I was on the warpath. I’d lost my job the day before, and no one had been able to help me feel better about it. But my destructive tendencies weren’t faced towards others—but inwardly, towards myself. I was addicted to food, and when I was overwhelmed by the things I couldn’t cope with, I ate, even when I wasn’t hungry. That day, I ate everything sweet in the pantry, and then I went out for more. There was something satisfying about it, being able to eat exactly what felt good to me. And it was within my control, which wasn’t something I could say about most of the things in my life.
Food is such an integral part of our lives that we often fail to see it as an addictive substance. But it is, and if you live with food addiction, you know that firsthand. Sugar can sink its hooks into your brain and hijack it in the same way as drugs like heroin and cocaine because it prompts the brain to release dopamine, just as those drugs do. (Believe it or not, research has shown that when given the choice between sugar or cocaine, rats will almost always choose sugar.)
How Modafinil Can Impact the Treatment of Food Addiction
Food addiction has only recently become a major research focus, but we’re already learning a lot about it. Just recently, researchers proposed that the drug Modafinil, typically used to treat narcolepsy, can help people living with food addiction break free from their illness by reducing their impulsiveness. As with many psychiatric drugs, researchers don’t yet know the exact way that Modafinil reduces impulsivity—they just know that it does. Because food addiction is often driven by an in-the-moment need for relief—from stress, from sadness, from guilt or shame—that means that it’s a drug that has some real potential to help people who live with the disorder.
Coping with Food Addiction
Modafinil may be a bright spot on the horizon for those who struggle with food addiction, but it still needs further clinical trial before it’s considered a viable treatment option. And even if those trials support its use in combating the disorder, medication can’t cure addiction. It can be a helpful tool during recovery, but it takes a network of supports to help someone address an addiction, and medication is just one of them. That’s why it’s crucial to support yourself by finding new ways to cope with food addiction—in addition to any medication you use to supplement your recovery.
Be Kind to Yourself
The first thing you can do in learning how to cope with food addiction is to understand that food addiction is an illness—not a choice. When you start on your journey towards recovery, your addiction may feel largely out of your control. Breathe into that by giving yourself the freedom to make mistakes, and make sure not to shame yourself when you do. Being in recovery is a process, one that comes with gains and setbacks and just about everything in between. You’ll get there eventually, but resisting food cravings takes time and perseverance, and you don’t have to get everything right the first time. Relapse is part of the process—not a sign of weakness or failure.
Put a Support Network in Place
Admitting to friends and family that you’re struggling with food addiction may be one of the hardest things you’ll have to do, but trust us when we say that it can make a world of difference in your recovery. Start by choosing a friend or family member you deeply trust, and letting them know that you’re struggling. The benefits here are two-fold: it will give you someone to talk to about your addiction, and someone who can both help you and hold you accountable. Go into the conversation with at least some sense of how they can help you. You might sit down beforehand and write something down, like “I really need someone I can talk to about this,” or “I need someone to be honest with me, and to call me out when I use food as a coping skill.” This will give your friends and loved ones clear, meaningful avenues for supporting you, and is a really strong way for you to support yourself.
Work Towards Replacing Food with Other Rewarding Activities
Because addiction is driven by pleasure, it can be helpful to remind yourself that there are things that give you pleasure that aren’t food. It’s a deceptively simple idea, but one that has the potential to be incredibly liberating. Like you did with your support network, sit down and do some writing: make a list of all the healthy things you like to do. Once you’ve made your list, identify some things you’d like to do more of, and then make an action plan for ways that you can use those activities instead of food. As an example, you might write something like, “I always feel really good when I talk to my partner. I could call her instead of eating when I feel stressed or upset.”
Once you’ve identified a few of those things, you’ll need to put them into action. Because our brains operate in patterns, this process is something of a manual override, and it might feel difficult and uncomfortable at first. But keep at it, and as your brain deepens these new patterns, it will become easier for you to respond to stress with these healthier coping skills.
Embracing Change to End the Cycle
Ultimately, you really have to unpack the thing that underlies your addiction—whether that’s trauma or other mental health challenges—and that can be a tall order if you’re dealing with it on your own. That’s why people often turn to individualized residential treatment programs: because there, they can work directly with a therapist to understand exactly why they turn to food when they do.
Through the comprehensive clinical care we offer at Alta Mira, we work with you to help you understand the very nature of your addiction. Using this understanding, you can learn how to steer your brain in a different direction—one that isn’t guided by shame and unhappiness. Instead, that direction will be guided by you, an acceptance of yourself, and an ability to control how you feel in a positive way.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive rehabilitation programs for people suffering from food addiction in a compassionate, comfortable environment. Contact us today to learn more about how you can develop healthy habits that lead to a life that’s free from addiction.
Lead Image Source: Unsplash User Reymarke Franke