Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high, and for many of us, nothing is more soothing than a warm chocolate chip cookie or a fresh loaf of sourdough bread. But why is that? What’s really at the root of food obsession, food addiction, disordered eating and the intense food cravings we all have? Today, Nzinga answers questions about our complicated relationships with food,
especially during a pandemic.
Here are some resources from this week’s episode:
- The Lighter Side of Weight Loss – With Jay: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1768664906689355/
- Body Image Resilience Course: https://beautyredefined.org/resources/8-week-body-image-resilience-program/
[00:02] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Hey, everybody, this is Nzinga, and you are listening to In Recovery. As some states start to open up, or loosen the regulations that they have on social distancing, also seeing a lot of anxiety go up. Mine included. Part of what I’m also seeing on social media is this, “joke” about the Covid-19, which is actually a funny joke, having to do with weight that people are gaining during quarantine. But so I figure, no time like now to talk about food. Because, like, everything we’ll talk about on this show, it’s not black and white. We had a couple of questions come in actually about food, but I know Claire and I talk about food quite a bit, even just like regularly, so what’s your relationship with food been like?
[01:00] Claire Jones: Yeah, well, it’s been complicated., I think definitely during coronavirus. Me and my roommate started off quarantine baking. We have this pattern of like we would bake something one night, say, a dozen or two dozen cookies. And like within 24 hours, they would all be gone. And then we were like, well, we’re out of cookies. We should probably bake some pie. And it was like a solid week of us baking something every like two nights. A couple of weeks ago, I ate an entire, like, quarter of a 12 inch cake, no problem. Just like in addition to my normal breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and dessert. This was just like an additional bonus. And then usually, not right now because for recording purposes and sound, but normally I sit in this little nook in our apartment and right behind the nook is all of the food cabinets, and so it’s really easy for me to reach behind. And I call it procrastination grazing where I’m just like, I could work on this thing, or I could eat a snack for five minutes. So that’s what quarantine has been like for me. A lot of procrastination grazing and a lot of baked goods.
[02:10] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: I wouldn’t obsess over it, but I’m gonna go on record and say that your experience is probably like 99.5 percent of everybody experiences that story that you told me just now. So I love dessert. I didn’t grow up in a family where we eat dessert with every meal. And so that has also not been our cadence. But since Covid, literally every meal comes with a dessert. And I would actually find myself thinking, like, what sweet am I going to get to eat today? Are there enough sweets in the house? Asking my niece, why don’t you cook some brownies? Asking why don’t you bake a cake?
[02:52] Claire Jones: And sometimes we we joke about it, about like oh we’re gaining the “Covid 19,” or we’re like — it’s hard for that to not feel bad sometimes. And I guess my first question about this is like, is this normal? Is this OK?
[03:08] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Yeah. I mean, what you’re really getting to is this stigma and judgment that we put around so many parts of food from the very beginning. So that’s exactly why I wanted to talk about this topic this week, because it’s complicated. The answer is yes. The answer is no. To the is it normal? Is it healthy? There’s actually quite a bit of nuance. And so that nuance comes from our experiences with food from our earliest, earliest memories. So people who grew up in food deserts, or without enough food, or with trauma associated with food — whether that’s not having food or whether that’s being force-fed or whether that’s some other painful experience with food. A mother with an eating disorder. The relationship can just be very complicated. And now that we’re all at home trying to cope, and we’ll get into it later into the show, how food is literally, physiologically and chemically a coping strategy. And so it’s really, you call it procrastination grazing, which is definitely a thing, but stress eating is like definitely a thing. And all of us have so much stress right now. And always there’s a neurobiological reason. So our relationship to food is super, super complicated. And we’re talking about it on a show about addiction. One of the things that makes it really complicated is, unlike other addictions, where you can set an abstinence goal, if that’s what’s right for you and if that’s what’s right for the severity of illness you have, there’s no way to set an abstinence goal on food.
[04:56] Claire Jones: I’ve never even thought about it that way. That’s why it feels like such a slippery slope, because you’re like, I still have to eat food.
[05:06] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: So we have a lot to get into about food on this episode.
[05:14] Claire Jones: OK, I have a question first, which is what is the difference between being sort of food obsessive, where you’re sort of thinking about it and you’re constantly obsessing like, what is the quality of the food? Is it good? Is it bad? Have I had enough? Have I had too much? Versus like having a food addiction?
[05:30] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: So Claire is like totally taking advantage of the fact that she can ask her questions before anyone else can.
[05:37] Claire Jones: I know. I’m like: fun fact, this is actually just therapy for Claire.
