Now that you’ve read these definitions of addiction, are you more open to the possibility that your obesity was caused by food addiction? You’re not an unemployed, dirty scum bag hanging out on a street corner in a bad neighborhood waiting to score an illegal drug with money you stole from the old lady you just mugged. You’re just that no-so-healthy eater who can’t seem to stop overeating. Since food isn’t officially an addictive substance, maybe we should say that you have a behavioral addiction, one that’s harmful if it results in negative consequences for you, your friends, and your family.
How do you measure those negative consequences? If you’re overeating broiled chicken breasts, brown rice and steamed spinach, does that pose a grave health or disease risk? What about the affect of your overeating and obesity on how you spend your time and on your personal productivity? Do your eating behaviors cause you to feel guilt, shame, fear, hopelessness, failure, rejection, anxiety, humiliation, depression, or other negative feelings, ideas, and symptoms?
A person can become addicted, dependent, or compulsively obsessed with anything. Compulsive behaviors are rooted in a need to reduce tension caused by inner feelings that you want to avoid or control. These behaviors are repetitive and seemingly purposeful and are often performed in a ritualistic manner. Not so long ago, I would leave my beloved husband and dogs in the living room at 7:30 pm sharp every night while I went to the kitchen to eat ice cream. I wasn’t physically hungry when I did that, and I did it over and over and over again. When I had to travel overseas and leave my ice cream behind, I felt anxious every evening when I couldn’t play out my ice cream ritual.
Maybe I was hungry for the love I felt I’d never gotten from my dad. That’s entirely understandable, isn’t it? It’s only human, it’s not my fault, maybe it’s my dad’s fault, but he died many years ago and what’s the harm of eating ice cream in the privacy of my own home when I want to, as long as I pay my taxes and obey the law?
I was kidding myself when I justified my ice cream compulsion that way. That compulsion wasn’t just harmful to me, making me more and more obese. It was harmful to my marriage, and it didn’t do a dang thing to fill me up with love. There isn’t enough food in the entire universe to do that. I don’t think it’s evil, but it’s surely counter-productive for me to seek love and comfort from ice cream when I could’ve gotten endless amounts of love and comfort from the husband and dogs in the next room.
Some scientists think that compulsive behavior activities may produce beta-endorphins in the brain which make you feel "high" and that continued involvement in the behavior leads to physical addiction to your own brain chemicals, thus leading to continuation of the behavior despite its negative health or social consequences. When you add to that the chemical effects of ingesting things like sugar, chocolate, and caffeine, your overeating is just as powerful for you as heroin is for a heroin addict. And that’s one of the reasons is so danged hard to break out of the addictive behavior pattern.