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Sugar Addiction and Fast Food Addiction is similar to Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Abstract: Eating disorders, binge eating, bulimia and often obesity are addictive disorders similar to alcohol and drug abuse. Psychotherapy can help people with these disorders.

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Sugar Addiction and Fast Food Addiction is similar to Alcohol and Drug Abuse

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Written by: Gunborg Palme telefon 08-664 60 92, authorised psychologist, authorised psychotherapist, teacher and tutor in psychotherapy. press here for more information.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 05 Aug 2008.

What causes food addiction, fast food addiction and sugar addiction? How can it be treated?

Answer:

Case 1

Lee was 17 years and weighed 134 kilos when he began in psychotherapy. He was in despair over his weight and ashamed to go out. His parents were also in despair and had tried everything. Lee's food habits were as follows:

  • Breakfast: Nothing. "I feel sick if I eat in the morning".
  • Lunch: Snickers and a coke in the school cafeteria. " The food in school is disgusting".
  • Afternoon: Buys a pizza.
  • Dinner: Most of the days too full to have dinner.
  • Evening: Crisps and Coke in front of the computer. Falls asleep far too late.
  • Since Lee began with the therapy he is eating lunch at school and dinner with his family. He has lost 27 kilos and started exercising. He is now bringing fruit with him to school.

Case 2

Filippa was a 4 year old girl. She refused to eat when she was supposed to have a meal, but got hungry sometimes and then preferred fruit, pancakes and cheese. Her desire for sugar was obvious when she was offered sweets from relatives and when they were having ice-cream at the nursery. She starterd screaming every time she passed a candy shop. Her parents had learned to say no to sweets but when she refused eating anything else her mom thought it was better that she had sweets than nothing at all.

Her mom got afraid of her own behaviour after shaking Filippa and yelling at her when she refused having a meal. This made mom look for help from a psychotherapist.

Food, candy, sugare abuse

Recently several researchers have written articles about candy abuse. This article with my experiences and the results of my research is meant to complement these articles.

When normally talking of abuse, one usually talks about alcohol, drugs or tobacco. But food and candy can also become addictive. The mechanisms behind food and candy abuse are the same as for other addictions. Central for all addictions is the centre for rewards in our brain. This centre is stimulated not only from drugs, but also from sugar. It gives you a short kick, just as other drugs do. Sugar, starch and white flour are easily absorbed. The body reacts on the sugar by producing too much insulin, which makes the concentration of blood sugar too low. This gives you a "hangover" in terms of making you feel uncomfortable, leading to the next attack of eating. More.

Sugar is often combined with other drugs, for example; caffeine in Coke, teobromin in chocolate, caffeine and teobromin in toffee, and this strengthens the addiction.

Addiction-prone personality traits

One result of my research is that the personality characteristics among food abusers are similar to those of, for example, alcohol abusers: Anxiety, sadness, feelings of aversion, vulnerability, impulsiveness, easily influenced by others and by own imperessions, irritability and a strong need for excitement in life. These characteristics are also often, but not always, found in persons who are overweight. There are also similarities with anorectic persons but their most prominent characteristics seems to be low self-esteem and a desire for self control.

Certain characteristics are more common in certain kinds of food abuse. For example anorectic people tend to have a low self-esteem and a desire for self-control while persons with Bulimia tend to be more excitement-seeking.

Treatmet of sugar addiction

It is difficult to get rid of an addiction to sugar for the same reasons as why it is difficult for other addictions. A healthy person's centre of rewards is stimulated by accomplishing something that feels good and by love and friendship. Abusers of food have found a faster way to stimulate the centre of rewards that does not require as much exertion. Abusers of food, as other abusers, turn to their addiction when faced with difficulties in life, instead of dealing with the problems in a constructive way. The abuse is keeping uncomfortable issues away from the person's consciousness.

Psychotherapy for food abusers help the patients to become aware of the feelings of discomfort which they are keeping away by their way of eating. The therapy also helps them to learn to deal with their problems in a constructive way. The need for abuse is getting weaker as the patient dares to face the supressed uncomfortable emotions. Psychotherapy also aims at identifying the real feelings of normal hunger and satisfaction that have been kept away by the patient.

Do normal, young people need psychotherapy because they have been enticed into an abuse of fat and sugar? Are responsible parents helpless in relation to the school cafeteria? Some parents are trying the same methods as used for the treatment of alcohol abuse. They are trying to create an enviroment without things that the abuser is craving for. This might work at home but away from home the problem is still difficult to deal with. Concerning tobacco, alcohol and drugs we have laws that help protecting us and reduce the use of these products. But when it comes to food abuse there is no such law and the food abusers stand helpless when confronted with all the temptations.

Instead of giving their children money, some parents try giving their children healthy food to bring with them. But teenagers are often capable of making their own money and pay for the abuse.

The responsibility of society for sugar abuse

Just as for the issue of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, society should be more concerned for people, especially the children's health, instead of using the markes possibilities to make a profit out of this addiction. This is everybody's responsibility since the abusers and their parents only are able to abolish the temptations from the home environment. For the external environment we all need to take responsibility. Some points:

  • Do not give children sweets in day care centres.
  • Do not serve fast food in the school cafeteria.
  • Try to avoid candy shops and stores near schools.
  • Give the children food, that does not contain sugar, at parties.
  • Give the children fruit to bring with them to school - not money.
  • Let the children go to the school dining room when they are hungry.
  • Forbid publicity and commercials for fastfood, like we already have done for advertisting of tobacco, alcohol and narcotics in many countries. Sugar can create equally large damage!
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