Name: Vijaya L...
From: Atlanta, Georgia
School: Emory University
Emotions and Excessive Eating: How to Alleviate Food and Drug Addiction
“Stop saying I have a problem…I’m not on drugs, and I don’t drink alcohol. I’m perfectly normal and healthy”- These were the words I bellowed to my parents when they told me I might have food addiction.
With the support of my family and Overeaters Anonymous (a food addiction support group), I was able to acknowledge the driving force of my addiction problem- the misery and low self-esteem I experienced due to my speech hinderance.
Reflecting upon my middle and high school career, my speech impediment has been a crucial setback. My peers referred to me in school as “the girl that stutters”, instead of associating me with my school’s choir or my academic achievements. I felt humiliated and outcasted by my peers. Additionally, I felt dejected that I may not be able to accomplish my own career aspiration to become a neurological doctor with a speech defect. I didn’t know how to cope with all the negative emotions I was experiencing. I desperately craved for a way to escape my negative feelings even if it was temporary, so I resorted to foods rich in fat and sugar. These palatable foods gave me instant feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, and I would constantly even though I was not hungry. I found myself avoiding social interactions and relationships to spend more time eating, and I also couldn’t stop myself from waking up at 2am every night to eat the junk food in my house.
Within several weeks, I started gaining weight abnormally, and I felt disappointed in my image and in my inability to stop eating. Everyday, I would feel miserable and angry that I was overweight and had a speech impediment, and to escape from these negative feelings, I would excessively eat fatty foods. Then, I would feel miserable and angry that I just ate hundreds of calories, so I would eat more in order to turn off my emotions. It was a vicious cycle that I was struggling to break.
Thankfully, due to the support of my family and community, I was able to treat my addiction early-on, so I didn’t experience the more severe consequences of food addiction, such as digestive issues, heart disease, obesity, depression, and isolation from loved ones. Many of the consequences of food addiction are very similar to the effects of drug or alcohol addiction.
There is a common misconception in our society today that food addiction is not as important as drug and alcohol addiction because it is less severe. But, this is not true. People who abuse drugs and/or alcohol often have the same instigators or causes for their addictions as I did for my compulsive eating, which is an inability to healthily cope with negative emotions and situations, chronic low-self-esteem, pressure from peers or society, and lack of social support. Like addictive drugs, highly palatable foods signal the release of pleasure- inducing chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine. In addition, several experiments and studies demonstrate that the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also activated by highly palatable foods.
I firmly believe that we as a nation face addition problems because we do not educate students at school how to effectively cope with negative emotions and situations. If we teach adolescents how to better control their feelings, we can prevent many cases of addiction. In high school, health class only discussed the harmful effects of excessively drinking or using drugs; it did not talk about how to battle unfortunate circumstances, such as harassment, humiliation, and tragedy.
Another factor contributing to the nation’s addiction crisis is our society’s definition of success. We are taught that success is measured by your accomplishments, awards, socioeconomic status, net worth, and luxury materials. Many students, like me, try to attain this false standard of success, and we often find ourselves disappointed from the failure to reach a certain goal. This negative feeling of disappointment is the driving force for addiction of any type. If we redefine success as taking care of your mind, body, and community, people will focus more on their personal health and refrain from excessive drinking, eating, and drug use.
Addiction has the potential to shatter dreams, hopes, families, communities, and nations as it impairs reason and judgement. People who have an addiction are capable of reckless behavior when under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or food withdrawal. Therefore, the more people in a society who possess addiction problems, the greater the danger for society. We as a society need to combat addiction by educating younger generations on how to exercise control over negative emotions and by incorporating a more wholesome definition of success into our families and communities.