Understanding Eating Behavior

Kimberly Day from Decadent Health presented an ACUI webinar in January on understanding eating behavior. She talked about food addiction and gave attendees advice about recognizing the signs and how to assist students struggling with food addiction issues.

Day has 15 years of experience writing, researching, and coaching in the natural health and nutrition industry and knows about this topic from personal experience. She knows disordered eating has no “type,” and that it is marked by a pattern of behavior regarding food.Sugar

In high school, she withheld food. In college, she used food to deal with stress, sadness, loneliness, frustration, and peer pressure. This is where she first started to binge and purge. That pattern continued through her 20s, until the purging stopped. But the binging continued. She now identifies as a food addict. 

Food addiction is subtle. It sabotages your life, your health, and your self-esteem one spoonful at a time, Day believes. And the college campus can often be the start or natural continuation of this insidious addiction.

Here’s a look at the numbers: 

  • Nearly 30% of college students are obese, and that’s not counting overweight students.
  • Seventy percent of adults age 20 and older are either overweight (32.5%) or obese (37%).
  • The percentage of teens who are overweight or obese has increased dramatically in the last four decades.

In the United States, we say we have an “obesity” epidemic, and we talk about diets and weight loss. We are focusing on the wrong issue. We are focusing on the result of the real issue—food addiction, said Day.

Day calls it America’s most rampant and most misunderstood addiction, and like any addiction, there’s the addictive substance itself, and then there’s the consequence of that addiction. Once you see the issue from this lens, you begin work on treatment and prevention. Day’s goal is to help people identify disordered eating and food addiction and help students overcome this disease.

The warning signs: 

  • Excess weight
  • Purging (vomiting, laxatives, overexercising)
  • Going on diet after diet (lose and gain cycle)
  • Eating even if you aren’t or are no longer hungry 
  • Limiting social life 
  • Anxiety
  • Continued conflict or drama
  • Eating for comfort, to ease depression
  • Feeling guilt after eating
  • Needing more and more food to reduce negative emotions or increase pleasure

Once identified, the issue can be treated. The first step is to cut the addictive substance: sugar and foods that break down into sugar. Research shows that sugar triggers the exact same receptors in the brain as heroin. The second step is to look at the societal influences that promote weight loss and negative body image. The third step addresses the root cause that can trigger addiction in the first place: using food as a coping mechanism. This means using food to cope with fear, anxiety, or painful situations. Eating out of resentment, loneliness, or boredom. Eating to protect yourself from people who hurt you physically, mentally, or emotionally.  

Once you understand the real problem and the traps that undermine recovery, you can start to work to keep students “food sober.” That includes: 

  • An action plan
  • A food plan (eliminate addictive foods)
  • A food journal
  • Exercise
  • 12-step
  • Set intentions daily

Changing the relationship to food isn’t easy, but it can be done. And college is the best place to address this, according to the Centers for Disease Control: 

“Colleges and universities have long dealt with complex, controversial issues. Enlightenment is our business: we should be educating all of our students—obese or not—about issues related to diet, exercise, and behavioral change. We should openly discuss the stigma of obesity and how we can combat it. Resources to help students reach and maintain a healthy weight can be provided in a sensitive, nonjudgmental, and professional manner. Many students would be grateful for such services.”

To learn more about this topic and how you can help students with these challenges, members can view the ACUI On Demand video of this webinar in the ACUI Library. You can also contact Day at kimberly@decandenthealth.com.

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