The original name has been changed in this article for anonymity.
Jennifer, a BYU-Idaho student, believes she’s always had an addiction to food.
Food addiction is associated with eating disorders such as bulimia, including obesity, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. An association estimates that between 10 and 20% of women and four to 10% of men in college suffer from an eating disorder, and rates are on the rise.
“I remember as a child feeling anxious on road trips because I wasn’t in control of when I could eat,” Jennifer said. “I have a mom who has issues with food and I think I gained her tendencies. She saw these behaviors in me and started to try and fix me. I think her getting on me to work out and eat better made it worse. I saw that she would do this to only me and not my siblings so it made me feel like something was wrong with me. Those emotions lead me to keep eating. Maybe out of spite but also to console myself.
Though Jennifer has always known about the bad relationship she has with food, only within the past year to two years has she accepted it as an actual addiction.
“I always tried to tell myself that it isn’t an addiction because I thought I could control it when ever I wanted to. But honestly I couldn’t, I wasn’t strong enough. When I would try to eat healthier I would find myself constantly thinking about junk food I wanted to eat and it would really eat away at me. That’s when I realized it was an addiction.”
Foods that are high in sugars, salts, and fats are often some of the most addictive substances. Similar to cocaine and other drugs, these types of foods can reward the individual with dopamine, which creates a positive response in the brain, making them crave more.
According to WebMD, Brain imaging and other studies also show the effects of compulsive overeating on pleasure centers in the brain. The website says, “The reward signals from highly palatable foods may override other signals of fullness and satisfaction.”
Although Jennifer always carried this desire to cut off her emotional tie to food, it became more apparent that she needed to stop when she and her husband decided to try for a baby. It hit her that she needed to change her relationship with food and get in better shape. She started the Keto diet and lost 40 pounds. Unfortunately the diet didn’t cure the addiction.
“ It gave me this false sense that I had control over what I ate but I didn’t. I was just so motivated by the weight loss that I was scared to stop. When I got pregnant we stopped that diet. But when I had a miscarriage it sent me right back into emotional eating and thinking that my body and eating habits had lead to it. It took me about 5 months to get about of that strong depression and realize that I needed to really find a healthy relationship with food that wasn’t weight loss dependent.”
This addiction created a positive and negative impact in Jennifer’s life. In one sense, it has a negative impact on her emotions and self-worth.
“When I’m feeling good I don’t think about the negative impacts on food so I eat whatever I want. Which then sends me into a tail spin after a couple weeks. Then I feel depressed and crave junk for comfort which just feeds the addiction and self deprecation.”
Through the pain, Jennifer feels like it strengthens her relationship with God as she finds herself praying and receiving more comfort during feelings of self-depreciation.
Luckily, Jennifer has been able to be open about the addiction with some family members, including her husband, who has been understanding and supportive, and her sister, who is educated in healthy foods. Jennifer is opening a path towards recovery through therapy, by trying not to focus on her weight and learning about food and the way it can nourish and strengthen her body.
“Learning food science has helped me really realize what I eat and what it can do to my body.”