DebraSY

Bingeing. Mini-bingeing. Is it Addiction?

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on April 6, 2011 at 11:55 am

I appreciate science that debunks the notion that we eat and gain weight because we are emotionally out of control and we just need to buck up and make better decisions:  Push away from the table.  Drop the fork.  Hit the gym.  Ignore the fridge.  Science tells us it’s not that simple; food may be a complicated “addiction.”

Many of my blog world friends are talking about food addiction:  Here’s the most recent post on that topic from Beth, the Weight Maven, who has many well thought-out posts on the concept.  Barbara at RTR, is also using the “A” word.   

I struggle with the notion of calling eating that leads to fatness “addiction.”  It is likely inaccurate for many people.  Moreover, it doesn’t prevent fatphobic lay people from pigeon-holing and demonizing fat people.  (Do NOT go to My Fat Spouse and run a search on “food addiction”; just trust that you will be disappointed.)  On the other hand, the word seems to help doctors get beyond the notion that their patients merely need to “get serious” and be “compliant.”

In Science Daily, there’s a nice summary of a study out of Sweden, that links a gene variant, that affects the signalling system for the neuropeptide ghrelin, to cravings for sugar and alcohol (and, by leap, then, to binge eating and alcohol addiction).  Here’s the actual study.      

In simpler words, the study links ghrelin to sugar-seeking (and alcohol-seeking) behaviors, by way of a genetic variant.  Sugar seeking, sadly, is not my issue, darn it (and this blog is about me, after all).  I have said before that I am painfully aware that my internal chemistry has changed since my radical weight loss, which makes maintenance of that loss a hell of a lot harder than popular celebrities like Jillian Michaels would have us believe.   And, given past research that links voluntary radical weight-loss to a 24% average increase in Ghrelin throughout the day, I have blamed Ghrelin.  I may be wrong.   

When I wander to the kitchen, driven by my “eat now” impulses (which may or may not qualify as “hunger”), I am more likely to attack a brick of cheese with a dull knife or pop the lid on a jar of nuts than I am to upend the aerosol whipped cream into my mouth (my husband’s MO).   In fact, to some degree I use sugar judiciously and medicinally.  If I give myself two squares of really high quality, 88% cocoa chocolate, I may be able to stop myself from that fateful binge walk to the fridge.  I keep this chocolate in my medicine cabinet – away from the kid and husband who cannot make it last an amount of time commensurate to its co$t.  (My friend NewMe, is lucky to be able to share expensive chocolate with her family.  I am jealous.) 

So if Ghrelin isn’t my demon, then what is?  Sigh.  So many dancers at the chemical cotillion.

My husband has picked up on the jargon du jour:  “There’s an app for that.”  Thankfully, he’s also a bit of a technophile, so he’ll download it for me.   (He’s also particularly delighted when the app comes free.)

I look forward to the day that our doctors can say “there’s a genetic variant for that.”  Or, more likely, just as “application” has been shortened to “app,” they’ll say “there’s a gene-var for that!”   And then they’ll download a (free of side effects) drug cocktail that addresses our individual concerns.  Sigh.

Despite my appreciation for access to the whole study, I admit, I haven’t read beyond the abstract yet, but have printed it off for future enjoyment.  I see among the scientists there may be some conflicts of interest, and will read with that in the back of my mind.  I invite you, gentle readers, to look it over and comment, and to talk about your own food bugbears.   I’ve, obviously, got a thing for protein and/or fat, my husband’s thing is sugar.  And, I’m willing to believe, they’re both genetically programmed to some degree.  What’s in your gene pool that makes a particular food attractive/addictive, and how do you deal with it?

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  1. Check out ~6:00-6:30 of this video (http://nyti.ms/hv3E26) from the NY Times. I realize addiction is a loaded word, but there are clearly some parallels. But just like not everyone has a problem with alcohol, not everyone with a weight problem is “addicted” to food.

    • Thanks, Beth. My favorite part of that whole clip (which is less than nine minutes, for those contemplating a click) is the representation of Fred Flintstone pouring Fruity Pebbles on his tongue and them immediately taking a path straight to his brain. Trainin’ the children young.

  2. First, I have only browsed the article. It’s a bit heavy going so I’ll pace myself. Personally, I don’t think mini-bingeing is an addiction all the time, you have to consider the physical aspects and psychological as well.

    10,000 years ago, humans didn’t have access to high sugar foods (with the possible exception of honey).

    I’m attempting to lose weight (I’ve lost half of 28kg so far), and have discovered that probably the best method of losing weight so far for me is to eat the same thing every day. Not only that, but almost exactly the same quantity (down to the nearest gram in some cases) and about the same time. I don’t find it boring, but that’s just me maybe.

    Anyway, it gives me a real insight into hunger. It varies substantially from day to day and hour to hour. It has a strong correlation to tiredness (due to illness, I’m tired 99.9% of my awake life, which is one of the reasons I believe I gained 28kg). There are at least 3 components to hunger: how full your stomach is, hunger producing lack of energy or light headedness, and stimulation (such as when you walk into a bakery having eaten an hour earlier).

    What this has taught me is that it’s ok to feel hungry. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just because I feel hungry doesn’t mean that I have to eat, just like just because I’m cold/hot/tired/grumpy/upset/whatever, means that I need to do the appropriate thing immediately to fix that.

    The thing about addictions (I’ve had a few) is that they don’t last forever. In my nearly 50 years of life, I’ve learnt that addictions come and go.

    (Sorry that this comment has been all over the place).

    • Welcome to the blog, John. Two thoughts on your comments. One: You are getting help/working with a doctor with regard to your fatigue, right? That doesn’t seem like something you should be gutting through on your own. Second: Yeah, the same thing every day, to the gram, strikes me as boring. Few people could keep that up forever. It’s complicated all the more since food is such a social binder in our society. It may work short term, but in the long haul, you’re going to have trouble at holidays, parties, business lunches, and the like. While you’re losing weight, people may laud you and support you for doing your own thing at gatherings, but after you’ve been in a weight-reduced body for a while, the expectations will change 180 degrees. “What’s wrong? You’ve lost the weight, for Goodness’ sake. And don’t get me wrong, that’s great. But, come on, one holiday celebration isn’t going to break you. . .” (Note, these same people, when you regain the weight, will say, sadly, “Oh, that John. He just didn’t get that it was supposed to be a lifestyle change.”) You are your own n=1, of course. And since success at this experiment has so few common denominators, you may make it work. I wish you well. It’s not something I could do.

  3. Good news! My husband and I have now found a plentiful source of good quality dark chocolate that doesn’t break the bank. The bars are huge and we have about ten sitting in the basement pantry and two on the kitchen counter, one dark, one milk for the teenagers. Theirs goes faster, but it does take a week or so. The mom and dad bar takes a few weeks. I’m going to have to actually check how long, but it doesn’t disappear very fast. Yes, I guess we’re lucky.

    This Yale study is making the rounds of the weight-o-sphere. Live Once Juicy (http://liveoncejuicy.com/2011/04/06/do-we-need-yale-scientists-to-tell-us-that-our-brains-like-food/) has some interesting things to say. I also appreciated the little clip that Beth provided.

    I dunno: using the word addiction for something that we need to survive just doesn’t sit well with me. I remember in the days when I still thought I could actually successfully diet down and maintain the new weight, I used to fume over the fact that you could live without cigarettes (pardon the pun) but not food. If I could just stop eating, period, all would be well. But that’s not how it works.

