Friday, November 1, 2013

Food As An Addiction

So many theories and rules have appeared lately concerning the consumption of food that many people, discouraged, return to their customary, unconscious and unnatural eating habits. As in every other area of life, my approach to food is to avoid too many petty rules and follow some simple, general principles which sound logical to me. One of the crucial ones, as far as food is concerned, is that it is prudent to eat the most natural and fresh food available and to avoid too processed food. Most people still do not consider this important because they do not wish to give up their enjoyment in the food they are used to eat. Still, the fact is that cardiovascular diseases - the result of incorrect eating habits - are the primary cause of death in western societies and most people start to suffer fairly early on in life from many degenerative processes. The most common one of these and the one most dreaded is cellulite, but I also know quite a few young people, even students, who suffer from chronic diseases and pathological processes in the body, even though they are slim and do not eat much at all.We are an addiction-obsessed civilization. We use every possible method or activity to draw our attention away from our real feelings and needs. Anything can serve as an addiction that can temporarily divert our focus from ourselves: from certain habitual daily activities to heavy psychoactive drugs. Food is one of the most common and most subtle addictions: as a rule there is a very low awareness not only of the effects of poor quality food, but also of addictive behaviour itself.The reason for this is that we start at a very early age to associate food with love and emotional satisfaction. For babies, the moment of feeding is often the most pleasurable one; it's associated with closeness and caressing, while older children, who are starting to face frustrations, prohibitions and social brain-washing, usually find relief in being reminded of that pleasure. We perceive at a deep level the food we are given at an early age as a thing of emotional value, which in turn makes it psychologically attractive.Since most parents have only the most superficial ideas about nutrition - and pay little attention to them anyway - usually the first food they give to children after breast milk is some unnatural, industrially produced food full of sugar and chemicals. Despite the perfectly unnatural, chemical smell of some of these foods, many people give it to their children without a second thought, thus creating a foundation for food addiction. As the child grows up, more and more industrialised sweets are given to him as an expression of love, a reward or a way to divert his attention. As adults we continue to use food for the same purpose, both for ourselves and our children. Most of us take far more care of our cars than our bodies.Apart from a chemical addiction, industrial food causes an emotional addiction as well. From an early age certain foods, because of their pleasant taste and their stimulation of the production of endorphins, begin to be associated with emotional satisfaction and the stress relief. Many people are familiar with the longing for sweets or other forms of food during times of stress or simply for emotional satisfaction. Many people even believe that this longing is healthy and natural. Where milder levels of addiction are concerned, moderate consumption of foods which we long for is sufficient to achieve the desired effect; however, when it comes to stronger emotions and a deeper emotional void, the person may become aware that not even large amounts of food can satisfy real emotional needs but only dull them. For different reasons, however, we often act as though we were too lazy to deal with these emotions.
In this way, not only do we put more and more toxins and other cumulative ingredients of poor quality foodstuffs into our bodies, but we also miss the possibility of healing emotions and discovering our own ability to create the feeling of emotional joy within ourselves in a spontaneous and natural way.In fact, even if we resolve our chemical addiction by controlling ourselves, emotional needs which we cannot learn to satisfy in a healthy way will quickly stimulate a return to such foods or a shift to another addiction. It is an illusion to hope that emotional addiction can be resolved through the use of willpower alone. Emotions are energy that cannot be resolved through suppression and rejection, especially not emotions that are so strong that they stimulate us to create addictions. In fact, these are not just emotions that exist on their own; they are whole parts of our very being. We cannot heal these by ignoring or suppressing them, nor by waiting for them to resolve themselves by some miracle. The reasons why we suppressed them were initially strong, but the aspirations of these parts of us to reach our consciousness and fulfil our needs are just as strong. The more we suppress them, the more they are forced to strengthen and spend more energy in their messages. This is why the majority of diets or other methods by which we attempt to break addictions fail and the person returns to his old habits or adopts some other addiction.Non-smokers know very well the feeling of revulsion toward cigarette smoke, as well as the thought that someone could put smoke into their body. Nonetheless, the majority of non-smokers do the exact same thing as smokers through introducing to their bodies large quantities of industrial foods that are not compatible with the human body.The emotional and physiological consequences of food addiction are somewhat lesser, and hence are more difficult to perceive and accept, but even with people who know these facts they often spontaneously activate their own defence mechanisms through negation and/or downgrading the importance of such behaviour in their own moments of addicted behaviour. This is a mechanism that is a characteristic of all definitions of addiction: the kidding of oneself that what one does is not really that damaging, that we have control, and that something that gives us such great pleasure cannot do us harm if we feel such a need for it.Nonetheless, if we succeed for several months or years to reject food of lesser quality, especially industrial foods, we will come to accept that such food becomes more repugnant to us as we become aware that eating for example chocolate creates the feeling like if we were eating plastic. We will also become more aware of the toxic effects such foods have on the purified body if we consume them in large amounts: such as the feeling of bitterness, heaviness, depressed feelings of revulsion from the body and the need for it to cleanse itself after the consumption of such food sources. The body that gets used to low quality food is full of toxins and loses its capability to sense these warning signals of the body.I know a person who is a real hedonist, who enjoys food and has no desire whatsoever to rid herself of it. However, when she for the sake of an experiment decided for a time to eat, in the main, fresh and light foodstuffs she quite quickly noted that her tastebuds changed and she was less and less attracted to low quality, heavy foodstuffs. At no time did she try to force such a change in habits. Though it is important to note that in that despite her hedonism she was not addicted to food in the first place; if she was addicted, it would have slowed down and made more difficult for her to get to this point.The consumption of low quality food stuff that is poorer for vitamins, minerals and enzymes leads to malnutrition and 'hungriness' of the body even when one eats large qualities. This stimulates a continuous need for food in more frequent and larger servings without the body ever feeling completely satisfied to a healthy level. Diets and the counting of calories decrease the amount of food consumed, but it does not necessarily increase its quality. In fact it is during these processes that the body becomes hungry faster and hence the person often falls of the diet returning to her/his old ways. As in other fields of life the key is not in quantity rather quality.Following strange beliefs and different rules of food preparation is maddening as everyone who has tried to do so knows. However, if we learn to carefully listen to our own bodies from minute to minute we will begin to recognise its subtle needs and we will recognise how much our energy rises and how we feel great with its fulfilment in comparison to more forceful and controlling methods such as rationally imposed dieting and exercise.Concerning this point it is important to learn the difference between healthy physical needs of the body and the unhealthy addictive emotional needs of the mind. The majority of people who decide to follow the messages sent from their bodies utilise this ideal as an excuse to follow those addictive needs- those emotional rather than physical ones- very easily get caught within a trap. The difference between these two differing impulses are not easily defined as they are subtle bodily feelings, but through determination and exercise one can learn them.This process will most likely commence the bringing of such emotions to the surface- emotions that we have tried to repress with food, like the emotional needs that we tried to fulfill through food. To achieve a total resolution of the problem and not just control of the consequences, one would most likely need a deeper and more encompassing work on emotions. Nonetheless, the reward is great- a beautiful and healthy body as well as an extensive increase of emotional satisfaction and quality of life.