Saturday, 3 November 2012

My food withdrawal symptoms

I have spent a good part of the morning looking up scientific papers on food addiction and all that goes along with it, including withdrawal symptoms and criteria for being diagnosed with a food addiction.  What prompted this?  Well I've always wanted to know if food addiction is a real thing.  Sure a lot of people will tell you that food addiction is a real thing (I'm one of those people) but is it recognized in the scientific community as a "real thing"?  There seems to be overwhelming evidence that food addiction is indeed a real thing, but getting a diagnoses or someone to diagnose you seems to be harder.  I also was curious because today I woke up with a severe caffeine headache and an upset stomach from eating too much at supper last night.  This morning I was instantly craving food (and lots of it) and my stomach is rumbling and slightly upset.  Even after having a normal breakfast my stomach is still rumbling!  A side effect of over eating and for me a sign of addiction.  My body had a taste of large quantities of food and is craving more.  I am hungry when I shouldn't be, and I feel the urge to eat despite not needing food and I feel shaky and irritable.

To me, food addiction is not quite black and white.  Because food is in my life everyday at least three times a day it's hard to determine why I want food.  Last night Daniel and I where going out for supper (to Edo Japan, one of my favourite places!).  We had an argument on the way there, and when we got there I refused to go into the restaurant until I felt calm again.  I had to determine if I was going to eat because I was hungry, or because I was angry.  Would I just scarf down my food, or would I take the time to appreciate it?  I wanted to eat the food because it would satisfy my need to eat, and not the need to feel good about myself and my mental state.  

Eventually I calmed down and ordered enough food to fulfill my calorie requirements for the day.  Which was a compromise between eating to feel better and eating my calories for the day.  I ended up eating a Chicken Yakisoba Bento box (Chicken Yakisoba plus 3 California rolls and 2 spring rolls. A hefty 790 calories when my meals are usually 300-500kcal max).  When I was done I was very full.  When I go to bed full it always effects me the next morning, and I should have known better.  I have determined that even though I calmed myself down enough to eat, I still ate enough to get the euphoric feeling and to get the satisfying feeling of feeling "full".  It was indeed a binge that I didn't recognize until later on.

Edo Japan's Chicken Yakisoba Bento Box. 

Let me explain further.  Before I saw a counselor for binge eating I had incredible urges to eat and suffered from incredible withdrawal symptoms.  (I call them withdrawal symptoms so it's easier for the reader to understand what I mean).  Early on when I first changed my diet to a healthier one I decided to start eating at the kitchen table instead of in front of the TV or computer.  Eating at the kitchen table was fine, but when I sat down in front of my computer to play video games or to check my email I noticed something weird.  I had urges to eat.  I wasn't hungry, but I felt like I needed to hold food in my hand.  I remember telling Dan how weird it felt.  Like I needed to hold a burger in my hand and bring it to my mouth.  It was the basic movements of eating in front of the computer that I was missing.  Similar to how a smoker feels when they miss the feeling of a cigarette between their fingers and bringing it to their lips.  There is a distinct feeling of something "missing".  

Now you might think that it's just a weird feeling and eventually you get over it.  Well you're partially right, I did get over that after a few months.  But every time I sat down in front of the computer or TV I felt the compulsion to eat.  It made me irritable and eventually it started making me anxious.  For binge eaters, this is known as a "triggering event".  Something that you know will give you the urge to eat.  

When you feel anxious about a binge trigger that can be a dangerous sign and a slippery slope. For me I would get so anxious I would curl up into a ball and cry my eyes out.  Or I would start to panic, and think that if I don't get food I'd get hungry (I hate being hungry) or I'd start to feel weak and shaky (which I associate with feeling sick).  I would get angry easily.  Angry at myself for being weak, angry at life for throwing this at me.  I would get angry at the food for being so desirable and angry at the people who market the food and make the food.  The mental anguish is probably the hardest thing about losing weight, absolutely no doubt about it.

If you give in and eat you undergo the cycle of feeling Euphoria after a binge (because of the sweet release of Dopamine.  Afterwards I would feel giddy and SO so happy I would literally bounce off the walls), and then eventually self hate and depression.  You feel like a weak individual who has no self control  and it's easy to slip into depression.  How do you break that cycle?

Before, this would be where I would give up my "diet" and continue to binge eat and self hate.  I would wake up in the morning irritated and shaky thinking that even though I have met my calorie requirements the day before that waking up the next morning this hungry must mean that I have to eat more, and that I was just simply not "meant" to do this.  I would feel defeated and confused despite the fact that my diet seemed to be fine before.  Now I understand that I feel this way because of when I ate, how I ate, and what I ate.  Your body will tell you so much about what it can handle if you just listen to it.