    Some people definitely enjoy food more than others. Knowing that my husband went from boiling water to gourmet chefdom, a friend of mine asked me for advice on how she could get her husband to be more interested in cooking (and thus take some of the load off her). In talking about it, we realized that her husband will never cook. He’s just not interested in food. At the Indian restaurant, all he wants in butter chicken. All the other wonderful foods don’t move him in the least. (And yes, he’s quite slim although he does seem to eat fairly heartily.) By the same token, I will never get my husband interested in recovering the couch. He would live in a cardboard box if the we lived in a warmer climate. (And yes, my hubby is on the heavy side, and a sweetheart to boot!)

    I definitely like food. When I’m hungry, I crave protein (gimme CHEEEESE) and carbs (CRAAAACKERS). When I’m full, suddenly the sugar siren starts singing. She can be hard to tame, but fortunately that’s where President’s Choice Chocolate comes in. I always crave sugar when I’m full.

    I am convinced, though, that I don’t have a “classic” addictive personality. I have taken oxycontin for months at a time for severe pain and then tapered off and stopped with absolutely no difficulty. In fact, if I’ve taken more than I need, I get a terrible headache. I love wine, but no more than a small glassful. I just don’t want anymore. I smoked moderately for about six months when I was a teenager, realized that this was probably a bad idea, took my last three cigs, gave away two, smoked the last one and never smoked again.

    But food–it’s not an addiction, but it is a great sensual pleasure and it’s therefore easy to take in somewhat more than my tiny body can burn and gain weight in the twinkling of an eye. Sniff.

    • What you mean is that food isn’t an addiction for you. And I can see why the idea of being addicted to “food” is problematic for some. But the likelihood is that people aren’t addicted to “food” … they are addicted to the response that some foodstuffs (particularly sugar, maybe other things). Gabor Mate makes that point in his great video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpHiFqXCYKc) that it’s not the substance per se that is addicting, it’s what it does in the person’s brain.

      This is why plenty of people can drink without problem, and why lots of folks (the majority perhaps) don’t have an issue with food. But some of us do. And I’m fine with quibbling over the semantics of whether it’s a full-blown DSM-IV addiction (after all, they’re arguing about that too). But I hope we can agree that the brain’s response to food can vary greatly, and some folks really benefit from treating their compulsive and/or binge eating as an addiction.

      • There is a big difference between compulsion and dependence. Addiction is a layman’s term that people use when they refer to every thing from abuse of a substance to dependence on it to behavioral compulsions. Food is not addicting any more than breath is, but it is possible to have compulsions that surround eating and food. The chemical responses that are similar between food and drugs/alcohol are similar because the drugs and alcohol are hijacking the natural pleasure response in your brain. You are supposed to feel good when you eat. It’s what has allowed our species to survive. Chocolate or cheese and many, many other delicious foods are supposed to release chemicals in the brain that reward you for eating them. It’s why we have those chemicals in our brains–they aren’t introduced by addictive substances.

        The Live Once, Juicy link above will take you to my blog where I’ve written some lately about the difference between compulsion and dependence. I really think it’s an important distinction.

    • Okay, NewMe, so you tease us with the notion that there’s a cheap source for high-quality dark chocolate, then, er, eh? President’s choice? I’ve never seen that in my grocery store. Hmmm. Will Google.

      @ Beth: I think what makes me uncomfortable is not the concept of addiction, but the vocabulary so frequently used. The 12-step language, in particular, makes me edgy.

      • Debra-
        President’s Choice is the store brand at a multi-chain of Canadian supermarkets. I know that Loblaws and No Frills carries it, and their stuff tends to be really solid quality. Maybe you can mail order? Or, try the basic chocolate at your local supermarkets. You may be surprised at the quality.

      • Debra, I’m with you re 12-step! But if it works for people, I’m happy for them. Re Shaunta’s comment, I mostly agree. That said, I really recommend folks watch the Gabor Mate video; he too makes the point that it’s not anything inherent in the substance that is “addicting” … it’s that via the various receptors in the brain, it meets some need re comfort that people can get dependent/compulsive about.

        That said, I think there’s something to be said re food and evolution: there simply hasn’t been enough millenia for our brains to have evolved to deal with the onslaught of chemicals that our Western diet currently represents. See David Kessler’s The End of Overeating!

  4. I don’t think I have an addictive personality, despite having alcoholics on both sides of the family. In the past, I’ve been a heavy drinker, but when it started giving me migraines, I quit with no problems and I don’t miss it. I also smoked for about 10 years (never more than a carton a month, however) and I quit when they cost $2 a pack, cold turkey, and I don’t miss them either.
    When it comes to food, I’m a meat, cheese, and potatoes kind of person. I like fruits, but most vegetables taste bitter to me, no matter how they’re cooked or how they’re spiced. If I don’t have anything around with sugar in it, I can stay away from it, but if it’s in the house, I’ll eat it till it’s gone (not all at one time, but nibbling here and there all day long). I don’t know if that’s an addiction or not – as long as I stay away from it, I’m fine, but let someone bring candy of any kind into the house, if it’s not for a specific person, I’m going to pick at it until it’s gone. And that goes for candy of any kind – chocolate (even the very expensive kind), jelly beans, Runts, candy bars, whatever.

  5. I actually am OK with the concept of an addiction to foods (not food, but foods), but then again my work puts me in contact with substance abuse professionals who use the word (and “abuse”, dependence” and “use”) in fairly nuanced ways. For me, the key variable is compulsion–just as it seems to be with binge eating disorder. It’s not so much about how much you eat (or how much you consume alcohol), but about how compelled you are to eat or drink, whether you “want” to or not.

    • Nuance serves us. That’s it. Maybe that’s why I’m edgy with the addiction concept. In common culture it gets de-nuanced. I don’t think 12-step language helps.

  6. When I was eight, my mother made a birthday cake for my brother. She covered it in a thick layer of homemade caramel frosting. She set the cake, covered, on top of the fridge in the early afternoon. After supper, when she took the cake down and placed it before my smiling brother, and she withdrew the cover from the cake, a gasp emerged from every person gathered around the table. Except me. I alone knew the cake would have no frosting on one entire side. Because, little by little, I had picked it off and eaten it in stealth. Each piece caramel-y piece placed gently on my tongue had required me to silently move a chair from the dining room table to the kitchen, in front of the fridge, silently climb up, silently remove the porcelain cake plate cover, silently re-cover the plate after said piece of frosting was obtained and devoured, silently climb down and replace the chair. Etc.

    Even though I knew I would undoubtedly get the crap beaten out of me for doing it.

    Naturally, I lied. Brilliantly, I thought. My brothers always had a “tell” when they lied. One flared his nostrils ever so slightly. Another raised his eyebrows almost imperceptibly. According to my mother, I had no “tell”. (Of course, being the most evil of them all, that made perfect sense.) Unfortunately, my guilt was determined by the process of elimination. No one revealed their tell, hence…

    Still. I lied. And the combined punishment (for the sneaking, stealing, and lying) must have been horrific because to this day it is blocked completely from my memory.

    But I still recall the taste of that frosting. Actually, I remember the smell. Intoxicating. Mouth watering. I drool even as I write this. The sugary goodness of each little bite melted in my little mouth. The sweet sweet delight seemed to be incorporated, literally, within my body. Thus, I was transformed with each taste, from bad to good. The tension between bites would build and eventually became unbearable, until the whole production (chair, etc) was repeated once more, and once more for a little while at least I, my SELF, became good and sweet. As wonderful as a caramel covered cake.

