Different cultures have different relationships with food. Certainly, in the American culture there is a fascination with weight and body image. Women especially are conditioned to look a certain way and fit a particular image of beauty. In fact, one study in Fiji on eating disorders, which is a psychological disorder with many similarities to addiction, found that Fijian women who were exposed to American television were developing eating disorder tendencies, such as becoming particularly obsessed with their body image.
In addition to a dysfunctional culture, American men and women are also often conditioned to eat for emotional reasons. Movies and television programs display eating ice cream for example when you’re feeling lonely, binging on food when you’re angry, or diving into a box of cookies to make yourself feel better. Emotional eating is common, especially those who struggle with forms of mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, and who might have emotional instability.
Another tendency common that can contribute to an addiction to food in the American culture is perfectionism. This is a psychological trait that frequently accompanies self-criticism and can perpetuate addiction tendencies. Perfectionism is the tendency to strive for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards. Perfectionists tend to compulsively reach for their goals and measure their self-worth by productivity, accomplishment, and the quality of their work. Those who are frequently perfectionists can be critical of themselves or others and tend to have negative thoughts like, “That’s not good enough,” or “I’ll never measure up.” In fact, the endless trying to be perfect is frequently a means to cover up a negative belief about oneself. And this too can fuel emotional eating.
Also, those feelings and thoughts of self-doubt and self-loathing can lead to eating compulsively, and it is frequently those same feelings that contribute to many other forms of addiction, not only one to food. If you’re having these feelings and thoughts in recovery, you’re not alone. However, if you notice that these thoughts and feelings are interrupting your ability to stay sober or function in life, this could be a good sign that there are some underlying concerns to be addressed. There might be an early childhood experience to examine and heal or simply a thinking pattern to transform. If these thoughts and feelings about self-worth are not addressed they can, in time, lead to experiencing a relapse. Often, unresolved traumas or issues can also perpetuate a pattern of relapse.
An addiction to food can easily develop in someone who might be vulnerable to emotional eating and/or who struggles with thoughts and feelings of self-doubt. In fact, this might also be related to the high rates of obesity in America. Interestingly, researchers have found that depression can lead to obesity because of an increased appetite, poor sleep patterns, little exercise, and lethargy. At the same time, obesity can lead to depression because of the stigma of the weight, poor self-esteem, and reduced mobility. However, the rates of occurrence for both of these disorders tend to be higher for females.
It’s clear that developing an addiction to food can easily happen, and has for many men and women. With so much pressure to look a certain way and the psychological wounds that can develop as a result, developing an addiction to food is actually not that difficult.
Some possible signs of having an addiction to food include:
- Eat when you’re not really hungry or eat as a result of emotional triggers.
- Feel guilt or shame after eating.
- Eat alone, in secret or hiding the amount of food you eat from others.
- Feel out of control and/or can’t stop eating.
- Crave certain foods only as part of binge eating.
- Get a feeling of relief from emotions when eating certain foods.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to food, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional. Like other forms of addiction, if it’s not tended to, an addiction to food only gets worse.
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