So today what do I do?  I'm still shaky and feeling weak from the binge last night.  Before I would have been concerned and would be trying to get rid of the shakiness by eating.  But I would over eat because I would be so concerned by how shaky I felt.  Today I will take it in stride.  Being shaky will not kill me, not in the least.  I had breakfast like normal (and coffee to kill the caffeine headache, but tomorrow I will resume my half decaff half regular coffee like normal) and I had some cheese as a mid morning snack to help tide me over until lunch.  I will eat my normal amount of calories for the day and I'm confident that by tomorrow I will feel normal again.  If I give in and binge, then I will feel like this again tomorrow which I'm not willing to do.

It's funny how I start to feel distant from the old me, the one that felt anxious every day because of food.  The one that didn't know her body at all. I started to feel that bingeing is in the past and I have "so much control now".   Then something like this happens and it sucks me back into reality.  I will always be a binge eater and maybe even a food addict, I will never be away from the mental and physical symptoms.  All I can do is learn from my mistakes and from what my body tells me and move on.

For those of you more interested in food addiction, here is a bit more taken directly from here.  It is an excellent and informative read if you wish to learn more than what I describe below.

So, consumption of certain foods and other substances such as alcohol can cause changes in your bodies Opiate system.  Both alcohol and high-fat sweets can cause the release of endogenous opioids (like endorphin)  in the brain. In fact, taking the opiate blocker Naloxone which is used  for individuals with alcohol dependence can infact help with people with addictions to high-fat sweets.

To have a diagnoses for an addiction you need to meet 3 out of 7 criteria:
Occurs when one needs to consume greater quantities of a substance to achieve a desired effect or the substance has a diminished effect after continued use.  Few studies have been done because as infants we are introduced to high-fat/sugar foods.
Is defined as the development of physiological or cognitive symptoms in response to periods of abstinence.  Withdrawal can also be indicated by the consumption of a substance to prevent these symptoms from arising.
-Loss of control
Indicated by frequent consumption of a substance in greater amounts or over longer periods of time than initially intended.  Loss of control becomes part of a diagnoses for Binge eating disorder (BED) and Bulimia Nervosa (BN).  Binges are characterized by eating much more rapidly than normal, eating until concomfortably full, eating outside of hunger, eating alone due to embarassment and having feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after periods of overeating.
-A desire or repeated failed attempts to reduce or stop consumption
-A great deal of time spent in activities necessary to obtain, use or recover
Although unhealthy food is highly available, there may still be instances in which people will go out of their way to obtain favored foods, even when they have abundant sources of other food readily available.
-Giving up other important activities
Low rates of physical activity would be one example, but there are more.  Including dating, marriage and other social activities, some caused by "weight bias" in others.
-Continued use despite physical or psychologic problems
The association of high-calorie consumption and obesity with a host of serious health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes provides some indication of continued use in the face of dire consequences.

Now it's really hard to find out what exactly "withdrawal" symptoms are.  For me it's feeling shaky, irritable, anxious, anguish, anger, helplessness, self hate, and feeling "urges" to eat.  Like the feeling of food in my hand and the movement of bringing it to my mouth.  Most likely symptoms are different for everyone.  What's important is to learn how your body reacts to binges and how your body reacts to a healthy lifestyle.  It's also important to never give up.  This is rocky terrain, one that I battle with all the time, if I can do it so can you.


  1. I know that I am a food addict for sure. Since i have struggled with depression i have had a harder time being able to control it and so i have gained alot of weight. I know exactly how you feel. I eat to deal with certain emotions. I hate it.

  2. Hey, thanks for the comment today :)
    You are a beautiful lady!

    I'm going to be subscribing and following along. Your honesty on such a sensitive subject for a lot of women is amazing.

    I hope you're smiling today.

    1. Thank you! And yes, today is a beautiful day.

  3. I noticed I'm the same way at my PC, even more so lately since I've been working nights and busy with this course in the evenings. I wake up, grab some toast or cereal and eat it while checking e-mail/facebook/etc quick before I have to leave. I do the same thing when I get home too, it's not even that I'm hungry either, I just want to eat something (out of boredom, maybe?).

    Though I've started fixed it a bit, I put a pack of gum on my desk so when I start to feel like I need to eat something I've been trying to stop myself and think if I'm actually *hungry* or not. If I'm not, I grab a stick of gum and that seems to do it (for the most part).

  4. I wantvto drown in diet coke when I feel terribly upset. Maybe Im a soda adict...& it has been so tough for me to get rid of this habit.
    I still stare at ur wedding dress pics Daphne

    1. I'm bad with diet sodas too, I try to only have it around lunch time since I have soda too late in the day then I can't sleep at night!