As the holiday season comes to an end, everyone (including me) dreads getting on the scale. Parties and calorie rich food have been all around us for two solid months now. And we all use the excuse of, 'Well, it's the holidays. I'll get back on track in January.' Well, now it's January and it's time. So let's get started!
In medicine, and life in general for that matter, you must know what the problem is before you can fix it. So to start, I want to make sure that those of us who have a serious problem can recognize the problem and admit it. Admission of a problem is the first, essential
step to correcting the problem. So the question of the hour is... are you addicted to food?
First, let's have a small vocabulary lesson. There are three important words to consider when looking at the effects of a certain substance, whether that is a drug or something else.
Those words are tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Let's go through each one. Tolerance is when your body doesn't react as strongly to something as it has in the past. For example, nearly all of us know someone who takes more Tylenol than is recommended because they say it doesn't work as well as it did before. That is because their body has gotten tolerant to the Tylenol. It has been exposed to the Tylenol so much that the body has decreased it's own sensitivity to the Tylenol. This body trait can work for or against us. In the case of something like living in Alaska, being used to and not affected by extreme cold can be very helpful.
However, in the case of a medicine, that trait can be very annoying.
Now let's move onto dependence. This is where things can be quite uncomfortable.
Dependence is when the body reacts badly when you don't continue giving it something it's used to having. The most recognizable example of this is when someone is having 'withdrawls' from a drug. Whether the symptoms include nausea, pain, 'the shakes,' or something else it still means the same thing. The body has become dependent on having that substance present in the bloodstream. It has forgotten what life is like without it, so it goes into panic mode when that thing is no longer there. This doesn't mean that the body can't live without the substance, it just means that it doesn't remember how. Dependence is easily corrected. You simply stop giving the body what it thinks it needs. The body may throw a bit of a tantrum for a while, but soon enough it remembers again that it doesn't need that thing and goes back to normal.
Lastly we come to addiction. This is the dark and dangerous one of the three. Addiction is where your body desires something so greatly that it will make you do harmful things just to have it. Let's look at nicotine as an example. Smokers will continue to smoke despite it causing them to lose their senses of taste and smell, the immense cost of the habit, it's harmful effect on others around them, and the health problems it causes in their own bodies. Any smoker can tell you these negatives about smoking, but yet they continue to smoke. Why do they knowingly continue to do harmful things to others and themselves? Because they are addicted to the nicotine.
Many people don't think of food as an addictive substance. However I do. Why?
Because people will do harmful things to themselves and those around them just to eat more.
Let's look at an example of someone we all know. We all know that forty-something year old mother who is overweight. And, I'm not talking about some 500 pound recluse. I'm talking about the soccer mom who complains that she just can't get the weight off. She's been on every diet there is and has lost weight, but put it right back on again. She has poor self esteem because she doesn't weigh what she did in high school so she gets depressed... which causes her to eat. Eating brings her comfort. She eats even when she's not hungry because she's bored, or she's rewarding herself, or she's too busy to eat at the right time. Her eating is causing high blood pressure and high cholesterol causing harm to her own body. Her weight causes her to be slower with less exercise tolerance so she can't play with her kids. Her poor body image causes her to shy away from her husband's affections because she doesn't like the way she looks. This woman's desire for food, causing her to be overweight, is hurting her own body and her relationships with her family. But yet, she continues to eat, maintaining an unhealthy life. What was the definition of an addition again? Addiction is where your body desires something so greatly that it will make you do harmful things just to have it. Can you now see how this woman fits this definition?
I believe food addiction to be the most common addiction. I also believe it is the hardest addition. If a person is addicted to heroine or alcohol they can set aside that substance and never touch it again. How does one give up food forever? You can't. So you are set with the task of managing an addiction to something that you actually need to live. This is difficult but not impossible.
So, again, the big question is, 'Are you addicted to food?' Are you eating so much that you are overweight? Is your weight affecting your health? Is it affecting your activities? Are you unable to do things that you want to do because of your weight? Are you avoiding things because of your weight? Are you unable to do things for your kids or spouse because of your weight? If you said yes to any of these, I believe you are addicted to food. You are hurting yourself and others because you are putting more food into your body than it needs... and you can't or won't stop doing it. Any 12-Step program for managing addictions will tell you the same thing. The first step to recovery is to admit there is a problem. If you are addicted to food, it's time to admit there's a problem. That is the only hope to turn your life around.
Jennifer Sellman, D.O., is the owner of Willow Family Medicine, LLC, located at 1061 Jones Street in Kennett.