Picture this … A marching band of ants, complete with conductor, playing drums and singing:

Food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food

That was what was in my head all day. I wake up and my first thought is “What shall I do for breakfast?” Should I drive through Tim’s and get a muffin? Yogurt? Donut? 20 Timbits? Full breakfast at the local eatery? Maybe just a coffee and then I’ll get a mega-muffin from the bakery.

Food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food

No – I’m not going to overeat. I will start a new diet regime tomorrow, first thing. Fruit and yogurt for breakfast, no snacking, salad for lunch, proper balanced dinner, no TV snacks. That’s it. I’m tired of feeling ill physically. I’ll go back to swimming. And then when things get a bit more settled, I’ll try the gym again. You’ll see I can do this. Tomorrow, I promise. But when tomorrow comes, I start the overeating yet again.

Have you ever had the experience of trying to loose weight, and found that your diet simply does not work? Or that you can’t stay on the diet for very long? Is the failure of your diet because you have poor will power, or is it because you are addicted to food, and just can’t stand the withdrawal?

As Renascent’s Medical Director for the past four years and Staff Physician with the Salvation Army Homestead for the past six years, I have treated over 4,000 people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction.

Throughout this time, I have found that many of my patients have a common history of disordered eating patterns. I saw patients who substituted their drug cravings with continuous intakes of sugar. I saw patients who had a previous history of eating disorders return to over or under eating, once they put down their drink or drug.

It became apparent to me that there was a common feature amongst many of these clients. Each showed an obsession of the mind and a compulsive use of a substance, which often included food, to manage their moods. I could not help but conclude that the disease of addiction must embrace, along with drugs and alcohol, food as a substance of abuse.

I see that there are people in the general population who also eat in ways very similar to the alcoholics and drug addicts I have treated. These individuals have developed strong cravings for specific foods. They obsess about particular foods, often those high in sugar, the way an alcoholic will obsess about the next drink. Some are grazers, constantly eating; others are binge eaters, seeking out large quantities of food to feel happy, elated or just to numb their emotional pain.

Soon enough, many develop a tolerance to specific foods, needing more to get the same feeling of comfort, numbness or satisfaction. Typically, withdrawal symptoms of irritability, anxiety, and even insomnia occur if they do not succumb to their food cravings. People frequently start off with the intention to have only “a few” and then find that they eat the whole thing, unable to stop at the promised first few bites or taste. “Just one” is never enough.

When these people have tried to quit their disordered eating, they last a few days to a few weeks, eventually giving in to ‘bad’ eating once again. Their obsession about food is just too strong, whether they are restricting or overeating. The diet always fails.

These are the hallmark signs of addiction. We can call individuals who fit these criteria Food Addicts. Once food addicts have the first bite, despite attempts to hold back, they find that they are unable to control their food intake thereafter.

This is why I have taken a special interest in food addiction. As an addictions specialist, I think this is a crucial issue for those who struggle with diets that always fail. Could you be a food addict? If so, the approach you take to loose weight or to manager your eating could be the problem, not your will power. There is a different solution – a portioned and balanced food plan that eliminates sugar, starches. Diets don’t work, but a food addict’s food plan might just be what you are looking for.

Dr. Vera Tarman is the Medical Director of Renascent and Staff Physician at the Salvation Army Homestead. She will be presenting a seminar entitled “Addictions Unplugged: Food Addiction” on Saturday, March 26 2011 in downtown Toronto. Here you can learn the biology of addiction as it pertains to food addiction, and how to incorporate this understanding into your food plan, register online at www.addictionsunplugged.com or by calling 416.323.3660

For interviews with Dr. Tarman or a food addict, contact Jason Principe at info@addictionsunplugged.com.