How to Win Sweet Freedom from Binge-Eating

How to Win Sweet Freedom from Binge-Eating

Posted on January 5 by Vera Tarman
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Pinterest

The holiday season has passed, and right now, many people are staring glumly at their scales, fearing the inevitable weight creep that seems to come each year. If you find yourself among them, rest assured you are not alone. This holiday accumulation of pounds, brought on by the cakes, booze, stuffing, and chocolate, is the main culprit for the steady weight gain many of us experience as we age from our 30s to our 40s to our 50s. Each year, more pounds get added to the already stretched waistline.

It’s no surprise that many people who vow to lose weight in early January often give up their attempts by March or April. Typical diets leave a person hungry, irritable, and feeling deprived. Who can white-knuckle through their cravings to eat, watching their weight drop only a few pounds a month?

Are we doomed? Is it possible to lose weight and have peace of mind?

Of course! If we recognize that the foods creating the weight gain are the very same ones we always seem to crave, we have the solution. Basically, we eliminate those foods. It is that simple: remove the weight-gaining, craving-inducing food, and the problem is solved. No diet, no hunger, and no deprivation required. People can lose weight and are no longer gripped by the compulsion to eat their way into poor mental and physical health. They feel great.

So why are there not more of these folks? Why are there so many who are demoralized and just unable to stick to their diet? 

Here is the quandary: Our brains are wired to enjoy food — that is one of our primary survival mechanisms. In fact, we enjoy foods that are high in fat and sugar simply because these foods are energy-dense and ensure our survival. We are programed to eat them for immediate energy and storage purposes. We are rewarded for this survival-based strategy with feelings of pleasure, excitement, and even joy.

"The balance of pleasure and pain is lost; now we are experiencing food addiction."

What makes this normal enjoyment of food addictive is the key question. When our enjoyment of food (or any natural pleasure) becomes strong enough that we indulge in more than what a natural environment would provide, our ability to abstain is being overridden by our desire to keep eating. While we enjoy the natural foods — the fat of lamb and the sweetness of cherries — we do so only up to a point. When the natural consequences of over-eating (like the bloated feeling, nausea, and diarrhea) occur, we stop. We are programmed to eat natural foods: The natural ebbs and flow of appetite kick in and help us moderate.

When we eat processed foods that override these structural curbs, we run into trouble. When the fibre is removed and we eat not just a handful of strawberries, but a bucket (in the form of candy or a fritter), the power surge of sugar is overpowering. Our pleasure centre is overstimulated and we feel triple the pleasure, excitement, and joy. We eat even though we may at the same time want to stop. The balance of pleasure and pain is lost; now we are experiencing food addiction.

Most processed foods have been engineered to create this imbalance. Popcorn, chocolate, candy, bagels, pizza, pop, cake, and cookies are all processed foods that have been proven addictive.

The good news is that eating normal foods (vegetables, proteins, and fats) is a simple solution. As with any addiction, abstaining for three to four weeks is all it takes to no stop feeling deprived. Withdrawal passes, and you find yourself shaking your head and asking, “What was I thinking when I thought I wanted those things?”

Don&;t believe me? Ask any ex-smoker if they still want a cigarette. Most will say they are glad to be free of that habit. Junk food is the same.

Freedom tastes great!

Vera Tarman

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
Vera Tarman photo

Vera Tarman

Vera Tarman, MD, MSc, FCFP, ABAM, is a specialist in addiction medicine. She is the medical director of Renascent, an addictions treatment centre. Vera lives in Toronto.