Addictive Nature

Be warned this is possibly my longest post ever! Get ready for some reading!

(In case you missed the my post over the weekend I delved a little in to the comparison trap).

Addictive personalities are commonly associated with those suffering or having gone through an eating disorder and I most definitely have one.

Although comprehensive theories of addiction recognize the etiological importance of environmental and cognitive factors, it has been widely accepted for many years that addiction is also a brain disease and that individuals differ in their susceptibility to this condition (Leshner, 1997; Wise and Bozarth, 1987).”

I always found the easiest way to describe my experiences with eating disorders is to compare them to addictions. Although also still misunderstood in society, I feel they are more commonly accepted as conditions than eating disorders. It appears to society that a person is outwardly willingly starving themselves and many people still find it incredibly difficult to comprehend how they can’t just stop; likewise those that are suffering from binge eating and bulimia, both of which I think are even more so akin to more common addictions.

Aside from actually comparing the behaviours themselves to eating disorders, I believe my own addictive personality and tendencies supported the development of my eating disorders and caused me to naturally fall in their hold with ease. People often blame the media for the rise in eating disorders and yes I do believe it has it’s part to play though more so as a trigger. We’re all being exposed to the pictures, the diets, the mass encouragement to be thin yet not every man, woman or child ends up with an eating disorder. It’s a mixture of both nature and nurture.

I’ve read some interesting pieces about the improper use of the reward centre; the part of the brain that is normally activated when a person feels well, takes care of the body, behaves sensibly, is praised, is in love, exercises, etc. People that suffer from addictions stimulate the reward centre by artificial means whether it be by drugs, alcohol or food abuse.

If the reward centre is stimulated by drugs, alcohol or abuse of food, they cease to function in the way they should. Abuse is a short cut to false happiness, a happiness which doesn’t come from doing something good. Incorrect usage of the reward centres is especially common with people who have a personality requiring a lot of reward effects in order for them to feel well.

A similarity between eating disorders and drug addiction is that the addiction is compulsively developed into an even stronger form regardless of the effect on the patient’s health. As far as triggers go I believe that the stronger more influential ones are those which arise internally, again commonly associated with addictions. These motivational triggers can be the seeking out of positive sensations, praise, self achievement…or the self medicating/supressing of pain be it physical or emotional.

For me my eating disorder was motivated initially by the desire to receive more praise. Having lost a little bit of weight my family and friends offered continual praise and encouragement for my determination to do so (at the age of 13). This praise obviously wore off as I lost an excessive amount of weight, I began to control food and become noticeably obsessed and preoccupied by it. At this stage my mind and ability to think straight had been turned upside down and my own internal praise for my efforts was enough to goad me to continue on the path to destruction.

The risk of all the medical complications in the world wouldn’t have deterred me; and they didn’t. I had become addicted to the internal happy drug; the happy pill you never actually have to take because the substance is produced inside of our bodies.

“Starving, bingeing and exercise all serve as drug delivery devices since they increase circulating levels of ß-endorphins that are chemically identical to exogenous opiates, and these endorphins are as potentially addictive because of their ability to stimulate DA in the brain’s mesolimbic reward centers.”

The abuse of different substances, alcohol and drugs, doesn’t always lead to an addiction, not everyone gets hooked. Not everyone who makes themselves sick, eats too much on occasion, looses weight or skips a meal becomes addicted to the chemicals the behaviours release in the body.

alcohol addiction relapse quote
Aside from addiction to abusing food and my body I’m also aware that with my addictive personality by my nature I can easily develop other addictions. During the years when I suffered from binge eating and subsequently bulimia I used alcohol to suppress my emotions, replacing them with more positive ones though only temporarily. The come down for me, the hungover state always coincided with a bout of depression which only served to support the continuation of the binge, purge, starve cycle.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.    ~Anna Quindlen
I’ve learned so much about myself as a result of having suffered from the various different eating disorders and I feel I’m now more in tune with my body and my mind than I could ever have been otherwise. I don’t like the false feelings and emotions that are created when I drink too much, though that’s not to say I’m never going to drink. For me it’s all about balance. We all need a certain amount of those happy endorphins running through our body, I just need to make sure I’m not over indulging in them; or involving myself too heavily in activities which arouse them which ultimately have a negative affect all round.

Love it!

Eating disorders are one of the hardest addictions to overcome; of course this is just my opinion… With other addictions you can give up substances and behaviours but with eating disorders you can’t just cease eating in order to avoid binging or purging, you can’t completely disregard the nutritional content of your food and give up all self control (for me this only caused me to binge and develop bulimia)…

You need to find that balance, that point were you can enjoy food, it can release happy hormones, it fuels and nourishes your body and leaves you feeling satisfied without it having a negative impact on your health and well being.
Many people have sent me emails as a result of my then and now post asking how I got from then to now. I’ll focus it the ins and outs a bit more in another post but what I will say is that the big difference between then and now is that I decided I wanted to get better for me, I wanted to look after myself, get healthy and strong (and still do as recovery is still on going) for me…

Throughout my years of struggling I battled between my desire to hold on to the eating disorders and the desire to recover in order to appease and please those around me. Time and time again this failed; the key to recovery and continually making progress is doing it because you truly want to, it can’t just be for the greater good, because you feel it’s about time or that you should, because your fed up with people hassling you. You have to find that internal motivation, strength and reason to want to recover.