[05:42] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: No, but seriously though, so we’ll use the same definition of addiction every single topic that we talk about. And so our very, very simple definition of addiction is continued behavior despite negative consequences. Those consequences can be mental consequences. Those consequences can be physical consequences. Those consequences can be social, life consequences. And so when we look at — even though there’s no, like, formal diagnosis of food addiction — if we look at the criteria for substance use disorder and just replace the word substance with food, then what we’re looking at is one of the diagnostic criteria is do you spin an excessive amount of time thinking about how to get it, planning how to get it, actually getting it or recovering from it? And so when you start saying how obsessive you were about food, and we kind of collect risky food behaviors into a lot of different diagnoses. So people might not think of anorexia nervosa as food addiction. It’s actually the addiction to the exercise, or the addiction to the restriction of the food, to the detriment of health. Bulimia nervosa, you could think of kind of that compulsive bingeing and purging, bingeing and purging, to the detriment of health, like the compulsive driving forces underneath it. We have binge-eating disorder, which is similar to believe me. But it doesn’t have the purging. It’s just the bingeing. All of these associated with really being emotionally and psychologically consumed with food. Whether it’s bingeing the food or restricting from the food or exercising to get the calories off. Kind of this abnormal obsession with food. And then behaviors that flow from that, and negative consequences that flow from those behaviors.
[07:50] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And so when you talk about the difference between food addiction and just being obsessed with food, I would probably put those two together, because “obsessed” gives the connotation that it is affecting your life, how much you are thinking about food. And so when the negative consequences come — and I also typically when folks hear the word “addiction,” and so I’m really broadening the definition of addiction here to include risky, mild, moderate, severe. And we’re actually taking the same approach at work right now around substances at Eleanor Health. Like, when you think about addiction, you think about the most severe type of addiction. Like friends lost, jobs lost, lives lost. But there is a lot of upstream opportunity where you just ask yourself that question, like, is my thinking around food a problem? Like as soon as you ask that question, we should be trying to get in to talk to somebody about help. Is this exercising healthy? Soon as you ask the question, that’s what we’re calling rising risk. And so I would put those two things together in your question. Once it starts taking up too much cognitive space, once it starts creating negative consequences, or even you’re asking yourself, are these negative consequences? That’s when we want to start putting our eye on the ball.
[12:15] Claire Jones: So because this is such a thing that Nzinga and I always joke about all the time, as far as what we’re eating every day that is donuts and cookies and dessert, we did a call out on Twitter for people to ask their questions about food and food addiction. And we got some amazing questions. So our first one is from Brooke, who asks, “Food is so tricky because it’s necessary to survive, but also can be such a painful trigger. One question I have: how on a personal level can people distinguish between treating yourself versus unhealthy and harmful eating habits?”
[12:50] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Yeah, this is a great question. So thank you, Brooke. I really want to put on, like, as much as we laugh and joke about the “Covid 19” and eating dessert every day, I really want to call out her use of the word “painful” trigger, because food absolutely is a source of joy for many. And as much as that is a source of joy for many, it is also a source of pain for many. So on a personal level, how to distinguish between treating yourself versus unhealthy, harmful eating habits, I want you to think about this the same way you would think about any other behavior. =
[13:27] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And it goes back to this kind of wide definition that I’m just going to drive home every time: treating yourself, does it result in painful consequences? And so we underestimate the emotional, painful consequences that can come from the eating behaviors that we have. And so if when you’re eating, if you’re enjoying it, that is the first indication that you’re probably on the left side, the left side being the not problematic side of the line. Once feelings of shame and guilt, and second guessing, or feeling like you have to hide it, or feeling like you have to make a joke about it, when those things start creeping in, those are the earliest signals that something about this eating pattern is worrying me. And so I encourage people to really think to themselves — because you can cover it up like this is so delicious, and you feel that little pang of guilt, but you cover up that guilt and say, like, this is so delicious, and then you talk yourself out of it. I could have been eating four of them. I only ate two. So it’s fine. And even though I’m gonna hide this in the back of the refrigerator so that nobody knows that I was eating it in the middle of the night. Like when you start developing clandestine thinking, and clandestine behaviors around eating habits, that’s the first clue that maybe this isn’t treating myself.