    If the exact scenario had been repeated the next day, and I knew I would be caught, and I knew I would be punished, I would have done it all again. No. Doubt. In. My. Mind.

    So. You tell me. Am I an addict?

  7. The psychology/biology argument is essentially the nurture/nature argument. With food, I think that the psychology drives the biology in many cases. The body adapts and the brain builds receptor responses in conjunction with the way you deal with food. If you change the psychology and resulting behavioral responses, you also change the biology. If you don’t, then your biochemical responses to food remain the same. It takes a long time to alter these responses, and you won’t get a change unless you work the psychology. It took me 10 months to turn a biological corner through psychology changes. It took a further 6 months to turn another significant corner. The body changes, but first the mind has to coerce it a bit.

    The age-old question in psychology is which comes first – the biology then the emotional response or the emotional response and then the biology. You can talk about Ghrelin, Leptin, and even Serotonin, but you can’t lay it all on biology because altering behavior and emotional responses affects the way the chemistry works. They work hand-in-hand. The mistake people make, and you’re making it as well, is confusing talk about psychology with “blame” or “willpower”. Psychology is not about bucking up and taking charge. It’s far more subtle than that. It’s also not about being abused or neurotic or mentally ill. By oversimplifying any aspect, be it psychological or biological, you do a disservice to all people with food-related problems. “It’s all biochemical” is no different than “it’s all in your head.”

    The bottom line is that humans can resist biological impulses unless their minds (emotions, compulsions, etc.) get in the way. This is why you don’t pee your pants every time you have to urinate. Psychology overcomes biological urges. If you can’t overcome it, it’s an emotional issue and can be worked (via behavior modification, talk therapy, and/or medical intervention). The extent to which you struggle is influenced by biological tendencies, but people overcome them all of the time (diabetics often overcome their urges because they have to).

    I get the sense that your focus on laying everything at the feet of biology is about taking the blame out of overeating, but focusing on the psychology is not about blame. It’s about dealing with the issues in an effective fashion rather than popping a pill (which currently doesn’t exist for eating disorders) to bash a biological pin into the problem or simply concluding you’re a slave to your particular biochemistry. Considering what you said about your fears regarding the colonoscopy and the restrictions involved, you may want to ponder the psychology a bit as well. Your fears are not brought on by your biology, but by your psychology. Your relationship with food/weight is not a mentally good one for you if this experience creates anxiety. You can say that anxiety and fear are not really psychological issues, but rather related to norepinephrine release, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s something that needs to be worked at in your head if you want to stop feeling this way when such uncertainty comes along. And these feelings can be dealt with psychologically and conquered, but it takes some mental work.

    • Wow, thanks for the well thought-out response, SFG. I think my mistake is not in disrespecting psychology, but confusing it and lumping it in with cultural mythology. “Buck up” would never issue forth from a psychologist’s mouth. That’s the language of culture, which further complicates the psychology of all this. Psychology is NOT about blame, you’re right, but cultural mythology (omnipresent in all issues fat) is. Psychology intersects with both biology and culture. Resisting the biologic impulses would be much easier without the constant cultural battles — “buck up” messages from one side, alluring (addiction triggering?) food advertising and social enticements to eat from the other.

      Regarding my own colonoscopy, I think there’s more behind my over-reaction than my weight issues. I’ve got some additional layers that I’m only now acknowledging. The weight issues may prove a convenient distraction, actually. Now, to get it done. They’ve rescheduled me AGAIN! May 23rd. ERGH!

  8. My problem with the concept of addiction to food(s) is not that it doesn’t exist, but that fatness is often blamed on it. I can better tie my own weight gain or loss to times when my hormones went awry, or when I took particular drugs that had weight loss or gain as a side-effect, or as a natural result of aging.
    I personally dislike the use of the term “weight problem” when what is meant is “fat”. Other people have a more of a problem with my weight than I have.
    I don’t believe that biology and psychology are separate things. Psychology is part of biological urges. I AM a slave to my biochemistry. If I want to control or change something about me, it is my biochemistry planting that desire.
    Now for the important question: what is the name or source of that good-quality chocolate that doesn’t break the bank? I just got this catalog of yummy treats from See’s Candies, but they charge about $20 a pound for their chocolate delicacies. Still, those prettily decorated chocolate Easter eggs filled with buttercream or pecans or glace cherries are mighty tempting and causing a serious drool problem on my keyboard…

    • I hate the word “weight problem” assigned to individuals, too, Mulberry. It is society that has a “weight problem.” We deal with weight so ineptly and judgmentally. That’s a problem.

  9. This is based only on my experience, and my interpretation of my experience, and is not meant as an attempt to universalize the conclusions found therein.. but..

    My experience is that I thought I was ‘addicted’ to food, that I was bingey and compulsive, when I wasn’t feeding myself enough food.

    Now I do feed myself enough food, and I rarely feel addictive, compulsive or bingey about food. Rarely, not never – there are the exceptions that prove the rule, so to speak. There was the Halloween night three or four years ago when I was so distressed at the sight of my teenage daughter going out in a particularly skimpy/slutty costume that my response was to sit there and put mini chocolate bar after mini chocolate bar in my mouth, like a chain smoker, to mask the distress, till I sort of came to all at once and asked myself what in heck I was doing. And I laughed at myself – for real, not figuratively – because it was so transparent and so silly. And it struck me as silly because – I really hardly ever do that. So rarely that, when I do, my reponse is to say ‘what in the heck’ and then laugh and then stop. Because the food is by no means feeding what I thought, in the moment, it was feeding.

    But ’twas not always like that. No. Like, when I was a teenager, for example, my mind and body was hell-bent on finding and eating MORE FOOD. Salty/fatty, mostly. Actually, when I was little, too. It was a compulsion that led me down all sorts of embarrassing paths – from the consumption of non-food items when I was a child, to petty shoplifting of food, to ransacking cupboards at houses where I babysat – yes, based on the behaviour, very bingey, very compulsive, very addicted, if you want to call it that.

    But the underlying fact was that I was underfed and needed more food.

    That is my lens for interpreting all of this, now. Like, when I said that very rarely binge now, that’s a matter of intepretation, too. If I find myself in the kitchen unplannedly inhaling cheese or nuts (as has been known to happen), I don’t, for myself, call it a binge. I just assume that, oh, I must need extra protein right now.

    Is the factor that makes it ‘not a binge’ that I can stop? Or that it’s not manifesting as an extreme or antisocial behaviour? Or that I have no particular rule or expectation in place telling me not to eat the cheese/nuts right then? I don’t know. Perhaps all of those.

    So, to sum up – I think there’s a continuum of behaviour, and perhaps the distinction between addiction/non-addiction is like that guideline I’ve seen in various places as a marker for addiciton – does it disrupt your life? When I was a teenager, did my quest for food disrupt, or have the potential to disrupt, my life? Oh yes. Does it now? No. But do I, also, as a general rule, consume rather more food now than I did as a teenager? Yes.

    I think it IS possible to eat addictively/compulsively, like with any behaviour. I have done it, but I have also read novels compulsively, addictively… rather more often, actually.

    But not all sudden, unplanned, driven consumption of food is addictive, compulsive, or bingey. Sometimes it’s just that we need the food. In my humble and subjective opinion! 🙂

    • Mara, I’d be interested in whether you used the 12-step language/programming to overcome your addiction or some other means. I think my discomfort, as I said in my comments to Beth, is in applying 12-step language to food. I haven’t formed my thoughts clearly on it. I just know it makes me edgy.

