Do you feel addicted to food? As in, you feel controlled by your appetite and out of control around food?
I used to think I had a similar problem, but in relation to sleep. During my teens and early 20s, I had a hard time waking up to an alarm clock and would often oversleep. From the outside, it looked as if I was addicted to or controlled by sleep. In reality, I was spending all my energy trying to live my life without getting adequate rest. I was one of the most disciplined people you’d ever meet, putting school work and extra-curricular activities ahead of rest. My sleep patterns were inconsistent and erratic. On average, I slept between 3-5 hours a night, then crashed on weekends, often sleeping 10-12+ hours. I was ALWAYS tired but kept pushing through, not giving my body the rest it was craving on a consistent basis. This cycle continued for many years.
I didn’t have a “sleep addiction” problem. I had a sleep DEPRIVATION problem. My body’s survival mechanisms were taking over, causing me to think of sleep all day or demanding sleep when the alarm went off. My body turned up these “alarms” to prompt me to get more sleep. When we don’t give our bodies what they need, or enough of what they need, these survival mechanisms take over to protect us from harm.
The solution to my sleep issues was to consistently get enough sleep. I learned to prioritize rest, at least better than I used to—I’ll always be a work in progress. As I’ve learned to make consistent rest a habit, I no longer sleep through important events or walk around like a zombie dreaming of sleep. Sleep no longer controls me because I’ve learned to rest, and I will tell you—I can never go back to living sleep deprived as long as I can help it.
This brings me to my next point. I meet people ALL the time who believe they have a “food” problem. They feel controlled by food, their appetites, and find they “can’t stop” once they start eating. They too are often super disciplined when it comes to food, sticking to food plans or “controlling” their appetites by finding ways to override hunger. They carefully avoid foods they’ve deemed “off limits.” This works for a little while, but after some time, the body takes over. Our bodies are unable to distinguish living in “famine” from self-imposed food/calorie restrictions (through dieting). The survival mechanisms to fight famine take over, driving up our hunger and reward value from food, and slowing down our metabolism in order to protect us. This makes you feel out of control around food—food is always on your mind, and it’s difficult to control yourself around food or certain foods. If your goal was weight loss, weight is usually regained (9/10 people regain weight lost through dieting per the research). This cycle often repeats, making you feel like a failure, or making you feel “broken” because you just can’t get your eating “under control.”
The solution to this cycle is not exercising more “control,” but the same as it was for me and sleep—getting adequate nourishment on a regular basis. It means treating food DEPRIVATION at its core by getting enough food, and MENTALLY knowing food will always be there. The more you consistently provide your body with what it needs, the less it senses you are in “famine.” Eventually, it turns down these survival “alarms.” Food becomes just that—food, not something that controls your life.
Food DEPRIVATION causes feelings of being “controlled” by food and appetite—whether this deprivation is physical (denying yourself adequate food/calories), or mental (feeling certain foods or groups of foods are off limits). This is true for all human beings. You, my dear, are NOT broken. You are NOT a failure. God created our bodies intelligently and able to protect us when they sense scarcity.
As a Dietitian, part of the work I do is helping others be more aware of these cues/messages our bodies send us, and learn how to eat in a “normal,” consistent pattern. This keeps food in its place—there to fuel us and provide enjoyment, but not something that controls us or keeps us living in bondage. It takes time, and practice. As I consistently gave my body adequate rest, it took time for my body to trust it would get enough sleep. Those feelings of being “controlled” by sleep did not go away overnight. The process of treating food deprivation is similar in that it takes time, grace, and trusting in the process.
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