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Comfort Food, My Crack Cocaine

It has been proven time and time again that a middle aged woman has about as much chance of losing the last ten pounds of unwanted body fat as she has to be abducted by little green (skinny) aliens. The odds get worse if said middle aged woman has a food addiction.

Last week was an emotionally hard week. A dear family member was offended by something I wrote in my blog, my landlord called to tell me more rent was due than I budgeted for, and I was very worried I was coming down with a nasty, painful, bladder infection. Forgive me if that is too much information, but it’s the truth.

My first inclination under Level 8 stress (on a scale of one to ten, ten being the Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina) is put something in my mouth. If I were a smoker it would be a cigarette, if I were two years old it would be my thumb. Being 55 and smoke-free for ten years, I satisfied my need for oral gratification with pasta.

Once I had my fix, I could talk myself down to a Level 6 on the stress-o-meter. My relative and I would work things out, the rent would get paid (it’s only money), and I started guzzling cranberry juice and water to wash out the bugs in my bladder.

What is food addiction? Some experts say it consists of:

* Using food to soothe emotions. Yup.
* Thinking about food all the time. Well maybe not all the time, but a lot!
* Secretly eating or binging when alone. Does eating ice cream from the container with the freezer door open count?
* Eating until the food is gone. How can you leave just three tortilla chips in the bag?
* Feeling guilty about food. I ate all that? What is wrong with me?

Hello, my name is Elvira and I’m a food addict.

My addiction may not be severe, I’m not a binge eater and I eat pretty healthily. My addiction won’t kill me or make me morbidly obese. But it’s no use denying it either.

There are many for whom food addiction is a very serious matter and who fight for their very lives to not binge, who feel mortified that they hide stashes of food so that their family doesn’t see how much they eat. Who desperately wish their happiness were not so dependent on food. Food addiction is not a joke.

So now what? I turn to the experts on addiction recovery, the guys who follow the 12 Step recovery program developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. You can find 12 step programs particularly geared for food addictions at Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. Another approach was developed by Darren Littlejohn, a recovering addict and Buddhist, 12 Steps to Recover From Any Addiction. I do not know enough about these programs to endorse them, but the 12 step tradition is one I respect and know has provided a life-line to many in recovery.

I also found good advice in the comment section of a post called Break Your Food Addiction. The writer is anonymous. She said:

“I am a food addict…
However, there are some things that have helped me manage my addiction. They certainly don’t eradicate my addiction, but it helps me avoid many of the side effects including: shame, guilt, obesity, large grocery bills, and eating disorders.

1. I keep a food diary, and I make myself keep a record of binges/calories/purging. Even though I am the only one reading it, it still helps me eat a healthy amount of food for my age and height.
2. To cut down on impulsive food buys, I write a grocery list prior to going to the store. I really think about impulse buys by asking myself one simple question: will buying this upset me later?
3. I drink 12 ounces of water before I eat large quantities–this helps me eat less than I would prefer to.
4. I put my food on small plates to trick myself into thinking I am eating more than I am.
5. I have an awesome oral-b professional care toothbrush, and I brush after major meals to discourage eating when I am full.
6. I chew gum or suck low-cal candy, drink low-cal drinks, and plan my snacks. I generally need something to eat every 4 hours, so I plan accordingly.

This may make me sound like a total nut, but these are the things that help me. Bottom line: it sucks to have a food addiction, because you can’t escape it. But you can help yourself avoid things like obesity, eating disorders, and large food bills.
Good luck to everyone!”

Far from being a total nut, this writer shows strength of spirit and wisdom. To her comment I can only add: Amen to that!

Do you think you might be a food addict? Do you have any tips for handling it? Have you tried the 12 Step programs I site above? Did they help? Share, please!

photo courtesy of jpellgen via Flickr

Comfort Food, My Crack Cocaine

Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D.

Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, founder of Explore What’s Next, wife, and mom of two teenagers. Dr. Aletta is a writer whose articles have been featured on the New York Times Well blog, the Wall Street Journal Online, Parents magazine, NPR and the BBC London Radio. To learn more about Dr. Aletta and Explore What's Next, visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter!

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APA Reference
Aletta, E. (2018). Comfort Food, My Crack Cocaine. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 Aug 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.