      • No, I didn’t actually use .. well, anything. I just started eating enough generally. Enough for me. So I don’t think the addiction/compulsion was one in the first place. I seriously think I was just underfed. That’s why, for me, I don’t .. I can’t.. see bingey-type eating and disordered/overly controlled eating as two separate things. They seem to be just two sides of the same coin.

        I know that is very Geneen Roth/FA of me! But it my individual case it does seem to be true.

        But, more in line with your initial inquiries, I DO also have a theory that everyone has their own individual compulsive food – a thing we can’t leave alone once we’ve started.

        For my daughter, it’s chips. For my mom it’s chocolate. For my dad, it’s bread. For me, it’s… pasta! I HAVE to finish what’s in the pot! Just have to. It’s too good to leave. I love it cold, warm, hot.. any which way. So, the trick is not to make too much in the first place!

        But it’s funny that I do that with pasta and not other equivalently carby foods. It’s just somthing about the texture… yum.

        My theory doesn’t extend past the fact that I think everyone has a food like that. I have no idea why!

      • and, Debra – I think the language of addiction is overused, too. Well, maybe I think that. Okay, I guess what I actually think is that, again, it’s a continuum. But one that goes in both directions – not like a line so much as a graph.

        Oh the one end of the line part, we have mildly and harmlessly compulsive behaviours – whether it’s staying up till 4 am to finish a novel, or watching a favourite movie over and over, or needing to finish all the pasta in the pot even past the point of fullness!

        And at the extreme end of the continuum are things that are a lot more harmful, out of control and life-disrupting than that.

        And then, on the up and down lines, we have another continuum based on what the ‘substance’ is – from episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, to Cheetoes, to Chardonnay, to crack cocaine.

        They’re all on the same line/graph, yet very very differnt from each other, and never, necessarily, intersecting. But the lines between relatively harmless compulsion and addiction and blurry, wavey and variable in my mind, along that graph. There isn’t always a yes/no answer to whether one is or isn’t, except at the extreme ends or corners. The answer may be yes one day, no the next.

        That’s why I used all the /slashes/ in my post!

        And, of course, the mechanisms by which the things addict us are another variable – and possibly always a combination betwen the thing and the person and the precise circumstances..

  10. First, the chocolate: As DeeLeigh said, President’s Choice is the house brand of a large Canadian grocery chain called Loblaw’s and is also available at New Frills. The chocolate that I buy is “President’s Choice Extra-Dark”. Each bar weighs 300g (about 11 oz.) and lasts us about two weeks if we’re consuming 2 squares each per day. I somehow doubt Loblaw’s does mail-order (it’s like Publix in the States–big grocery stores), but you can always try. If not, come visit Canada and buy a ton to take back. There are Loblaws everywhere in Canada (although in Quebec, they have also bought another banner, so do the research before you go!).

    Now, back to binges:

    Last night, I inadvertently went to a talk that included a significant presentation on anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (which, as we know, has an important bingeing component). I thought I was going to a talk on dealing with teenagers, but it was actually about serious disordered behaviours amongst teenagers including AN, BN and cutting.

    I might write a whole post myself about what I heard, but this one phrase stood out: “Food is an anti-binge medicine.” This goes back to what Mara was saying above and I think contributes to the whole addiction discussion, at least as it applies to bulimic behaviour. There’s certainly a lot more to say, but I present this as a tiny morsel of food for thought.

    A brief comment on John’s approach to weight loss: It certainly makes me think of my own comment about some people not really caring about food. Clearly, if food is not a source of pleasure, then it is easier to control and restrict the quality and quantity of one’s intake. This is not a moral judgment. Some people don’t like music and could give a care if they never hear any. Others never read novels or newspapers or go to movies. It’s easy to cut something out if it really doesn’t tickle your fancy.

    That being said, if it works for John, more power to him.

    • “Food is an anti-binge medicine.” Hmmmm. I could replace the word “Food” with “Dark chocolate.” I see what you’re saying. Will look forward to your post, should you decide to do it. (Actually, you may have. I’m due for a visit.)

  11. Everyone’s addicted to food, you can’t not be and continue living. It’s not a good idea to keep pathologizing our existence, or what we need to exist and then wonder why depression and anxiety keep going up.

    We need to keep a balanced view of eating and not fall into the trap of defining it by the terms of those who have problems with it.

    That’s how disordered eating/ eating disorders increase in the first place.

    Then there’s the fact that you do not become ‘high’ or intoxicated by food, which is the physiological basis of addiction.

    I want to stop doing/eating x now and cannot is too loose a way of defining it. One can have a compulsion to eat because it seems that the part of the brain that tells you to get food is not directly connected to physical hunger, it is switched on by it.

    If it develops its own loop of being tripped on it’s own, you’ll tend to feel compelled to eat whether you are physically hungry or not.

    It seems to be more about what SFG alluded to and that is how tensely strung your nervous system is/has become overall which affects your whole body including eating/appetite, if you are susceptible. If not it will be some other symptom/s that is played up.

    • @wriggles: You, as an individual person, I take it, “do not become ‘high’ or intoxicated by food”, and I can guess that you (probably) do not get high from gambling, either, or from planning a gambling spree; nevertheless, some people do experience a compulsive urge to gamble, which is accompanied by a *high* created by or corresponding with a neurochemical cascade in the brain, which is driven by and also drives emotional/mental feelings/thoughts, inextricably intertwined. Thus it is all very complicated.

      For some people.

      In the sharing of my story, above, about the caramel-covered cake, I was attempting to convey the complexity between my thoughts and feelings as a human being enduring a difficult childhood (understatement), somewhat after the fashion of Screaming Fat Girl’s thoughtful comments (but mine was in the form of personal history), all of which is to say: humans are infinately more difficult to understand compared to mice.

      Mice may react to sugar, for instance, with addictive-like tendencies, but to my knowledge mice brains do not accompany those behaviors with feelings of deep shame, internalized rage, confusion, longing for love, terror of being harmed by *caregivers*, murderous impulses that must be repressed and/or socialized into oblivion, deep grief and unconsolable loss, and so forth…

      But human children experience all the above feelings, at least some do, some of the time, and when a lucky child discovers quite by accident that eating sugar can dull the sharpness of those feelings, at least for a short time, and can also help her feel loveable and human and good (as opposed to hateful and thing-like and evil), well, then, that particular escape mechanism may very likely be far superior to getting “high” with a drug because it can be accomplished without breaking the law and without damaging one’s growing brain (presumably), can be performed covertly inside one’s own brain, and, more importantly, the compulsive process can, to be blunt, save one’s life.

      Particularly, it may dull unbearable feelings enough to prevent a child from stepping out in front of a bus on a morning so dark and otherwise horrifying she can endure her existence no longer.

      Anorexia, as a compulsive process, may do the same. Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid, eventually, for hitting on a life-saving defensive process (discovered accidently through trial and error) because at some point the once-saving process may begin to result in life threatening consequences. And at some point the process may no longer result in enough relief from the *pain*–and the person either discovers additional coping skills (healthy or *unhealthy*) or suffers and/or dies. (Sometimes the person is rescued in time.)

      What people don’t understand: we are not mice.

      We are a tender, vulnerable, sensitive species. We can tolerate only so much repeated threat to our wholeness before our physiology creates amazing resourseful ways to protect us.

