to foster an improved mind-body association. Nutritionally, the chefs have eliminated any refined or processed foods, including table sugar and artificial sweeteners. Our culinary nutritionist, who is both a certified chef and registered dietitian, assesses each woman. This includes completion of the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a metabolic evaluation, and documentation of any history of substance abuse and disordered eating. An individualized plan is created and refined during the typical 4-5 weeks in-residence. Through hands-on cooking lessons and nutrition education sessions, individuals can reframe and redefine their relationship with food. Group fellowship is critical to ongoing support and success. Continued coaching continues upon discharge. For example, Sandie, featured in the Today Show segment, is now off her anti-anxiety medications, no longer binges, has halved her diabetes medication, and has thus far removed over 50 pounds of excess weight.
In honoring each woman’s unique story and the complexities of treating addictive eating behavior, the Malibu Vista team draws upon elements found from a multitude of resources, including but not limited to 12-step programs. Individualized strategies are designed to use a wide range of interventions to optimize body-brain-mind healing. The end goal is to help each person manage the triple challenge posed by the food-mood-addiction triad, and in doing so, create a blueprint for long term recovery, and success in navigating addictive eating’s many shades of grey.
Today’s guest post comes from Dr Vera Tarman, addictions specialist and Medical Director of Renascent, Canada’s largest drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. She has spoken internationally on the subject of food addiction and is the co-author of Food Junkies: The Truth about Food Addiction (reviewed here). Her website is addictionsunplugged.com.
Countless times during my public talks, the question comes up: “You have to eat! If food is addictive, what can you eat?”
“Yes”, I agree. “ You do have to eat, but not desserts, bagels, pastries, or any junk food. You don’t need sugar, honey, maple syrup or molasses to survive.” How about vegetables, fruits, meats and fish? For most people, even end-stage food addicts, these foods are not addictive. Food abstinence is not about being on a diet, restricting calories, counting points, eating specially packaged foods – it is a recommendation that we eat the foods our body was metabolically designed to eat and enjoy with satisfaction.
Our evolutionary hormonal and neurochemical “checks and balances” have been designed for the natural foods of our ancestors. In other words, we are programmed to desire food when we are hungry and are satisfied when we have sufficient energy reserves from that food. In a perfect nutritional ecosystem, most people can stop with satisfaction when they are full. Willpower, the front-lobe strongman of the brain, is actually quite short-lived and fragile, but works sufficiently well under normal conditions.
The food industry has created foodstuffs that provide an highly efficient delivery system to our brain’s reward center. This manipulation gives us a copious amount of delight immediately: the quick fix. The fiber from fruit and vegetables has been peeled away, the hovering bees that discourage an overly eager hand from taking gobs of honey have been removed, the bark of a maple tree or sugar cane that would have made it impossible to get more than a lick of sap or sugar have been stripped. Our primal brain which is accustomed to moderate pleasure is overwhelmed with the euphoric bliss of highly palatable foods. Willpower sags under the strain.
This is why you choose the apple cheese cake over the apple. Foods have become irresistible, even to a normal eater. To a food addict, they are the kick-start of a downward spiral to endless overeating, misery and self-loathing.
The question that typically follows is, “If you restrict your foods, aren’t you encouraging abnormal eating behavior? Aren’t you depriving people so they will just want those foods even more?” Terms like orthorexia or anorexia are thrown about. Following a meal-plan abstinent of sugar, flour and processed food (which by definition contains sugar, salt, fat) is seen as pathological. The accusations are that a person could become orthorexic, developing the obsessive need to eat biologically healthy nutrition, possibly engaging in multiple cleanses, fasts, or juicing. Or they could become anorexic, with an obsessive focus on weight and food restriction to near starvation levels. Bulimia could also develop as a person stops their favorite food – getting thrown into withdrawal led by mammoth cravings that bring on the next binge.
Food addiction practitioners share the same concerns about these destructive behaviors. These obsessions are viewed as a form of addiction in and of themselves and are seen as replacing food for obsessive food behavior. The food addict is encouraged to stop these behaviors alongside abstaining from their addictive food triggers.
While a non-addicted eater may be able to ‘relearn’ how to curb the use of their favorite foods, the food addict cannot. For those in the population who are more vulnerable to the ‘quick fix’ potency of processed foods – foods that act as if they are a drug – eating a favorite food, however small the portion, is a trigger, a tease. The food addict’s ‘stop’ switch has become battered. In the same way that a type 2 diabetic has developed insulin resistance, the food addict can be regarded as having developed a dopamine resistance. Relapse inevitably follows.
So what would food addiction treatment look like? A meal plan of healthy vegetables, protein, fats and fruit. One excellent example can be found in Dr. Pamela Peeke’s The Hunger Fix: The Three Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction which covers a wide range of nutrition interventions, addressing the normal eater who wants to know how to manage addictive foods, as well as the food addict who cannot eat particular food products for fear of relapse. Dr. Peeke will follow up with a post to provide a successful example of this approach currently being piloted in residential treatment centers in the USA.
A food addiction treatment plan may also include ample amounts of food so that the person does not over/under eat. To this end, it may even be necessary to weigh and measure foods. This is not about calorie counting or food restriction, it is about keeping the food addict safe by controlling the amount and type of food choices. The result of such a plan is not deprivation. It has given many a new freedom from the compulsion to compulsively overeat that some of us have lived with for too many years.
Now let me ask you a question. Why do some view meals that are abstinent of sugar, flour, or the practices that ensure that a person eat a healthy amount of food, considered unhealthy? Who is benefiting from this mythology that we are all eating “normal” foods in today’s food environment, with willpower to match what is beyond many people’s capacity to resist?
The food addicts who feel shamed out of their vigilance or medically mandated to “eat all foods in moderation” like everyone else are not being served. Further, I am even concerned about the normal eaters. My prediction is that many ‘normal’ people may follow the same trajectory that the recreational drug user or alcohol drinker might. If they are given increasing amounts of their favored substance over a prolonged period of time, they too could succumb to the disease of addiction. We are creating food addicts in our current food environment.
A study by Paula Brochu and colleagues, published in Health Psychology, suggests that the often unflattering depiction of people living with obesity in the media (as in the typical images of headless, dishevelled, ill-clothed individuals, usually involved in stereotypical activities – holding a hamburger in one hand and a large pop in the other or pinching their “love handles”), may well play a role in the lack of public support for policies to address this issue.
The researchers asked participants to read an online news story about a policy to deny fertility treatment to obese women that was accompanied by a nonstigmatizing, stigmatizing, or no image of an obese couple. A balanced discussion of the policy was presented, with information both questioning the policy as discriminatory and supporting the policy because of weight-related medical complications.
The findings of the study show that participants who viewed the article accompanied by the nonstigmatizing image were less supportive of the policy to deny obese women fertility treatment and recommended the policy less strongly than participants who viewed the same article accompanied by the stigmatizing image.
Given that negative and stigmatising images of people with obesity are the rule rather than the exception in media reports about obesity, the authors suggest that simply eliminating stigmatizing media portrayals of obesity may help reduce bias and foster more support for policies to address this problem.
Readers may wish to visit the Canadian Obesity Network’s image bank Picture Perfect At Any Size of non-stigmatizing images of people living with obesity that are available for free download for educational and media purposes.