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“Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits, and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

U.S. Surgeon General,
Richard Carmona,
March 2004


Kay Sheppard, MA, LMHC, CEDS

Addiction treatment clinician, a licensed mental health counselor and certified eating disorders specialist

Traditionally, food addiction has been treated as an "eating disorder" using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Eating Disorders for diagnostic and treatment purposes. I haven't found this approach to be effective for food addicts. Since "food addiction" implies there is a physiological, biochemical condition of the body that creates craving for refined carbohydrates, I came to understand that this craving and its underlying biochemistry is comparable to the alcoholic's craving for alcohol. I believe that treatment and recovery are based upon abstinence from all addictive trigger substances. Food addiction is primary and not the result of any other diseases. Treating secondary diseases such as heart disease, obesity, or diabetes will not facilitate recovery. The need to abstain from the addictive substances is common to both alcoholics and food addicts. Treatment begins by introducing this concept of abstinence.

Recently I met a young woman who had been through 18 eating disorders programs at great expense. She said, "I binged the moment I left." Here is a message recently sent to me by her employer: "This is John, Laura's boss and friend. This plan and program for Laura has been the most incredible, life changing thing for her. I have been worried, actually distraught for years on what will ultimately be the demise of this woman. But I have seen such a change in her, it is wonderful. Day to day I see a change for the good, WOW. Even her look is so different, healthier. She is also much more emotionally healthy. This weekend with you was wonderful for her. Thank You." (the names are changed.).

I came to appreciate that the brain and body of a food addict reacts differently to addictive foods due to inherited predisposition to the disease of addiction. Addictive foods stimulate and increase the transmission of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. When the brain is flooded with these neurotransmitters, euphoria results leading to the compulsive pursuit of a mood change by engaging repeatedly in episodes of binge eating despite adverse consequences. I am alarmed to see our country moving toward more refined and processed foods. Whole aisles of food in the grocery store contain no whole foods. The poor quality of our food supply is causing an increase in obesity and other health related issues. Food addicts in recovery look at these highly refined foods more as a drug than as nutrition.



We are going to let you in on a big secret: unhealthy food choices contribute to serious health issues: physical, mental and emotional creating a healthcare crisis. Why is it such a secret? For two reasons, because of denial and deception. On the personal level most people don’t want to know what they really need to know about nutrition. Because refined and processed foods are available in huge quantities and are so compelling, the general population does not know or does not want to know how destructive these foods are to health and well being. This is denial, delusion and lack of education in action.

The other reason for the declining quality of our food supply and the resulting health issues is due to outright deception by food processors. Many years ago, I had a conversation with a sweetener distributor who told me that it had been recommended at a Food Processors Convention “that if you put more sugar in your product, people will buy more.” This “wisdom” has been taken to the ultimate degree. When we walk through grocery stores we see aisle after aisle of food that is virtually unfit for human consumption. One of our finer grocery stores here in Florida has only half an aisle of “health foods” and a three foot section of organic vegetables.

Most of our food supply has been processed and refined to point that it has become more a drug and less a nutrient. That’s right—a drug. Addictive substances start out as plants and go through various stages of refinement. These substances change brain chemistry and alter mood. For individuals who have genetic predisposition to addiction, addictive foods will trigger an addictive response resulting in all of the negative consequences associated with addiction. For others, these foods are used habitually for “comfort” resulting in equally negative health consequences. The software folks say “garbage in—garbage out”. It is the same for the human body.

Our nations increasing epidemic of obesity tells only part of the story about the effect of refined and processed foods on our population. Obesity is obvious. What is not obvious is the normal or underweight person who uses unhealthy measures to control weight. The less obvious are those who binge and purge these substances. The fact is that food abusers and food addicts can come in any size or shape.

On the weekend of April 24th there will be a gathering of researchers, educators and health practitioners who are in on the secret. The cat is out of the bag! We’re telling!