The holidays remind us of family get-togethers sharing food, laughter and bonding. But if you are a food addict, the holidays may be one big, guilt-ridden binge. Food addicts think about food and have memories of food too, but they will most likely be linked with memories of hiding it, being punished by withdrawal of food, or being abandoned from loving relationships and using eating as a means of comfort. With all of these complicated issues surrounding the act of eating, it's no wonder the holidays are so stressful for people who struggle with food addictions. The frenzy and excitement brings stress, and food addicts comfort and calm their stress with food.
Many people don't understand the obese or food-addicted person's journey with food. Nor can they relate to actually being under the influence of the intense cravings, but ask any alcoholic or drug addict what it feels like, and a food addict will be able to recount a very similar experience. The substance most food addicts crave is sugar, and anyone who has tried to remove sugar from their diet knows how incredibly difficult that can be. Add in holiday treats and sweets, and you've got one big potential disaster on your hands.
The majority of food addicts have been brought up with another addiction. Maybe their parents were alcoholics, abusive, gamblers, smokers or hoarders. The child learned it was safer to turn to food or some other substance for comfort, because turning to a human for a hug or soothing words was impossible. Many food addicts lose weight to get married, or because of some other external inspiration, only to find that they don't have the skills to communicate loneliness, boredom, or anxiety to their partner or those close to them. They slowly begin to turn to what has helped soothe them in the past — which is food.
Before long, communication is compromised in the relationship. There is severe weight gain, which begins a disastrous cycle of withdrawing from sex, and turning to food. Soon the partner isn't happy and the food addict feels shameful and guilty. These feelings of guilt and shame lock the cycle of turning to food even more securely. Weight loss surgery can help minimize disease and help people become more confident and mobile, but if there is an underlying sugar or food addiction, the weight will be regained.
How can you help if you are addicted, married to or know a food addict during the holidays? The key is to plan now.
1. Realize that your partner or friend has a bigger problem than "just eating too much". They need professional help, and they need it now. Find out who is on your plan for insurance and what it allows for help with eating disorders.
2. Begin journaling your intake and talk to your partner about journaling theirs as well. This helps you become a team and to feel supported.
3. Encourage your partner to begin turning to you for comfort. If you are single, reach out to someone who can accompany you to parties and gatherings. Stay close to them, and when you feel alone or lonely, turn to them for conversation or hold their hand. This helps delay your sense of needing food.
4. Help them join a food addiction group, and if they are your partner, go with them if they need your support. There are several in Houston, and "Over Eaters Anonymous" offers a 12-step program for food addicts.
5. Your partner suffers shame and guilt every day. Try to remember this, and be gentle. There is a lot of secrecy in this disorder. If they let you in, respect that.
Food addicts are hurting, and we as a society can become part of the problem or part of the solution. Most addicts of food (and other addictions) have an enabler. The enabler complains about the behavior, but also supplies the fix. People who are co-dependent or have a low self-esteem may derive their security from enabling an addict.
If you live with a food addict, or you suffer a food addiction, the best thing you can do prior to going to the party or being with friends where a lot of food will be present is to have a plan. Set a time limit for yourself at the party and have someone you are accountable to who helps you stay on track.
As with all addictions, interventions only work if the addict wants to heal. Harping, nagging and pleading will be met with resistance to change until the addict is ready to make the change.
For more information or your free monthly relationship tips, browse my site, or listen to my podcasts: Struggling with low libido in your relationship, Married with small children at home and keeping your relationship close, Improving your body image. Also, like my Facebook page, check out my YouTube videos, or Tweet me @ Mary Jo Rapini
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