Addicted to food: A WAFF 48 News special report

By Liz Hurley - bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Addictions come in several forms from drugs and caffeine to alcohol and gambling, but one many people may not think about is a food addiction.

It's not just a will power issue that many people believe it to be.  It's an obsession that's also a necessity to live.

Jessica Davis, 30, has been battling her addiction to food for years.

"If I'm fixing one meal, I'm thinking about what I'm going to fix for the next meal," said Davis. "You know, it's like the day revolves around what I'm going to eat. If I have a good day, I want to celebrate by eating. If I have a bad day, I want to sulk by eating.

Jessica has been overweight all her life, but she received a wake up call from her doctor a few weeks ago. He told her if she continued on her same track, she wouldn't live to see 40.

Jessica is not alone with her food abuse issue. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight and Alabama ranks as the second fattest state in the country.

[Click here to calculate your BMI]

Experts say food addiction is very different than binge eating or emotional eating.

Binge eating only happens for a couple of hours at a time and emotional eating is typically in response to an event like the death in the family or a bad break-up. For food addicts, it's obsessive-compulsiveness that drives someone to constantly think, plan and eat. There is also withdrawal they go through whenever they don't eat.

Dopamine, the pleasure chemical in your brain that gives smokers a rush, gives food addicts the same high. That's why many people addicted to food turn to professionals for intense therapy.

"We can still change the neuron connections to create new behaviors, but we have to do it over time," said Dr. John Cleek.

"I really think that emotion is what drives everything we do," said register dietician Barbara Johnson. "We all know what we need to eat. We all know we need to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, minimal meat, lean meat. We almost feel guilty when we're not, but we still eat those bad things."

"If we're addicted, we need to quit feeding our addiction, no pun intended," said certified addiction specialist Don Phillips. "But if we're talking about needing food, you know to cope with life, we can't just quit all entirely. We have to cut back. We have to moderate and it's a behavioral pattern."

Moderation, while no easy, task is something Jessica is working on, not just for her own health but the health of her family.

"Even more than dying, I don't want my children to pick up my habits because I'm just setting them up to fail from the beginning," said Jessica.