If you google “food addiction research,” some of the first results listed are the websites for: Food Addiction Institute (FIA), The Huffington Post and Harvard Medical School. There are some very smart people studying this topic, which makes me think it’s an issue worth studying. Peruse those websites and you’ll find a similar question being explored: ‘Is food addictive?’ That is one of the questions being explored by experts–there does not seem to be a consensus yet.
As a woman and a wife, who is not an expert, but is tired of preoccupation with food–mostly as a means to deal with stress, research done on the topic is of interest to me. A helpful resource is Food Triggers: Eat Well and Live Better (Worthy Publishing, 2013) by Dr. Rhona Epstein. Having struggled through a food addiction herself (she shares her story in the introduction), she seeks to help others recover.
A holistic mix of biology, psychology and spirituality, this practical health guide delves into preoccupation with food as a way to cope with negative emotions—and then offers keys for creating healthy coping habits. Consuming and deeply rooted, those preoccupations take a toll on relationships. For me, those are relationships with God, my husband, and myself.
God desires for us to know Him deeply. How can we know Him deeply if we are caught up in a cycle of destructive thinking and behavior? While I agree with Epstein that belief in God is important for recovering from destructive patterns—she says, “God can do anything. He makes miracles every day” (p. 131)—faith in Jesus is about so much more than what He can do for our recovery. God is concerned with His glory. He desires for us to love Him with our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). In my experience, when my attention is paid to Him and His immense power, it is paid less to negative thinking about myself. Adversely, when I focus attention on my failures and shortcomings, it is taken off of Him—who truly matters to me. My God who created me, loves me deeply and has a purpose for my life (and yours) is put on the back burner behind my hopeless attempts to fulfill a craving that only He can fulfill. Naturally, when I take God out of His rightful central place in my heart, that affects other relationships—especially with my husband.
Through marriage, I’m learning that destructive thoughts affect other people—oftentimes more than I know. When a trial triggers negative thinking, my words, behaviors and attitude reflects that thinking. Guess who is around to hear and observe that happening? My husband! Caught up in my own despair and hopeless thoughts, I often don’t consider how it might affect him. Imagine living with someone who expresses negativity every time something hard comes up in life—and hard things come up a lot in life, don’t they? My husband suggested that I try to find positivity in any situation. My initial thought was, “how can I always be positive? Isn’t that being fake?” Now I’ve realized that finding positivity fosters hope, and finding hope in every situation is refreshing and Biblical.
In one of Epstein’s highlighted boxes called “Trigger Talk”, for practical application, she says, “Stay positive. If that’s too much, at least avoid the negative, which can fuel feelings of guilt and push someone to keep behaving in unhealthy ways. This doesn’t mean turning on the sunshine, becoming perky. It does mean reminding yourself and the one you love: This moment, this situation will pass” (p. 101).
Patterns of destructive thinking is often the catalyst for destructive behavior–some that come to mind are: “I’m never good enough,” “I’m a failure,” “My body never looks the right way…” Epstein explains the impact of Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)–distorted cynical thoughts on repeat–on emotions and behavior. And that a step toward recovery is to replace these thoughts with positive thoughts. With God’s help this change in thinking is possible because He helps us to transform our minds.
“He wants you to exchange negative thoughts for positive ones, what’s untrue for His truth, bad notions for His good” (P. 76) says Epstein.
He does not want ANTs to rule in our hearts. He wants His peace to rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15) but we have to do our part. Writing down those thoughts has helped me to become aware of them and then to combat them with the truth—my husband helps me with that too!
In conclusion, those thoughts followed by the same kind of emotions and behaviors hinder our relationships and do a great job of taking joy away from us. For anybody who struggles with using food to cope with the hard things in life, Food Triggers not only offers an overview of some intriguing research, but also will help you to think about the root issue and taking steps toward recovery.