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Holidays trigger overeating among food addicts

December 5, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
We all indulge during the holidays, but for many people, festive food can trigger some very unhealthy behavior.

Signs of food addiction include cravings, binge and secret eating, as well as shame and fear about food. The holiday season is full of landmines for food-addicted folks.

A local patient and author offers his strategies for surviving the holidays.

For people struggling with food addiction, the spirit of the season can often be riddled with guilt.

"A lot of people allow other people to do 'guilt trips,'" said Henning.

Author Dennis Henning used to weigh a hundred pounds more. Through Overeaters Anonymous and a lot of therapy, he got his food addiction under control. But often, Henning says, he had to get tough.

"If you have to ask me more than once, I'm going to leave. People find that harsh, but with my background, with my problems and my addiction issues, I'm not going to put myself in jeopardy," said Henning.

"If you do have a food addiction, this is definitely a difficult time," said Addiction specialist John Tsilimparis.

Tsilimparis says besides sugar, caffeine and fried foods, the stress of the holidays can also be a big trigger.

"If you're noticing that you're being anxious and that you tend to eat more when you're in an anxious situation - and the holidays will be - that you have this higher awareness and you take action against that," said Tsilimparis.

Henning recommends some "stay-sane" strategies:

  • Always keep your hunger at bay.
  • Have a sensible dinner before you attend a gathering.
  • Exercise regularly, because it helps regulate the body's biochemistry, which can help with addictive tendencies.

And to make it easier on yourself, communicate with family members throwing the party.

"Families need to set boundaries before the holidays," said Henning. "If they're going to have desserts and stuff, maybe they don't have it laying all around the house. There's a compromise that you make. And that's what's important."

Henning says to let loved ones know you need their help and if you don't eat everything they prepare, it doesn't mean you don't appreciate their hard work.

Food addiction is not included in the American Psychiatric Association's manual of mental disorders, but many psychologists recognize it and treat it.

Experts say it operates in the same neurobiological highway as addiction to sex or alcohol.

Many treatment plans follow the 12-step model.