Think you might have a food addiction?

There’s help available to conquer cravings—once and for all.

Think you might have a food addiction?
Think a moment about whether this is a treat or an addiction. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Do you regularly eat to the point of feeling sick?

Do you eat—especially junk food—to escape your troubles?

Do you hide food or sneak snacks in secret?

If so, you could suffer from food addiction. If you do, don’t hide behind your shame or guilt, because there’s plenty of help available.

Even if you’re not sure, it’s still a good idea to seek help, according to Sarah Flessner, a registered dietitian with Spectrum Health.

“If someone feels like their relationship with food is a problem, then it is, and you don’t need to meet a clinical definition in order to get help,” Flessner said.

Flessner defines food addiction as excessive eating behaviors that have reached the point of having a negative impact on your life—emotional, social or psychological.

“Food addiction can fall into the same category as other addictions such as drugs and alcohol,” Flessner said.

People can, in fact, develop a dependency on some foods—usually those with high sugar and high fat—in the same way they do with drugs, cigarettes or alcohol. It’s possible, Flessner explained, because foods trigger the same reward center in our brains, giving us a high.

“When we eat excessive amounts of food high in sugar, fat or salt, it releases higher amounts of serotonin in our brain, which gives us a good feeling and leaves us wanting to repeat that feeling over and over with food,” she said.

The result: an addiction.

And with any addiction, Flessner said, may come negative social impacts such as feeling isolated, avoiding interactions with family and friends, depression, anxiety, poor performance at work or school, marriage and family problems, or poor self-esteem.

Food addiction often results in obesity, but not always. And not everyone who’s obese is a food addict, Flessner is careful to note.

“There’s a lot that plays into being obese—genetics, level of physical activity,” she said. “There are people who can be addicted to food who are not overweight because they are compensating in other ways.”

So, what are some solutions to overcoming food addiction?

1. Deal with the emotions that trigger the addiction.

Shawn Hondorp, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Spectrum Health who specializes in food addiction, said if people have tried initial strategies to overcome food addiction on their own, but continue to fall back into their old habits, that’s a good time to get professional help from a psychologist.

“It’s important to know what’s driving the addiction,” Dr. Hondorp said. “Usually there are emotions the addiction is covering up, and understanding those is typically needed for long-term success.”

2. Get a dietitian’s help to develop a healthy eating plan and make better food choices.

Flessner said she helps patients learn—or remember—the basics of healthy eating.

“If they are feeling nourished and eating enough healthy foods, then they are going to be less likely to overeat high-sugar and high-fat foods,” Flessner said.

She typically starts with asking people to keep a food log, noting what they eat and when. This might show patterns of when they’re likely to overindulge.

Flessner and Dr. Hondorp agree that while some patients benefit from eliminating trigger foods from their diet, others do not. Some find the approach of legalizing all foods helpful, because when they’re given permission to eat them, their desire decreases.

“I give people a choice,” Dr. Hondorp said.

3. Connect with others.

“We all need accountability,” Flessner said. “Definitely identify a support person—a friend or family member—or find a support group online.”

Dr. Hondorp said groups like Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts Anonymous can be helpful for some, but others find that these programs are too restrictive and fuel feelings of shame and further addiction.

“It’s important to find the accountability that works for you,” Dr. Hondorp said.

4. Believe in yourself.

People often have beliefs they need to challenge in order to conquer food addiction.

“We all have beliefs about ourselves, about relationships, about work, and beliefs specific to our relationships with food,” Dr. Hondorp said. “We need to identify the beliefs that are not helpful and replace them with beliefs such as, ‘I am a good person and I am worthy of love,’ or ‘I can do this.’”

She also encourages people to picture the goal they’re working toward.

“Visualize yourself behaving and feeling the way you want to,” she said. “Ask yourself, ‘How would you act in certain situations around food?’ Figure out what you do want, not what you don’t want. Focus on the way you want to be in life.”

Source : Health Beat More   

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‘I needed someone on my team’

When Jacqueline Weeber felt menopause overtaking her life, she tried to tackle it alone. Success came only when she sought help.

‘I needed someone on my team’

Jacquelyn Weeber is feeling decidedly fantastic these days.

In fact, not just fantastic.

“Super fantastic,” Weeber, 51, said.

It hasn’t always been that way.

When the Rockford, Michigan, resident first visited the Spectrum Health Midlife, Menopause & Sexual Health Clinic in September 2018, she cast a long shadow.

She recognized the signs of menopause. It explained her night sweats and the three- to four-a-day hot flashes.