On a final note….the reason I’m sharing my experiences is in the hope that they help others. Feel free to email me and/or post comments…

Where do you stand on the addiction and eating disorder front in terms of personality traits and similarities between the behaviours themselves?

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  1. Wow, Michelle. This post is SO insightful. It really causes you to look inside yourself. I can relate, as I come from a family of addictive personalities so I have to be VERY aware…not obsessed but aware. I think it’s really important, in any situation in which you feel like you might be feeding an addiction, to check yourself and ask yourself, “Am I doing this because I want to or am I doing this because I think I HAVE to?”

    As far as the psychology piece you wrote about at the beginning of the post, I feel like it might vary from person to person and definitely needs more attention and research. Again, it’s such a great, thought-provoking point. 🙂

  2. great post! though i don’t totally understand all the scientific talk, it was still very informative and insightful. if only science could come up with a way to disable the addictive trait some of us are born with. it occurred to me at a young age that i carry it, but that doesn’t help with managing it all the time.

    1. Sorry didn’t mean to get too heavy! Definitely, I know what you mean, but I think what’s key is the awareness, if you have that at least you make an effort to keep yourself in check!

  3. I think for me I have a bit of addictive personality, it comes along with the type “A” personality trait that I have, always striving for perfection. Even in track and field and cross country, sometimes I run a personal best but I’m not happy with it because it wasn’t my goal or wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I had an eating disorder when I was 13, and it was certainly my desire for perfection coupled with a desire to be accepted by others that pushed me into it, so to speak. I’m much better now, going with the flow and not caring so much what others think of me (I was very self conscious when I was younger). I’m definitely happier and healthier now, that’s for sure!

    Fabulous post!:)

  4. Michele, thank you for your brave honesty. I relate to so much of what you said, having suffered from anorexia myself. Especially about why EDs are the hardest, since you still have to eat!

    You also chose one of my very favorite quotes: “And the day came when the risk to remain is a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”–I vividly remember this feeling! One day, I CHOSE to be better, to be me, and to live life to the fullest. While I still have the controlling, perfectionist traits, I no longer restrict my eating to deal with my emotions, but fins other, healthy outlets for them. Truly LIVING life is great!

    1. I suppose part of it is personality which we just have to accept as well but we just don’t want our traits to completely control us 🙂 Glad to hear you’re on the right side of the track these days. It is one amazing say it all quote for sure!

  5. Great post. I definitely have the perfectionist personality trait, and I know that this contributed in a large way to the struggles and obsession with my weight/body over the last few years.

  6. Great post! I am enjoying your insightful, personal posts these days. As a food blogger who has/is struggling with eating disorders, I find it comforting to read others thoughts, advice and insight into this addiction. And, yes, I do agree that it is an addiction and THE toughest to overcome. You said it right when you said that we simply cannot just cease to eat to give up the eating disorder. Overcoming an eating disorder means that we have to learn to respect, balance and learn how to eat in a healthy way since we need food in order to live. Unlike other drugs out there, food is not one that we can just abstain from. Due to this, even overcoming an eating disorder does not mean that you will ever be “cured”. I think it is something that you and everyone else who has dealt with an ED will always be battling at some point in their life. It’s just a matter of finding peace with food and yourself so that you are better prepared to deal with the issues down the road!

    Thanks for the posts and keep them coming!

    1. I agree. I do think you can at some point call yourself recovered but like an alcoholic there is will always be tendencies and you have to stay aware to ensure you don’t fall in to old habits. The longer you are in recovery the stronger you’ll be! 🙂

  7. What an amazing article! It really hit home for me because I was bulimic for over 5 years. I become fully “sober” just this year! It is a wonderful feeling to know I am not alone and all of us are in this battle together! Thank you for writing such a touching article 🙂 Love and Shine CourtStar

    1. Sober is such a good way of putting it because it really is the same. Letting go of that urge is the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do…that and the residual associated guilt. Well done and stay strong!

  8. This is all so so true. I have hit both ends of the ED spectrum, and addiction/compulsive behaviors have played a part in both. I see it in other parts of my life too… while I pretty much abstain from alcohol right now, I’ve had that “more more more” feeling with alcohol, too. And running. And shopping. I whole heartedly believe this is a personality trait that people need to be aware of and manage.

  9. Thanks for sharing this!I know that I have an addictive personality and it runs in my family. But, I am working on overcoming my food addiction! 🙂

    Danielle @ Healing the Heaviness

    1. I’m experiencing some minor security issues with my latest blog and I would like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any solutions?

  10. Thanks for opening up about this, Michelle! I have a very “type A” personality so I easily can fall into the obsessive category too. The trick for me is to really pay attention to my thoughts and emotions as I have them, being sure to eliminate any toxic ones.

  11. I’m a few days behind so I’ve only just read this. I can’t put int words how well-written this post is. Thank you thank you thank you so much for your honesty AND for including the cold-hard facts about ED.
    side note: I CAN’T STOP MAKING YOUR CHOCOLATE CHERRY SMOOTHIE. Seriously. I’m going on 6 days in a row of that thing for a night snack.

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