[15:02] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Because I can fill in a word after that. This may be treating myself badly, which is the reason why my brain and my emotions are trying to give me a signal like “I’m worried about this.” So that’s the first thing that I will look for and then, of course, you know, typical American way of living is that we don’t really recognize things until it’s like really bad. And so if you started to have health consequences, if your doctor started talking to you, if your blood sugar is going up, your cholesterol is going up, your blood pressure is going up, your weight is going up. These sorts of things, all of that is like really far down the line. And so what I’m hoping we can do as we’re talking about this is for each and every one of us just kind of start bringing our thinking further upstream. Like, if I’m even asking, might this be a problem? Or if I’m even getting a little twang of shame or guilt or not wanting people to know what I ate, how much I ate, what time of day I ate it. Let that be a clue to us that this might be an unhealthy eating habit. And then have a trusted person that you can bounce it off of. I always say, even when I’m talking to people with substance use disorders, like one of the things that comes out of AA and NA is like “tell on it.” When you get a craving, tell somebody. Because the more you keep it in your head, the more you try to keep it a secret, the more power it actually gains over you, the less ability you have to refute whatever behavior that thought is compelling you to do. So a lot of times when you tell it to another person — who will not be judgmental and who will be compassionate, this is very important because we are like a dramatically judgmental over food and weight in this country. So if you have that trusted person that you can just say, like, man, I said today that I was not going to eat cake, and I feel myself getting closer and closer and closer and closer to going downstairs to get a piece of cake. It seems small, but as soon as you say it out loud and that person says, well, what can we do instead of getting cake? And you talk to that person and you laugh and you generate that dopamine signal a different way, because food generates dopamine signal for us, that increases the chance that you don’t get that cake. And we try to decouple the hold that those thoughts have over us.
[17:34] Claire Jones: Yeah. One question I have, because that’s a response we’ve had to a lot of different topics on this show. It’s like talk to somebody that you trust, talk to somebody who you know won’t judge you for that. But something I’m wondering, especially in a time of Covid where access to one on one interactions with trusted people are not guaranteed. And a lot of us are lucky to have even one person in our life that we can trust, and we can trust to be nonjudgmental. And so what if you don’t have that person in your life? What if you don’t have something that you feel like you can turn to in a safe way to talk about these problems?
[18:10] Claire Jones: Thank you for asking that question, because it’s definitely a privilege to have a great support system, and not one that everybody has. The Internet is remarkable. As much as there’s a whole bunch of, you know, nasty trolls that won’t see the light of day or put their real name on the comments that they’re typing on the Internet, there are actually some pretty incredible, supportive places. And so literally, if you Google food addiction, support groups will come up. Text opportunities will come up. You can chat with somebody right now. And I actually — so interesting, I just was on Jay Casale — I had the absolute pleasure on Saturday of spending some time with Jay on his podcast, The Lighter Side with Jay. And he told me he has a group on Facebook that has like, I don’t know the number, something crazy. 20,000 people or something like that. It’s called The Lighter Side of Weight Loss. And it’s all about like a totally supportive community around food and eating and pain that can come from that. And figuring out how to get into habits that are more emotionally supportive to our health and more physically supportive to our health. So we should definitely point to that in the resources. So even seeking out resources like that, because you’re right, it’s not always in our immediate vicinity, or the people that we know in real life kind of in the flesh that we can get that support from. But there is tons of support. We just have to get over the bar to say, like, I’m actually going to tell somebody this.
[20:10] Claire Jones: Right. Which can take a long time, you know, takes a long time to maybe get to that point.
[20:17] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Because the stigma, stigma and shame, we put it all over ourselves for literally gosh darn everything. So that’s what I hope is like as much stigma and shame and judgment as there is out in the world, for everything, there is somebody who has been through it, who has created a community that is not stigmatizing and not judgmental. And so we just have to be very intentional about finding those. And so I kind of feel like that’s part of my passion is like finding those compassionate communities and telling people about them.
[23:35] Claire Jones: OK. Our next question is from Jeff Anderson, who says, “I’m curious, as a person in recovery from alcoholism, about the role food served psychologically and physiologically in providing comfort while missing and craving alcohol. And can that lead to a secondary addiction or use disorder with food?”
[23:53] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: In short, the answer is yes. So I saw a couple of questions come in about this, so thank you, Jeff, for raising your voice on it, because there are definitely other people that are wondering the same thing. So let’s go back to the dopamine pathway. You’ll remember I said the dopamine pathway is in the deep part of your brain. Actually, I don’t know if I said this part. If my head is a clock, put your finger at twelve o’clock, and put your other finger at three o’clock. Now, imagine to yourself where those two lines connect right in the middle and the center of your brain.
[24:29] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: That’s the deep part of the brain where the dopamine system, which has to do with motivation and reward, and the limbic system, which has to do with emotions, that’s where those two parts of the brain are. It’s important that those are in the deep brain because the deep brain is what we share with all animals. That’s our instincts. That’s our reflexes. That’s our fight or flight. That’s our fear. That’s our anxiety. That’s what keeps us alive and out of danger. Those are the parts of our brain that can operate without our input. So, like, Claire is very intently listening to me right now, and not at all thinking about her heartbeat. Because luckily, if Claire had to think about her heartbeat at all times, I would kill her during this podcast. She would be listening so intently, she would forget to make her heart beat. Like, luckily, there are processes that we don’t have to control. That’s not to say we can’t control them. So your breathing, I can say right now. Take a deep breath. You can do it. I can say slow down your breathing. You can do it. But you don’t have to control it.