      Does this explain why some people get fat? No. The cause-result variables are far too numerous to trace or understand. But maybe it suggests the complicated relationships with behaviors (processes) that some of us experience in response to chronic threats to bodily security (either *real* or perceived, but then what is the difference to a child?). And for those who think these are rare reactions for children, look around you a bit closer. Look especially at children with parents who are stressed beyond their own abilities to cope. Unfortunately, in our world, especially in our culture, we have been socialized to not see these people, or to blame them for their inability to cope.

  12. hopefulandfree,

    @wriggles: You, as an individual person, I take it, “do not become ‘high’ or intoxicated by food”

    Actually no, high-which I used as the slang-for intoxicated is easy to identify objectively dilated pupils, slurred speech, loss of co-ordination, hallucination, psychosis, etc., It is an actual physiological state not a subjective sensibility.

    That’s why there’s lots of grainy footage of things like soliders on LSD pointing at stuff that isn’t there, staggering around laughing their heads off.

    I appreciate some of the difficulties people have with various compulsions overwhelming their lives but as I said about the urge to get food;

    If it develops its own loop of being tripped on it’s own, you’ll tend to feel compelled to eat whether you are physically hungry or not.

    A compulsion is not about getting high, it is a mechanical issue where a self perpetuating feeback loop is established and is triggering a certain behaviours.

    I’d say an eating compulsion is different from a gambling one or somehing like (compulsive) hand washing as eating is vital therefore we are designed around that. Eating also has as a secondary purpose to relief stress, pressure and to raise mood, which is part of why it can be so compelling as you described.

    Childhood sensory memories can be incredibly powerful, I can think of a few and my memory of that time can be patchy.

    The guilt and shame are interesting, the latter tends to be about feeling you are going beneath your expectations and guilt is when you feel you broken a rule or crossed a boundary. As you said you feared the consequences.

    No doubt this is coming off cold, but that’s comforting to me, we are complex, yet we are simmple, we are designed, we work. The intricate network of blood vessels is astounding, but we can probably describe human circulation in a few sentences.

    And you can rest assured I do think about my comments as much as anyone else.

    I think the problem is the opposite to what was said earlier, not so much that ‘addict’ is loaded, but that our philospohical base of free will is and that puts people in a bind if they cannot stop certain behaviours on demand, of their selves/ community/society.

    There is no language to say “I want to stop but I can’t, yet I know I have some say in the matter, I just can’t make that count in the way I know it could”.

    • @wriggles: Thank you for your sensitive and carefully considered comment. I’m serious. Your last 2 paragraphs, in particular, fascinate me. I wrestle with the concept of free will, every day, and have found no clear resolution that can be communicated in any logical fashion. The closest I can get is through poetry (as Debra apparently has noticed, 🙂 thanks, btw, Debra).

      If I’m not mistaken, I’ve read most if not all of your blog, wriggles, and I have been persuaded (well, charmed too) by your sincerity and intelligence, as well as by your struggles to express many systemically-complex ideas, some of which as you indicate, “there is no language” to describe adequately–no cultural commonality to meaningfully share what may be going on internally. It is at this point in the conversation when I sometimes cite Wittgenstein’s remark (paraphrasing!), “If a lion could speak, we could not understand her.” It’s not that human beings represent a different species from other human beings, but…our lifeworlds, the specific contexts in which we find ourselves living, are often so vastly different from what is commonly represented by, say, popular media and scholarly theory, that many of us are simply left with no comprehensible language to express realities we internally see (and experience) quite clearly.(!)

      Anyway.

      Thanks. I think the concept of addiction (when it comes to food AND other things) really misses the mark, severely, and causes all kinds of unintended distortions and problems for people when we struggle to apply it to something like eating. It’s like using a hammer for a job, and causing extensive peripheral damage, when a much better tool would work beautifully if only I could get my hands on one…but I have this shiny hammer and it feels so good to bang away with.

      I hope that makes sense.

  13. If researchers continue to discover that the same phenomena in the brain re opiate or dopamine receptors etc can result with food as they can with drugs, then we *are* talking substance addiction (as it’s currently defined).

    Curiously, I’d not heard of the concept of process addiction, but I guess that’s the name for the group of addictions like gambling or internet porn — and even more curiously, apparently eating can be a process addiction as well as a substance addiction.

    For those who don’t conceptually like the idea of food addiction, no biggie. Will see how it plays out now that more researchers are looking at it. For now, while the science is being worked out, I tend to agree with Michael Prager (Fat Boy, Thin Man). He said whether or not it’s addiction, for those affected, it appears to respond well to addiction treatment. Where I disagree with him is that a 12-step program is the best solution. But that’s me.

  14. President’s Choice is also the house brand at Harris Teeter, which is a chain of grocery stores in the U.S.

  15. There’s a lot to absorb in these comments. Thanks all for your thoughtfulness and courtesy towards one another.

    Hopeful and free, my heart goes out to you. And you, Mara. I’m sorry you didn’t get enough to eat as a child.

    I just wanted to mention that Loblaws is known as “Superstore” in Western Canada–and, though it may be defunct now, in Ontario, Zehrs was part of the Loblaws chain about 15 years ago when I lived there.

  16. You know, I’m in almost the worst possible place right now when it comes to HAES. I used to walk a minimum or two miles a day and spend 3-5 hours a week taking fitness classes on top of that, all while being a healthier eater than I am right now. Lately, I have to drag myself outside for 1/2 hour walks most days.

    I’m working from home in a new city and a new country. My husband and I are in the process of buying property, and we’re having some challenges getting the mortgage set up. I’m fielding calls on the property sale and the mortgage this morning and I’m nervous and feeling snacky. At 7:00, I ate a regular breakfast of two of those shredded wheat rolls with some fruit, a few walnuts and little sugar sprinkled on them. Then I felt peckish at 10:30 and ate half a fresh mozzarella ball. At 11:00, I was still feeling a bit hungry, so I airpopped some popcorn, put butter, salt and garum masala on it and ate it with a couple of pickles and the other half of the mozzarella (you know, the fresh kind that comes soaked in water – not the huge, low moisture kind). It is now 11:30. I’m not hungry anymore, I’ll probably eat a small lunch at 2:00 or 3:00.

    Do I think that grazing like that is the best way to eat? Not really. Is it an addiction? Even though feeling stressed is a factor in grazing behavior for me, I definitely wouldn’t go that far. It’s nervous eating. I don’t do it if I’m full, and I do enjoy the food. I don’t do it if I’m at a regular job, because I don’t have much food available between meals. When I feel the urge to snack nervously, I usually choose foods that are reasonably healthy. I’ll graze instead of eating a regular meal sometimes, or just eat something small later in the afternoon. I have to admit that it feels a little neurotic, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s an addiction. Hell, I’m pretty sure that it’s a normal human behavior that thin people sometimes indulge in, too.

    There are a lot of things that people do to help alleviate stress that aren’t optimally healthy, but aren’t horrible, either. We eat a little more than we might otherwise. We drink a too much occasionally. Maybe we sneak a cigarette once in a while. At worst, these behaviors are mildly self destructive. Exercising, taking a nice, relaxing bath, or doing something creative would doubtless be better choices.

    However, there are also a lot of worse choices out there too. There are substances that are truly addictive and make people useless or destructive to their families and society. Some people respond to stress by driving their cars aggressively, putting others at risk as well as themselves. Some people take out their frustrations on family members, colleagues, employees, or customers, causing others stress, being bullies, and perpetrating emotional abuse. Some even physically assault others or commit crimes.

