Body Image and Addiction: Is Food Addiction Real?

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“Hey Cherrie, I just want you to know that you can’t use a picture of my tooshie for your book cover!”  my new friend, Sheila, said.  Waiting for our speaker at our writer’s group meeting to begin his message, we chatted about our writing goals.  The name of the book I am writing is, “Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit.”  Sheila’s comment gave me the giggles because it reflected the title so well.

She knows that I am a licensed mental health counselor and am writing a body image book which is a collage of humor, story, narration, research, and faith.  I asked her about her writing goals, and she said she discussed a few ideas, including a contemporary novel centered around an alcoholic woman and her daughter, and their journey of healing .

This led us our conversation through the dark doorway of alcoholism and other addictions.  I grabbed an unused napkin and drew a diagram representing the heart of an addiction – any addiction.  (Don’t tell me you thought I was going to say I wrote on the napkin I used to wipe the dark chocolate mini bar crumbs off my mouth!)  I drew a large circle in the middle, with the capital letter “T” inside.  Then I drew another circle surrounding the large circle so that it looked like a donut with an extra-large center.

I asked Sheila if she knew what the heart of an addiction was, and said she knew a little but wanted to know more.   The capital “T”, I said, is for trauma, and trauma is the center of addiction.  Usually it is a major event such as abuse, a significant loss, death, or divorce.  The abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual.  Moving and/or other difficult circumstances can be considered trauma as well.  But that is not an exhaustive list.  Many very difficult experiences can be considered trauma.  We use a capital “T” because this represents a major trauma.  However, a significant number of smaller traumas (or small “t”s) can certainly add up to create the same effect.

The ring around the heart represents different types of recovery work, including 12-step programs, which are usually amazingly helpful to addicts.  However, if the roots of the addiction are not dealt with, most likely the person will relapse. I other words, if the effects of the trauma are not significantly healed, the person will be at a great risk of relapsing.

(Of course there is no guarantee that the person will not relapse because recovery – and life – is a one day at a time journey.  But if the person works on his or her trauma which contributed to the addiction, the probability of relapsing will be considerably lower.) Also, genetics plays a starring role in addictions, and more recent research suggests that brains can be hardwired for addictions can involve any type of addiction.  Check out the book, “Under the Influence” to understand more about the stages of addiction (for alcoholism).

My grandma taught me the best way to deal with weeds is to go out after a rain (which is about 360 days of the year in the Seattle area!) and work diligently to gently pull the roots out.  She stressed that each root must be extracted, or the weeds would come back.  Grandma was right, and the same principle applies to addictions – including food addictions.

Clients often come in and say that they had happy lives, for the most part.  Yet as we dig deeper and deeper and carefully look at the year they started to gain weight, we can see that life was not exactly a trip to Disneyland.  Sometimes they moved that year and left all of their friends.  If you have gained a significant amount of weight, make a timeline and try to figure out what was going on in your life when you started to gain weight.  You may think nothing happened that caused you pain.  But continue to think and pray about what happened, and over time and with a trained counselor you can see what some of the roots of your food addiction are.  After all, the truth will set you free.  This is not about being a victim, but about getting all the pieces of the puzzle so that you can work on the pain in your heart that causes you to turn to food as your drug of choice.

Is it any wonder, after pondering the heart of an addiction, why diets almost never work?  You may lose weight for a period of time, but over several months or years you will gain it back until you deal with the heart of your addiction.

How long will you continue to treat the symptoms only and not the heart of your addiction?  Today is a new day, and it is probably time that you dealt with the roots of your food (or other) addiction instead of dancing around the symptoms.  After all, you’re worth it!