As leading Australian psychologists specialising in working with overweight clients, Kate Swann and Kristina Mamrot, are determined to break the toxic cycle of food dependence for the thousands of Australians who are overweight or obese.
But is there such a thing as a food addiction? Researchers are divided.
Some studies have found that food addicts have the same reward signals and signs of dopamine dysfunction as drug addicts(1), that eating can release feel good hormones in the brain which then craves more(2), and there are specific mechanisms that drive addictive behaviour that override willpower(3). Other experts suggest people are not addicted to food in the same way as they are addicted to alcohol or drugs, the behaviour is more compulsive than addictive(4).
According to Kate Swann, her clients talk about their obsession with the next ‘fix’ of sugar-laden or salty junk food.
“They describe how good eating the forbidden substance feels. And they tell us their despair over their inability to stop, even though they feel that overeating is ruining their lives,” she said.
“Feeling like you’re addicted to food is cruel. It’s not like a nicotine addiction in the sense that if you stop smoking, your body will start to repair itself, and although you may be dealing with cravings, you’ll feeling physically fitter and healthier.
“Unlike smoking or drinking, food addicts don’t have the luxury of going ‘cold turkey’. Without food, even the most obese person will die. So people who feel addicted to food have to continue a battle with every mouthful, every time they sit down to eat.
According to Kristina Mamrot, whether overeating is addictive or compulsive behaviour, they believe the treatment is the same.
“Understanding the emotional contributors to overeating is the first step,” she said. “In our experience, most overweight people haven’t learned how to cope with their emotions, and have turned to food when faced with stress. The overeating causes them to feel ashamed, guilty, and helpless, and so they turn to a diet in order to lose weight and feel better.
“In our work, we help people understand why they’re overeating, which creates the space to make different choices about how to deal with stress.”
1. Frascella, Potenza, Brown & Childress, 2010. ‘Shared Brain Vulnerabilities open the way for Nonsubstance Addictions: Carving Addiction at a new Joint Shared brain vulnerabilities open the way for nonsubstance addictions: Carving addiction at a new joint?’ Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1187, 294-315.
2. Kavanagh, D. Professor (addiction specialist University of Queensland School of Medicine).
3. Mittiga, R, 2011. Food Addiction Australia: A disease just like Drug Addiction. Addiction Treatment Australia: The GATS Program. May 8, 2011
4. Davis, J. Dr. http://www.thehobartclinic.com.au/ (Eating Disorder Specialist from the Hobart Clinic).
About Kate Swann and Kristina Mamrot
Kate Swann and Kristina Mamrot are the authors of Do You Really Want To Lose Weight. The book provides a fascinating and confronting insight into not WHAT people are eating but WHY they are eating it. Kate and Kristina despise fad diets, starvation diets and meal replacement programs. The whole approach behind Do You Really Want To Lose Weight is to urge readers to be genuine, realistic and sensible in their weight loss objectives.
Priced at $29.95, Do You Really Want To Lose Weight is available in all good book stores, including Dymocks. The book is also available at Amazon and all other ebook platforms.