“By then, I was feeling desperate,” Weeber recalled. “I needed someone on my side, someone on my team. My body felt like it was fighting against a brick wall.”

Enter Julie Ondersma, FNP.

A specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, Ondersma is also certified in menopause medicine.

On her first meeting with Weeber, Ondersma pulled up a chair and settled in for a good listen and a long list of questions.

“When someone first comes in to see me, we talk for maybe 45 minutes to an hour,” Ondersma said. “I want to get to know my patient, her lifestyle, the symptoms she is feeling. Whatever she needs to talk about.”

For her part, Weeber felt heard.

Menopause had been making her feel like an alien had hijacked her body.

Now, she’d met someone who could fully understand what she’d been experiencing.

A holistic approach

Weeber has always maintained a healthy regimen, but even her best habits couldn’t keep the menopause symptoms in check.

“I have pretty healthy habits, although I have struggled with weight in recent years, in spite of all the running I do,” Weeber said. “I run marathons, I’ve even done triathlons.”

She usually runs about three times a week, covering as much as 12 miles per run.

“And I enjoy strength training and weightlifting, too,” she said.

From the start, she told Ondersma that she wanted to avoid medications, even though her mother and older sister were both on hormone therapy and had only positive feedback.

But after Ondersma explained the options, Weeber began to consider the possibility of some type of medication.

“I think many women think estrogen is a bad thing,” Weeber said. “But talking to Julie got me more open to the idea of hormone replacement therapy.”

Ondersma checked Weeber’s hormone levels and her thyroid, which revealed hypothyroidism, or an underperforming thyroid.

Weeber agreed to try an estrogen patch, along with thyroid medication.

“Suddenly I felt like I had what my body had been missing,” Weeber marveled. “I felt a difference the very next day—more energy, more vibrant. I felt like I could work with this body again.”

Weeber also heeded Ondersma’s advice on her eating habits.

“Julie gave me a one-sheet list of information to follow,” Weeber said. “I’d tried various weight-loss programs, but I would lose and then gain the weight back again. Julie gave me encouragement and structure.”

Weeber also downloaded a weight loss app, called Noom.

She appreciated how the app didn’t list foods as good or bad—it simply provided informative articles and helped her track her eating and exercise habits.

“My relationship to food has changed,” she said. “I look at it more now as fuel or energy.”

She still eats what she wants, but she finds herself wanting to eat less.

“Weight gain was hugely psychological for me,” she said. “The power food had over me isn’t there anymore. Instead, I tend to tweak.

“For instance, I used to have a caramel latte every day, about 370 calories,” she said. “But now I leave out the caramel—but still have half-and-half with it, even whipped cream. It’s 170 calories.”

Like a beast

Weeber said she has figured out that her healthy weight depends on about 90% diet and 10% exercise.

The enjoyment she gains from a more active lifestyle has affected all aspects of her life.

She has noticed a newfound surge of energy.

As a business owner in Grandville and as a mother of four, she has put that energy to use.

Since her first visit to the Spectrum Health Midlife, Menopause & Sexual Health Clinic, she has lost 45 pounds—and kept them off.

“I saw Jackie again in December 2019, a year later, and her hot flashes were gone and she was feeling great,” Ondersma said. “I adjusted her thyroid meds a bit and we looked over her eating habits—portion size and times of day to eat.

“She had a great change in her cholesterol levels, dropping 20 points in one year—with her LDL dropping from 113 to 83,” Ondersma said. “Jackie took on her new lifestyle like a beast.”

Menopause can be a different experience for every woman, Ondersma said.

It’s only fitting that her advice for each woman will also differ, depending on the patient’s lifestyle and symptoms.

“Every woman’s treatment is unique to her,” Ondersma said. “We shouldn’t look at menopause as a time of doom and gloom. It’s an opportunity to look at our lives and how we can improve things.”

Ondersma said estrogen patches can help many women through the different stages of pre-menopause, menopause and post-menopause.

The period of change can last as long as 10 years.

“There’s no need to suffer,” Ondersma said. “These new, natural estrogen therapies in patch form can ease the way and estrogen replacement can also help prevent bone loss.”

Weeber had resisted it all—at first.

“But the combination of an estrogen patch and thyroid meds helped me get back to the Jackie I used to be,” Weeber said. “I felt like the meds and meeting with Julie were part of a holistic approach and helped, too, with the stress that I was feeling about having the ability to go through these changes.

“I had gone into this with the mindset that I could do this alone. But doing it with a team member? That made all the difference.”

Source : Health Beat More   

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