25 April 2016

The Unspoken Shame of Food Addiction

Just about every kind of addiction comes with a measure of shame and guilt that only drives the addict deeper and deeper into the cycle of addictive behaviour. But some addictions are capable of producing a higher degree of shame. A case in point is food addiction. Food addiction is different from other kinds of addictions in several ways, not the least of which is the reality that it tends to be a very public addiction that few people recognise. Therein lay the unspoken shame and guilt attached to it.

The Daily Mail recently published a very compelling piece profiling a young woman from California whose addiction to fast food nearly destroyed her life. The certified hypnotherapist, wife and mother of one has since conquered her addiction and has managed to successfully maintain healthy eating habits for the last five years. But the time spent eating endless amounts of fast food wreaked havoc on her mind and body.

Eating to Feel Better

In the addiction recovery community, we often work with alcoholics who say their drinking problems began when they were casual drinkers who consumed alcohol to help them relax or feel better. Little did they know that drinking to relax is an early warning sign that a person may become an alcoholic. Likewise, the California woman named Bailey started down the road of food addiction by eating to help her feel better.

By her own account, Bailey used to hang out with friends as a comfort and substitute for failed personal relationships. Often, their gatherings would include brunch followed by more food on the beach. On the way home, Bailey would hit several fast food restaurants to purchase more food she could eat at home.

Ironically, Bailey says that she would eat to feel better about her relationships but then almost immediately hate herself for consuming so much food. This began a dangerous downward spiral that is so common to addiction. Feeling badly about herself and her relationships would cause her to eat more, which, in turn, would then make her feel worse about herself.

The Shame Goes Public

As Bailey’s food addiction progressed, it took a familiar path. With every serving of French fries, she would notice new blemishes on a face that was constantly breaking out with acne. Every time she would consume excessive calories through her fast food choices, she was adding additional weight to her small frame. Her clothes were getting tighter and her physical fitness was declining. Bailey says that at one point she realised her eating habits were making it hard for her to breathe.

Bailey’s physical condition only exacerbated the shame and guilt she was feeling. Why? Because everyone around her could see the acne and extra weight. She was not driven into isolation as drug and alcohol addicts often are, so she was faced every day with the unbearable prospect of going to work and meeting friends despite being ashamed of both her physical appearance and her eating habits.

Food Addiction Can Be Addressed with Therapy

Bailey was able to bring an end to her addiction by going cold turkey. She simply decided she’d had enough and stopped. While we congratulate her for that and wish her well in maintaining healthy eating habits, not everyone can do what she did. Food addiction can be just as overpowering as addictions to drugs, alcohol and certain behaviours such as gambling and sex. It can be so powerful that sufferers simply cannot control their compulsions to eat.

Anyone suffering from food addiction or any other eating disorder should understand that the medical community recognises food addiction as a legitimate condition every bit as real as drug and alcohol addiction. Proven treatments are available to help people overcome compulsive eating and go on to lead happier and healthier lives. Treatment is usually rooted in psychotherapy treatments including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT was originally developed as a therapy to assist children dealing with certain forms of mental illness. By the 1960s it had become apparent that the therapy could also be used on adults. Eventually, it was introduced as a form of addiction treatment; it has been used successfully ever since.

The basis of CBT is one of establishing a series of goals the therapist and patient work through together. In this sense, CBT is not an open-ended counselling therapy. Rather, it has a definitive starting and ending point. Patients go through their list of objectives to conclusion, learning important things about themselves and addiction along the way.

If you are suffering from food addiction or any other kind of eating disorder, please know that what you are dealing with is not just in your imagination. Eating disorders are legitimate conditions that can be treated with specialised therapy. There is no need for you to continue living with the unspoken shame of addiction. Instead, reach out for help and get the treatment you need.


  1. Daily Mail

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