Food Addiction Help | FAQ
Interview with Food Addiction Expert
“Dr. Dorie” McCubbrey, MSEd, PhD, LPC, CEDS
As a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) with more than 20 years of clinical experience, Dr. Dorie has a special interest in the accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of Food Addiction. As with all eating disorders, Dr. Dorie’s treatment philosophy is that complete recovery from Food Addiction is possible – that an individual who currently feels powerless over food can make peace with food, through an intuitive eating process which allows enjoyment of all foods, mindfully and moderately.
Dr. Dorie’s clinical expertise in the treatment of Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia and Anorexia allow her to address the psychological aspects of Food Addiction. With her Doctorate in Biomedical Engineering, Dr. Dorie is a former Research Scientist who has foundations in Biochemistry, Physiology and Nutrition. This training allows Dr. Dorie to address the physiological aspects of Food Addiction, and to critically analyze current research about Food Addiction – most notably, Sugar Addiction.
Dr. Dorie speaks with authority about Food Addiction Help – because she has witnessed hundreds of her clients overcome Food Addiction, and because she herself has struggled with Food Addiction, Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia and Anorexia – and she now lives in freedom from all eating disorder behaviors.
Are you ready to begin your journey of freedom? Get started with education and inspiration through Dr. Dorie’s answers to the most commonly asked questions about Food Addiction! Dr. Dorie’s Food Addiction FAQ section below may give you the answer you were looking for — or ask your specific question in the contact form at the bottom of this page.
Complete recovery from Food Addiction is possible! I live free of eating disorders, and you can, too!Dr. Dorie
Question: What’s the difference between Food Addiction and Binge Eating Disorder?
Answer from Dr. Dorie: Many people use the term Food Addiction to describe their issues with food, but Binge Eating Disorder is the actual clinical term used by mental health professionals. The main difference is that Food Addiction implies an addiction to food itself, while Binge Eating Disorder simply describes the behavior of binge eating as an eating disorder. Binge Eating Disorder is best defined using diagnostic criteria, and can be summarized as, “the compulsive consumption of large quantities of food, often very rapidly, usually in isolation, typically resulting in marked distress.”
Q: How many people are Food Addicts or Binge Eaters?
A: I have seen some surveys which indicate that 50% of dieters break their diets by binge eating. On any given day, it’s estimated that 100 million Americans are on some type of weight loss diet. Given this statistic, approximately 50 million Americans may binge eat today. However, only 15 million Americans are currently reported to be in treatment for Binge Eating Disorder. Many people may not even know they have an eating disorder, and therefore do not seek treatment. It’s estimated that 1/3 of people at commercial weight loss centers actually have Binge Eating Disorder. However, weight loss programs can make eating disorders worse. With more education about Food Addiction and Binge Eating Disorder, hopefully people will seek accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Q: Are Alcoholics or Drug Addicts more likely to be Food Addicts?
A: Co-occurring disorders (i.e., Alcoholism and Binge Eating Disorder) are very common. Data from several inpatient eating disorder treatment centers indicates that approximately 50% of their patients also have a substance use disorder (alcohol or drug abuse). In addition, cross-addition is somewhat common (i.e., switching from one addiction to another, such as an Alcoholic becoming a Food Addict). One survey of alcoholics in recovery revealed that approximately 1/3 developed eating disorders after becoming sober. In my clinical experience, about 1/3 of my clients have a history of previous alcohol or drug abuse, 1/3 of my clients are struggling with both eating disorders and drug abuse (alcohol, marijuana and/or prescription drugs), while 1/3 report no issues with drugs. The bottom line is, anyone can have an eating disorder, with or without current or previous drug use.
Q: You’ve struggled with Sugar Addiction and Food Addiction. What was that like?
A: When I was in my early 20’s, I was convinced that I was addicted to sugar. Just like a drug addict who “needs their fix,” I felt like sugar was my drug. I had intense cravings for sweets, and it seemed like once I started eating sugary foods, I couldn’t stop. I could eat an entire box of cereal, or a dozen donuts, or half-gallon of ice cream – and still want more. I tried to cut sugar from my food intake, but found I would binge on sugar-free foods. So it wasn’t just sugar. Maybe I’m a Food Addict, I started to wonder. But then I panicked – because if that were true, then what would I be able to eat without bingeing? That’s when I realized that I needed help, so I started working with a Counselor who specialized in the treatment of eating disorders.
Q: Do you still consider yourself a Food Addict?
A: No – I stopped using that label very early in my recovery, once I realized how it was limiting me. I remember having thoughts like, “I can’t eat that piece of cake, because I won’t stop at just one piece. I’m a food addict. I’ll eat the whole cake.” So one of two things happened. Either I wouldn’t have even a taste of cake – or, I’d sneak a bite, and then sure enough, I’d eat the entire cake. I’m a food addict. That statement seemed to define and in fact determine the outcome of my eating behaviors. I began to wonder, “What would happen if I stopped telling myself I’m a Food Addict?” With the help of my Counselor, I began to see beyond my symptoms, and I focused on solutions.
Q: You say that complete recovery from Food Addiction is possible. What’s that like for you?
A: Yes – complete recovery is possible! Many people who struggle with Food Addiction think this is impossible. They think that they’ll always have to struggle with Food Addiction, and that they’ll never be able to eat the foods they love without binge eating. If you’re a Food Addict, then I hope that my story gives you hope! Here’s what it’s like for me today, and what it’s been like for years. I can eat “normal portions” of all the foods that I used to always binge on. One big bowl of cereal with fresh fruit on top. A custard filled donut with chocolate frosting. A peanut-butter crutch Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Now, at a birthday party, I can “have my (piece of) cake and enjoy it, too!”