    Nobody deserves to be called an addict for doing things that aren’t especially healthy, but that are worth the price for the pleasure they bring and their effectiveness at controlling stress. As adults, these are choices that we get to make for ourselves. I may not be a HAES poster child at the moment, but I’m not in need of treatment either. There’s a big gap in between being on a health kick and behaving so dysfunctionally that you need to label yourself as sick or addicted.

    Oh – and everything that’s pleasurable triggers the same areas of the brain that dangerous recreational drugs do. That doesn’t mean that everything pleasurable is a dangerous addiction. What a strange, puritanical idea that is!

  17. “Nobody deserves to be called an addict . . .” Interesting phrasing, implying that “addict” (and the variations on that) is not so much descriptive as perjorative. Hmmm. I guess that’s common in psychology, though, especially when we don’t know much about a disorder. Anorexia is not the subject of jokes as much as it used to be — when I was in college in the dark ages. Enough people have died and enough families have been affected that it’s earned a kind of “integrity” that “addiction” still lacks. Clinical depression also has integrity, I think.

    Your behavior does not sound like clinical addiction, DeeLeigh. It’s just nerves. (Good luck on getting a grip on all that chaos, by the way. Buying property is stressful enough, but in a country where you don’t feel comfortable with your knowledge of the laws. Ack. And I understand the distinct stress of “working from home” too. It’s its own problem.) At any rate, you don’t need addiction treatment. You’ll be fine when the stress passes. (Thoughts and prayers for you.)

    I think there are many people who would benefit from addiction treatment, if their food issues really qualify as addiction. You talk about drawing a line with this language: “substances that are truly addictive and make people useless or destructive to their families and society.” We do, actually, see that happen with food, but it’s at a much more extreme point than culture currently acknowledges. Someone who is housebound because of fat and cannot clean himself/herself. That probably qualifies, but where’s the line shy of that? Hmmm.

    You point out that everything that’s pleasurable triggers the brain similarly to drugs. Yes, but again, it’s a matter of degree. My brain doesn’t light up in anticipation of either recreational drugs or McDonalds. It does light in anticipation of chocolate, but not to the point that I’m driven to steal, lie, hurt someone, or some such, to get it, nor has it disabled my body.

    I will watch closely as all this plays out. We need clarity, from scientists and doctors, on what qualifies as addiction, to be sure.

  18. Debra, just wanting to comment. My using “addict” as if it was something insulting was kind of problematic. I used “sick” the same way later. So, yeah. That was probably what people refer to as “healthist.”

    But I have to admit that I do think that “addict” is a negative label that people shouldn’t apply to either themselves or others willy-nilly. I have to admit that there are things about the family culture I was raised in – self sufficiency and always being in control are highly valued – that tend to translate into discomfort with any kind of dependance. I’m aware of it, but I’m not sure that I can or even want to change that aspect of my outlook. Honestly, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep pushing forward without it. So, I keep it for myself and I usually try not to impose it on others. Sometimes it surfaces in comments I make.

  19. As a substance abuse professional who also treated problem gamblers, I can tell you there is no such thing as “clinical addiction.” In fact, no substance abuse professional would use the term “addiction.” It’s a layman’s term that has pretty much lost all meaning because it is applied to so many things inappropriately.

    Eating and food can not be what you think of as an addiction, which is really a dependence. Food triggers the same chemical responses in the brain that drugs and alcohol do because when you use drugs and alcohol, they are usurping the system that is designed to ensure that you enjoy eating. Food is supposed to make you feel good. That is the way your body is designed. We can not, EVER (that means anyone, ever), become “addicted” to something our body absolutely requires dependence on for survival. It’s like saying we’re addicted to water because it feels good to drink it when you’re thirsty or that you’re addicted to air because your body rewards you for breathing.

    Compulsion is something entirely different. And eating compulsively is definitely possible. So is compulsively not eating, as in the case of anorexia. If you eat, or don’t eat, in response to anxiety or stress–if you binge (truly binge)or refuse to eat enough to maintain a minimum weight–these are compulsions that have to do with eating and food.

    Compulsion and dependence are not the same thing. It’s more than just a nuance.

    Take sex for example. Human beings are rewarded for having sex by a strong release of the same feel good chemicals that drugs and food release in our brains. It ensures that our species continues from generation to generation.

    Just because sex feels good doesn’t make it an “addiction,” although there have been times in history when women were taught there was something wrong with them if they did enjoy sex. Just like we are taught now that there is something wrong with us if we enjoy food.

    Sexual behaviors though, can become compulsions. Someone can feel compelled to constantly seek sex as a relief from stress or anxiety, to fill some empty spot inside themselves, etc. It is the behavior–the dangerous sexual behavior–that is the compulsion. Not the sex itself. The compulsion is taking advantage of the system already in place that is meant to make sure that you (and all of us) enjoy sex enough to continue to have babies and not die out as a species.

    The same with food and eating. They are supposed to feel good. Feeling good while eating is not a sign of a problem, it is a sign of a working biological system that is in place to ensure that we don’t starve because we can’t be bothered with finding and preparing food to eat.

    Eating and food can become compulsions, however, when that system is used for other purposes, such as anxiety or stress relief.

    Deeleigh has described a morning/afternoon of eating when she is hungry. Of course that doesn’t describe “clinical addiction.” Having stress and also eating does not equal some kind of disorder. It equals the human condition.

    • Here is Google’s page of scholarly articles on the topic “addiction clinical definition” I selected that search term phrase, by the way, from a drop-down list after typing in “Addiction.” I didn’t make it up. Apparently, some professionals recognize it, though it probably is misused in common media. We, the public, need clarity. Tiger Woods didn’t go to a “Sex Compulsion Clinic”; he went to an addiction clinic. It’s our language, whether it’s accurate, precise, or not. Now, how do we make it accurate? Do we train society regarding the differences between compulsion, dependence and addiction? Or what else can we do?

    • Wow – this is a fabulous, clear explanation. Thank you for this! Great information.

  20. Shaunta, that was such a helpful post. Honestly, I know people who sort of graze as their normal way of eating, and I know there’s nothing wrong with it. However, I’m normally a very organized eater.

    I almost always have three meals a day with optional morning and afternoon snacks, and I cook balanced meals that my husband and I are in the mood for. I tend to get hungry half an hour before meals and I eat until I’m a bit full (not stuffed). It’s unusual for me to snack frequently and when I do, it’s usually in response to stress. I find eating comforting. It does feel a little compulsive, but I can always channel it into celery and dry popcorn if I feel like I’m going overboard. The same thing happens for two days every month when I have PMS. Bottomless appetite. My body must think I didn’t get pregnant that month because I was too skinny. I don’t think it’s aware of how much energy it has stored up. 🙂

  21. Debra, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that you made it up. I will point out though that most of those articles just use the terms “addiction” and “clinical”, not necessarily together. Tiger Woods did in fact go into a treatment center to be treated for sexual compulsions–even if the media called it something else. And even if the clinic itself calls itself something else for whatever reasons. The name of the clinic does not change the fact that what Tiger Woods was treated for was a problem with sexual compulsion, not addiction. Actually, he went to a rehab or rehabilitation center.

    I firmly believe that there is real danger is equating food/eating with addiction, because it causes shame where it isn’t needed.

    • Me, I’m far less worried that linking overeating and addiction will cause shame where it isn’t needed. I’m far more concerned that people struggle needlessly because they aren’t addressing the fundamental reasons for their cravings.

      I don’t particularly care what we call it, but I firmly believe that for some of us, the mechanism is very much the same as it is for substance abuse, and thus should be treated accordingly.

