Is Your Appetite Out of Control?
The Overeating Epidemic
My name is Maura, and I'm an addict. My substance of choice isn't as dangerous as heroin or cocaine. No, my habit is...peanut butter. I feel shaky and out of sorts every morning until I get my fix, ideally on whole wheat toast with blueberry jam. In emergencies, however, I spoon it straight from the jar.
But there's more to it than that. See, I can get kind of crazy about it. My last boyfriend started calling me a PB junkie after witnessing some of my peculiar behaviors: I keep a stash of no fewer than three containers in my cupboard -- backups for when I finish the one in the fridge. I showed up for my first weekend at his apartment with Trader Joe's Creamy and Salted in my overnight bag. And I stuck a jar in the glove compartment before we set off on our first road trip. "What gives?" he asked. I told him I'd have a meltdown if I ever ran out. "You're addicted!" he retorted. I laughed; wasn't that a little extreme? The next morning, I waited until he was in the shower before digging yet another container of PB out of my luggage and sneaking a few spoonfuls.
My ex was onto something. Startling new research has found that the way some people respond to food is very similar to the way substance abusers react to the drugs they're hooked on. Additionally, a number of experts believe that the level of food addiction in the United States may be epidemic. "Overeating and obesity kill at least 300,000 Americans every year due to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer," says Mark Gold, MD, of the division of addiction medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville. "While no one knows exactly how many of those people might be food addicted, we estimate it's half of the total."
Women may be at the greatest risk: 85 percent of those who join Overeaters Anonymous are female. "Many of our members will say they're obsessed with food and that they think constantly about what they'll have next," says Naomi Lippel, the organization's managing director. "They also talk about eating until they're in a fog -- until they're essentially intoxicated."
Take Angela Wichmann of Miami, who used to overeat until she couldn't think straight. "I could eat almost anything compulsively," says Angela, 42, a real-estate developer who tipped the scales at 180 pounds. "I'd buy junk food and eat it in the car or consume it at home in secrecy. My favorites were crunchy things like M&M's or chips. Even crackers would do the trick." She always felt shame and regret afterward, but says, "I was embarrassed that I couldn't control myself. In most areas of my life I've been able to achieve anything I set my mind to -- I have a PhD, and I've run a marathon. Kicking my eating problem was another story entirely."
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