Q: What about Sugar Addiction? I’ve heard that sugar is more addictive than cocaine.
A: There is a lot of misinformation out there – sugar is food, not a drug! With my PhD in Biomedical Engineering, I have foundations in nutrition and physiology. Let me give you a scientific explanation. Table sugar is sucrose, which is nearly identical in chemical structure as fructose, which is the naturally occurring sugar found in fruit. Sucrose is also very similar in chemical structure to lactose, the naturally occurring sugar found in milk. So if someone says they’re a Sugar Addict, does that mean they’re addicted to sucrose, but not fructose or lactose? This is not physiologically possible! If you drink a sip of milk, orange juice, or cola – the lactose, fructose and sucrose which these beverages contain are all quickly broken down by your body into the simplest sugar, glucose. Maybe you’ve heard of your “blood glucose level” or “blood sugar level” – it’s normal, natural and necessary to have glucose (sugar) in our bodies and bloodstreams. People might use the term Sugar Addiction, or Food Addiction, but it’s not physiologically possible to be addicted to sugar, or to any specific food. Food is not a drug!
Q: So Food Addiction isn’t an addiction to food? What causes binge eating?
A: The term Food Addiction can be misleading, because it implies an addiction to food itself. Eating disorders are behavioral addictions, not chemical addictions. This means that an individual with Food Addiction is actually addicted to the behavior of eating, not to food itself. There are often specific rituals that a Food Addict will engage in – stopping at the same drive-thru’s on the way home after work, sitting in front of the television while binge eating, or sneak-eating food when family members aren’t looking. These rituals are addicting – because the “pleasure center” of the brain is stimulated when engaging in these behaviors. When experiencing emotional distress, the Food Addict turns to their food ritual as a means of coping. The stimulation of the “pleasure center” which comes through eating can provide tremendous relief from painful emotions. With repetition, eventually these food behaviors become a compulsion, not a choice. The Food Addict eventually feels powerless over food, but they are really powerless over their binge eating behavior. However, behavioral interventions allow for complete recovery, and true freedom from binge eating and Food Addiction!
Q: You’ve been an Eating Disorder Counselor for nearly 20 years. What success do your clients report?
A: Many of my clients have a story that’s similar to mine. They have struggled with Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Food Addiction, Obesity – sometimes for many years. But no matter how severe someone’s eating disorder may be, nor how many years they’ve struggled, complete recovery is possible for everyone, with our approach of Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapy (EDIT)™. This is the treatment approach that I developed based on my own recovery from eating disorders. With this approach, most clients at Positive Pathways report an immediate reduction in the severity of their eating disorder behaviors, with the long-term effects of the same freedom with food I described for myself.
Q: So your clients with Food Addiction don’t have to follow special meal plans?
A: No – complete recovery involves Intuitive Eating, with no meal plans or forbidden foods! This is a surprise for many Food Addicts, who believe that they’ll have to abstain from “trigger foods” for the rest of their life. Complete recovery involves truly making peace with food, and being able to enjoy all foods, free of eating disorder behaviors. Specifically, this means being free of binge eating behaviors – no more eating large quantities of food, and feeling unable to stop eating once you’ve started. Also, being free of food restriction – no more abstinence meal plans, or deliberate avoidance of specific “trigger foods.” The EDIT™ approach that we use at Positive Pathways involves Intuitive Eating, which is an inherent awareness of the type and amount of food the body truly wants and needs. We’re all born with intuitive abilities, and recovery is remembering and reconnecting with our intuitive wisdom. Somewhere in between the compulsion of binge eating and the restriction of meals plans of lies the freedom of Intuitive Eating. If a client initiates treatment at Positive Pathways and is currently on a meal plan, we will provide support to gradually step away from the meal plan and move into the Intuitive Eating process.
Q: What do you think about 12-Step Groups, like Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts Anonymous?
A: The origin of the 12-Steps was through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which was founded in the 1950’s. Since that time, AA has grown to a worldwide presence, and millions of people have found support through this spiritually-based program of alcohol abstinence. The 12-Steps have also been applied to recovery from other drug addictions, such as cocaine or marijuana. My clinical perspective is that 12-Step groups can be an excellent addition to treatment for drug addiction, where the treatment goal is drug abstinence. However, for eating disorders, I advise using some caution with 12-Step groups. My main concern is that some 12-Step groups require adherence to specific meal plans, and many of my clients report that attempting to follow these meal plans has made their eating disorder worse. If you are currently following a meal plan, be sure that your medical doctor is aware, and that the plan is nutritionally sound (i.e., has been developed by a Registered Dietitian). If you would like to explore alternatives to meal plans as a means of recovery from Food Addiction, our EDIT™ Treatment Team is here to help you with a customized treatment plan! Positive Pathways offers several options for group support, and we also have referrals for eating disorder support groups in the community.
Q: How long does the Food Addiction recovery process take, and what does it cost?
A: At Positive Pathways, we customize treatment programs for each client, based on their specific needs. We have individual counseling sessions, nutrition education sessions, Intuitive Eating and other types of experiential sessions, workshops and therapy groups, and 1-on-1 Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP). Treatment length typically depends on symptom severity, and can range from just a few sessions to several months. We have affordable counseling fees to meet most budgets. To learn more, I invite you to ask your question in the contact form below, or call me for a complimentary telephone consultation!
Q: How do I get Food Addiction Help for someone I care about?
A: Let the person know that you care about them, and that you found a resource you’d like to share with them. Encourage them to visit the Positive Pathways website, and specifically to visit this Q&A page. As a next step, they can email me a question in the form below, or call for a complimentary consultation. As a support person, I welcome you to contact me, too!