  22. Two thoughts:

    1. Science, scientists, medical and psychological professionals and the journalists who cover them are not on the same page with regard to the language. Many professionals use the “A” word, with regard to food, sex, etc.

    2. Getting back to me. (And this blog is about me, right? Har.) I know I am chemically different now than I was in my pre-weight-reduced state. It affects my thinking about food, my feelings and impulses, as well as my behavior (which remains pleasant and law abiding, so not subject to intervention). Others on the NWCR have had their heads examined, literally, in MRI machines, and they show chemical differences from fat and normal weight controls who are not weight-reduced. Studying these chemical reactions is of importance to me. They have been associated commonly with “addiction” and, in your field (but not broadly), distinguished from compulsion.

    I’m cool with clarity, as long as the conversation doesn’t stop, and as long as my reality remains included. Equating food/eating with addiction may cause shame, yes, but maybe that’s a different disconnect that needs breaking. Which is simpler? Re-educating an enormous population regarding the vocabulary of compulsion v. addiction, or reclaiming and clarifying the vocabulary of addiction? In size acceptance, we reclaim the word “fat” from shame. That’s one model.

  23. Emily Deans, a psychiatrist I follow on blog/Twitter who approaches medicine from an evolutionary perspective, has an interesting read on the study that Debra mentioned at the top of her post. Here’s a snippet:

    —–
    Well. What did we learn, really? “Highly palatable” food can be addictive to certain susceptible individuals. Usually things are highly palatable because they are somehow good for us. I have the feeling that in an environment without the neolithic agents of disease, the food reward system would work as planned, just like the sex reward and the exercise reward. Jack up the system with weird chemicals in excess of anything we ever experienced in evolution – like heroin, tobacco, or ho-hos, and some people will develop a problem.
    —–

    Link: http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/2011/04/eating-disorders-and-addiction.html

  24. I read thst article by Emily Deans; it’s awful. First, it conflates eating disorders with obesity, which is like conflating darkness of skin with criminal behavior. Of course they overlap, but can you really say that one definitely causes the other? Second, she says that “Obesity-related disease is the second-leading cause of preventable death”, thus segueing from an association into a cause, and assuming that a) one can prevent obesity in most people, and that b) this prevention will in fact prevent such diseases. (If it doesn’t, as many fat people know, the disease will be blamed on fatness, not the method of prevention. If it does appear to work, then the effect will be attributed to loss of weight, rather than, say, exercising more or eating more leafy greens and fewer Hershey’s Kisses.)
    Not to do with Dr. Deans, but it seems curious that the milkshake recipe included 4 scoops of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream combined with 2% milk. What is the point of not using whole milk in this recipe? Dr. Deans suggests that the recipe should have more fat in the milk (whole milk) but less sugar in the ice cream. What difference would these seemingly small details make in the experiment?

    • I don’t think she conflates eating disorders with obesity. She starts off the post writing about eating disorders (she is a psychiatrist after all), then writes mid-post “today I’m going to drop ‘eating disorders’ and look at a new paper called Neural Correlates of Food Addiction.”

      Re the next point, note that she too recognizes that “most obesity treatments are unsuccessful.” And we can argue whether or not the phrase “Obesity-related disease is the second-leading cause of preventable death” is wrong … yes, the word cause is in there, but it’s obesity-*related* disease that is the cause, not obesity.

      Also, her point re the milkshake recipe is that from the ancestral health perspective, full-fat dairy is fine (good even) and sugar is problematic. So that’s how she would make it if she were going to drink it.

  25. This is an interesting discussion for me, both on personal and general levels.

    On a personal level, while I was becoming fat I don’t recall feeling like I had a lot of compulsions around eating, and would even say it was difficult for me to conceptulize what people meant when they talked about stuff like that. Sure, I would overeat at a nice dinner out or whatever now and then, but I didn’t feel like I couldn’t stop eating in a general way, or even in regards to specific foods. I always had Hallowe’en candy left over by the next Hallowe’en. If my husband bought me a box of chocolates, I almost always ended up throwing out the last few pieces months later when I remembered about the box. The only real oddity in my thinking about food that I can recall is that I would get antsy if I didn’t know some was available. Like when I lived in a dorm at college and the cafeteria closed. I felt better if I had some stuff around my room. I often didn’t eat it, just needed to know it was there if I wanted to eat it.

    For the past three years I’ve either been restricting calories or trying to get back into a mode of restricting. (So maintaining, but in kind of a feast or famine way.) My responses to food have absolutely changed, and are different when I’m in a feast or a famine situation. (I’ve lost 60-62 pounds total, so I’m now just below the morbid obese BMI category, for whatever that is worth.)

    If I’m fairly consistently restricting, I get mental desires or perhaps even compulsions about food that I haven’t planned for, but these can often be resisted. I eat stuff I want in smaller amounts regularly, so I’m not deprived, and if anything the restricting makes me appreciate and enjoy the occasional cupcake or pancakes far more than I ever did when I wasn’t thinking much about food. (I enjoy the asparagus and blueberries and a whole bunch of other food more, too.) But the physical hunger is a whole other ballgame. Sometimes it’s a small gnawing that can be put off until the next meal. Sometimes it stretches into a period of days and has to be satisfied. Regardless of its strength, it’s rarely about treat type foods, but a craving for real, hearty foods – eggs and cheese, stroganoff, a giant salad with nuts and fruits and dressing.

    If I’m taking a break on the restricting front, or it’s a holiday or celebration, particularly if it’s one where food is just available rather than me planning and cooking or even dining out, that’s a whole other situation. If I’m not in that physical hunger mode and there’s permission to eat more than usual or more treat stuff than usual (and again, I am not super restrictive on a daily basis), then I have trouble containing that. I can say to myself just one big cookie and a small bowl of chips, but if it’s not a situation where I’ve planned and measured the food and so on, then it’s never going to stay just that.

    We share co-hosting duties of a regular board game night with a large group of friends. When the event was established, it was also established that people would bring sodas and snacks. My basement is always full of at least 5+ bags of chips and 5+ boxes of snack cakes, and tons of bottles and cans of soda. I don’t consider these mine, and outside of a handful of occasions do not touch any of the food outside of game night. Game night is a whole different problem. Either I say no to everything, or I eat more than I planned. I don’t seem to be able to find a middle ground. I’ve tried filling up on vegetables or fruit (which I enjoy), but once those run out I’ll start on the chips and cookies. I’ve eaten to the point of physical discomfort even though I know that’s what I’m doing.

    I think a lot of it really is due to physical/biological pressures. It feels like if I’m actively calorie deprived, my body craves nutrient rich foods. If I’m in a period of eating at maintenance or close to it, my brain craves calorie dense foods to start building those stores back up.

    Another thing that makes me feel like it’s more than habit or a feedback loop or whatever is the difference between restricting foods and restricting calories. I became a vegetarian when I was 20. While there were times when it would be easier to eat stuff on my no-eat list, I never really craved it. (At first there were some wistful memories of a few favourites, but that’s about it.) Orange juice and peanuts make me feel sick, so I don’t eat them, even if I occasionally think fond thoughts about them. I don’t find meat or peanuts creeping into my thoughts unbidden, or trying to console myself with thoughts of the next time I can eat them.

    • Welcome, ToeDip! Your experience surely demonstrates how food restricting long term (and after the big loss) is a whole lot more complicated than the mythology, “Oh, she just didn’t understand it was a lifestyle change and thought she could return to her old ways.” Hope you take some time to read other posts on this blog. You’ll find yourself in good company.

