I don’t know much about food addiction, but know a bit about addiction.

In my view, most substance abuse is seeking fear–or a fight or flight response. It’s paradoxical fear-seeking behaviour.

If you are afraid, generally, you’re breathing shallows, your thinking narrows, blood pressure rises and heart beat increases. These are your classic fight/flight responses.

About two beers in, a few hauls on a joint, 6o seconds after lighting up a smoke, etc. the same thing happens: narrowed thinking (which shuts out the bigger picture and its accompanying thoughts), breathing shallows, blood pressure and heart rate goes up.

For some reason, no one talks about this. I contend that a lot of substance abuse is an attempt to put oneself into a fight or flight state, and that the real addiction is to cortisol and adrenaline.

I also think most people learn this very young—even pre-memory, especially in the case of trauma or illness—though it can be learned at any time in the life-cycle. PTSD is an example of stress learning. Other’s are particularly sensitive to their environments. At some point, fight or flight carried the day and that response becomes entrenched as a way of dealing with the world. It’s what keeps them alive at an unconscious level.

I’m not sure what the parallels would be for food addiction. There are actually four Fs in the fear model. Fight, flight, freeze and faint. I’m guessing here, but maybe freeze and faint play a role in food addiction.

Here’s the kicker. Can you be fearful and confident at the same time?

I’d contend that answer is no. The two are mutually exclusive states.

And what is confidence good for? Well, confidence is what is needed to take your thoughts and turn them into actions. Pretty vital stuff in my view.

So if we repeatedly put ourselves into a fear state, over time, we are decreasing our confidence. Over a longer time frame, that decrease in confidence can become something called “learned helplessness.”

That’s where you see no way out, that excellence or mastery in life is something for “other people.” You just hang on. Compromised.

What are the similarities for food addiction? I’m not sure. I’d be grateful if you could help me understand.

I suppose, feeding the pig in all of us puts a person into a state of comfort, while at the same time exerting control, while at the same time feeling guilt and even shame, and somehow also blocking these things in a great narrowing of thinking. Maybe all of those are a form of faint and freeze. We put ourselves on hold using food.

Or does that excess of sugar, or other long-chained sugar molecules from carbohydrates, provide an excitation reaction at the cellular level akin to what happens when I give my five year old too many sweets? Does my greater bulk simply allow me to absorb the reaction better when compared to a child’s? I think so.

Though, without the obvious physiological responses that smoking, cannabis or drinking has. Or, is this true? Is there a definite physical reaction to eating food that is describable, and measurable at the level of blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and thinking? I think you could easily make the case that there is.

There is little doubt in my mind that eating a row or two of cookies changes my state. Is it the “freeze” and “faint” equivalent of the four Fs? I think there might be something to this.

Many former addicts become addicted to sugar. My father quit drinking when I was a boy and used to have bulk boxes of chocolate bars delivered to the house from wholesalers he knew. We kids thought it was great. About a third of people who quit smoking put on weight–trust me, that’s not happening from a diet of vegetables and meat; carbs rule their cravings.

There’s another consequence that is rarely talked about. When we compromise our sensory inputs, the ones our brain relies on to make sense of our environment, we also experience a decrease in confidence.

If the brain can’t discern properly what is going on around us because we are a little drunk, high from smoking dope, agitated on speed or cocaine, or our breathing has slowed and all pain is absent while on opioids, it cannot also be confident. Oh sure, there’s a dopamine rebound effect that can propel us into action. People get high and clean their whole house, or get drunk and start fights. In my opinion, this is the body trying to stay alive–it’s being pushed and it pushes back. In the end, real confidence gets lost in the confusion.

And don’t we compromise sensory inputs while overeating? Doesn’t the overwhelming sensory experience remove us temporarily from having to deal effectively with our environment? Too full to move? I doubt many disagree that escapism is involved.

Escapism being entrenched by conditioning. Rewarded, are we really doomed to repeat the behaviour? Do we become slaves to this conditioning? And what about confidence then? If your control is relinquished, where is your confidence?

I suggest that overeating has a huge effect on confidence. It’s a dirty little secret—like the closet drinker nipping at a hidden stash.

The problem is overeating carbs wrecks your body and leptin/insulin regulation. This further kills confidence as you go from a bit of healthy weight and a pear shaped body, to “big boned” to “chubby” to “a little fat” to “fat” to “morbidly obese.” For many of us, control over our physical destiny gives way to a certain resignation about our fate. We rationalize it until we can no longer.

The questions about confidence then become:

How much confidence am I willing to give up for a fear, or flight, or freeze or faint state?

And,  “How much confidence do I have to lose before I make myself helpless?”

Or, “How much confidence do I have to give up just to give in to a bad habit?”

I don’t know about you, but for me, this won’t do.

I have found value in this simple sentence learned from Glen Livingston’s book, Never Binge Again:

“I’m not the type of person who eats a row of cookies. It’s just not me.”

It works more and more as I use it regularly. I say this to myself as I contemplate a binge of carbs.

I am choosing confidence, I tell myself.

I am choosing self-concept by design, not one created from happenstance as I react to my environment.

Having solved the riddle of addiction when it comes to heroin, cocaine, alcohol and tobacco, food addiction is next.

I’m learning just like anyone. I’m interested to know what people think.


© CKWallace, October, 2016. All rights reserved

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  1. Michael McDaniel October 6, 2016 12:44 pm

    As with all covalent subjects the facts are difficult to tease out. Keep up the work Chris and don’t stop reexamining what you/we “know”. Love, Mikey

    • Christopher K Wallace October 9, 2016 9:33 am

      Thank you Mikey! It’s a wide subject this whole notion of food addiction: with many parallels and many more questions raised. I appreciate your encouragement.

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