Many people in recovery from drugs and alcohol worry about their relationship with food at some point in recovery. For some, this often new found struggle with food can get to the point of people questioning whether they are addicted to food. I often get questions from clients around whether food addiction (and sugar addiction in particular), is a real thing, and if so what can be done about it.
I want to be clear that I do not believe that food is an addiction as we might typically define addiction. However, I do believe that many people develop behaviors around food over the course of their lives that cause their relationship with food to feel addictive. For example, if I’m constantly telling myself that I can’t have sugar and that I’m bad for having it when I do, that will often eventually lead to rebelling and consuming excessive amounts of sugar which can feel very out of control. (This is true for any other food you can think of as well).
In addition, we can and do use food in ways that can look very similar to how we might use drugs and alcohol. We can use food to “numb out” as well as manage uncomfortable emotions and avoid dealing with things. The important difference between the behavior we may have around food that can look addictive and addiction to drugs and alcohol is that with food, it’s restriction that causes the problems.
People feel addicted and out of control with food largely because they are restricting food in some way and their mind and body are rebelling against that restriction. Tell anyone they can’t have food X, that it’s terrible for them etc. for long enough and what’s going to happen? Yep, pretty soon food X is all they want! This can look similar to drug and alcohol addiction, and is certainly something that it is important to address with a dietician and ideally a therapist as well, but it is not the same process that alcohol and drug addiction is. With alcohol and drugs, our bodies become adapted to the substance to the point we “need it” to feel normal and function in our daily lives. With food, our food rules create the behavior that can look addictive.
Questions about food addiction or anything else related to recovery from drugs and alcohol? Feel free to get in touch!