  26. On the topic of President’s Choice. There are definitely some PC products rebranded and available in the US. I’ve seen their line of cookies available in Walgreens and elsewhere, and a number of the PC frozen foods rebranded to Target’s Archer Farms store brand. The box will usually say Made in Canada or something to that effect on it.

    I don’t know about the PC chocolate, though, I haven’t really looked. I do fondly remember being able to get high quality European chocolate bars in Eaton’s, huge ones, for $3. Which even 20 years ago was really cheap.

  27. Thanks for the welcome Debra! I’ve read all the posts and most of the comments on your blog, but usually some time after the fact so I haven’t posted much. It’s very interesting to me to see the discussion coming from a variety of viewpoints. I also read a lot of size acceptance stuff, and it’s comforting to me that there’s a place that includes dieters, maintainers and people of varying sizes who choose not to do those things.

    Sometimes I think about peppering you with questions because I teeter back and forth on whether it’s worth my while to keep trying to lose any more (which demands more consistency than I seem able to manage lately), or if I’ve already bought myself enough trouble with 60 pounds to try to maintain. It’s been very eye-opening to read your thoughts and those of other maintainers. While I was prepared for the idea that maintaining would require sustained monitoring of intake and activity (and I try to consider activity as something I do more for health overall than weight-related), I was not prepared for the idea that hunger would become a permanent companion even after adopting a maintenance calorie level.

    • Ah, ToeDip, what a post. My thoughts: Let your body decide when to stop. The fact that you are asking this question, whether to lose more or not, tells me that your body may be screaming at you to switch from the down-hill to the cross-country skis. That doesn’t mean reducing the amount of food monitoring and exercise you do, by the way. It means freezing it at the level where you are.

      Give your body the highest amount of maintenance activity that you can reasonably continue for a long, long time. The key is “reasonably.” If you go too intense and find you must back off, then you are guaranteed to see a hard slide up (as opposed to the “creep” that we all deal with), and that’s worse psychologically, I think, than maintaining at a higher level to begin with. It may also make you physiologically more vulnerable to a complete slide upward. I don’t know this. It’s not tested, to my knowledge. I just know that many earnest, smart, discplined people diet down to an impossible weight to maintain, so then when they regain, they do it fast (relatively) and hard — all the way back up, and then add a few extra pounds. Do they want to do this? Hell, no. Did they not “get” that there would be a lifestyle change? Oh, good Lord.

      My litmus test as to whether you’re doing too much: are you able to remain joyful? If you’re exercising and food monitoring is to the point that your joy is on the verge of being compromised, then re-evaluate. Your maintenance, by the way, does not need to be the SOURCE of your joy. It just can’t get in the way of it. As a matter of fact, I think the biggest error our culture makes is to suggest that this “lifestyle” produces joy. Simply, it doesn’t over the long haul. In the early days, when you just begin to exercise, for example, or you radically elevate the amount you’re doing, then you feel an enormous difference. Your endorphins are goin’ wild, blah, blah. But in time, you establish a new “normal” where those endorphins are already elevated, and they aren’t goin’ any higher. Likewise, when you switch to a cleaner, less processed diet, then you’re going to feel remarkably better by comparison to how you felt on your former diet. But over time, you get accustomed to cleaner, less processed food. You establish a new “normal.”

      Other things in your life have to be the source of joy. Your food and exercise just become an extra part-time job that help you maintain a weight you like. That’s as much as you can expect.

      Get back to the basics: Live joyfully most of the time, eat healthfully most of the time, exercise most days and treasure whatever body happens. That’s it.

  28. Thank you for the thoughts, Debra! I probably should have been more specific about where I am right now, though. I took most of a year off of trying to lose. A few pounds crept back on at the end of that, so I took that as a good time to try to get back into more active calorie restriction in the Fall. I lost 5-6 pounds the first couple of months, but have been staying pretty steady since then. I dropped my daily calorie average a little over what I had aimed for in the previous active diet mode to account for the reduced weight burning fewer calories.

    My weight loss pattern has consistently been sticking at a number range for a long time and then finally a bit of a drop, which will sometimes stick, sometimes not. But this seems longer than usual, and it’s frustrating so I keep waffling about whether it’s worth the effort to try to drop any more.

    My activity has always been pretty moderate, even modest compared to a lot of people. I was diagnosed with arthritis, and while activity and movement were an important part of treating it, the pain fought back hard if I pushed too hard or too long. (Also I would get really fatigued, so a lot of the time this project was more of a full time than a part time job.) I mostly just walk on a treadmill or on a Wii Fit board or use a stationary bike.

    I’ve recently discovered that what I was really suffering from was a vitamin D deficiency. I’m still recovering from that, so I don’t want to go too crazy with the exercise while my bones rebuild, but my pain levels, fatigue and mobility have improved dramatically so I’m doing more because I want to, it feels pretty cool to have a body that mostly works!

    • Sounds like you have a good “ear” for listening to your body, ToeDip. I don’t know if that’s a gift or an art. It’s not simple.

  29. From what I gather, consumption of starches/carbs/sugar is about the only reliable way to increase serotonin levels in the body (other than taking Remeron, probably the only antidepressant that’s designed to increase actual serotonin production instead of just blocking reuptake). There have been studies showing that people on low-carb diets are at higher risk for depression.

    Some people might get more of a serotonin kick from those foods than others. I am probably one of the ones who gets a big one. I also take Remeron, which has the side effect of appetite boost, although the total medication cocktail I take mitigates most (not all) of that side effect. I have tried ignoring hunger signals on Remeron, telling myself I didn’t “need” to eat, I “shouldn’t” be hungry, etc., and you know what happens when I do that? I get the hypoglycemic shakes. Thus, I ignore the “eat” signal at my physical peril. And having suffered from depression to the degree that I have, I wonder if ignoring the “eat carbs” signal will put me in mental peril, too.

    I’ve been investigating diets like Paleo, Specific Carbohydrate, and GAPS in order to deal with my gut issues, since it seems to me that, to be blunt, more carbs for me equals more poop and fewer carbs equals less poop. But no carbs equals no poop, which I don’t find acceptable either, and that’s true even with eating lots of fiber, getting lots of exercise, and drinking lots of water. No carbs=no go. Maybe I’m addicted to pooping, who knows.

  30. Nothing (and don’t tell my husband this) is more satisfying than a substantial poop. I have been known to say my most passionate prayers of thanksgiving in the smallest room of my house.

    I’ll be interested to hear the results of your personal chemistry experiment. For what it’s worth, to add to your data, I eat carbs — fruit, dark (88% cocoa) chocolate daily, and an occasional treat (real whipped cream on berries, e.g) and up to 200 calories of grains per day (but usually less than 50). I think this is enough to keep my serotonin hopping. I arrived at this combo after an experiment of my own where I went from eating tons of grains, up to 800 calories/day — the 1993 food pyramid, except not so many refined grains (mostly whole) — to, for one month, eating NO grains. Cut ’em cold turkey. (I didn’t think it could be done.) Oddly, my body’s response to NO grains was diarrhea. Two weeks of it. Ack. Then my body adjusted and I was fine. I’ve added the grains back in for pragmatic/social reasons, but I find I don’t need them. On this lowered amoung, my joints are better (I had been sleeping in sweat pants, so that my hips would get me to the potty in the mornings, and now I can sleep in less, er, sweaty clothing and awake without pain.) I don’t know if my n=1 is helpful, but it’s now in your mental file cabinet. I don’t have any meds other than birth control and levoxyl that I have to juggle, so I know we’re very different.

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