[25:38] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: The same is true about our motivation pathway and our emotional pathway. And so if you look at the motivation pathway, dopamine is the neurotransmitter. So neuro-, because it’s in your nerves, and transmitter, because it’s transmitting messages, sending messages from brain to body. Interpreting information from the outside world, interpreting information from our insides, our organs. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that drives the motivation pathway. That is, deep brain can operate without us. So when we eat food, we get a dopamine signal. That dopamine signal then sends itself to the part of the brain that’s right underneath your forehead. So if you’re like, oh, I have a fever and you put your hand over your forehead, right underneath that is your prefrontal cortex. That’s where decision making, thinking, judgment, impulse control. That’s the voluntary part of our brain, the part that we, you know, believe sets us humans apart from other animals, our ability to think and control our impulses.
[26:43] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: So what happens? You eat, you get a dopamine signal. The dopamine signals sends that forward to the prefrontal cortex and says, “you need food to survive.” It makes you feel better. It resolves your anxiety. It takes away that starving feeling, which we know that starving is dangerous. Like eating is safe and starving or being hungry is dangerous. The thing is, the dopamine signal from food can also resolve that feeling of danger for things that are not food related. So I’m anxious, that’s a feeling of danger. I can eat some food, I can generate a dopamine signal that will feed forward to my prefrontal cortex and say “feel better.” And then the prefrontal cortex makes that connection and says, “when I’m anxious, if I eat, I feel better.” And there are specific foods that are just numero uno champions at making the prefrontal cortex make that connection. And those foods are high carbs and high salt. So it’s so interesting, a lot of that is genetic. So me and my oldest son, we are like carbs and sugar. When he was six years old, his teacher called me and she was like, so Zaire’s been dipping his hand straight into the sugar bag and eating the sugar, like, straight out of the bag. She was like, we’ve tried to work with him on this, but it’s an ongoing problem.
[28:19] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: He and I are totally sugar. Joel and Nasir? Totally savory. Salt. Right. So in the way that I’m going to go reach for a piece of cake. Joel is going to go reach for a bag of potato chips. And if you look in his snack drawer right now, it is like overflowing with Covid chips. And you look on my desk and is like overflowing with Covid cookies. The reason is because highly dense carb foods and highly dense salty foods, it chooses the people, just kind of like different drugs choose different people based on brain chemistry. So somebody will have an addiction to alcohol. Somebody else will have an addiction to cocaine. They say “your drug of choice,” I hate that because it’s actually brain chemistry more so that’s making that choice than people. The same is true for food. So y’all know my answers are crazy long. Getting back to Jeff’s question, which is like. And so what is the psychological and physiological role? They are intertwined, just like everything else in our lives. So psychologically, your brain makes that connection that says when I eat, I feel better. I feel fulfilled. I don’t feel anxious. I feel satisfied. And a lot from carbs, carbs actually have a lot of the precursors that lead to serotonin, which is actually the neurotransmitter that says “don’t be anxious. Don’t be afraid. Be fulfilled.” So there’s a direct connection there. And what we find specifically for people with alcoholism, there are literally studies that show there are groups of people that when they become abstinent from alcohol, their carb cravings or their salt cravings go off the charts. Now, potato chips hit both buttons, salty carbs. And there’s literally a potato chip study that they measured dopamine signals, and how much the craving for chips came after people stopped using alcohol, and the risk of developing abnormal food patterns, really as a result of being a recovery from alcohol, and there was a tight link. And so you’ll see some — I remember seeing on Twitter, another woman mentioned that when her son was in a rehab for alcohol, they were like so strict about how much sugar you could have, and about your eating.
[30:40] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And so a really effective treatment program for a person with alcoholism will include healthy eating, nutrition and food behaviors, because the physiological and the psychological connection is inextricable. They are inextricably linked. And the risk is there in both directions. So before I finish this big, old, long speech, what I’ll say is that it goes the other direction also. So, Clare, you mentioned earlier when you went to that amazing support group, which if that’s still available to people, please drop it in the resources. Thank you very much. You learned that when you deprive yourself of those foods completely, then the compulsion for those foods just continues to build until which point you really can’t say no. And so unlike other substances, where kind of the general accepted idea, even though people listening know that I work on the whole spectrum, but the general accepted idea like abstinence. Never use that again. Do everything to never use it again. The same cannot be true for food, because the compulsion builds, builds builds. So what is a healthier approach is actually a well-balanced kind of like planned-out, right? Like I allow myself this in concert with the rest of this healthy, well-balanced eating. And of course, try like healthy behaviors just in life in general. But also getting anxiety down, getting depression down, getting connected with people so that dopamine signals are coming from other places, so that you don’t have to use food as the source of your dopamine.
[32:28] Claire Jones: Sometimes I feel like I’m like, forget that I’m in a conversation with you, and I feel like I’m just watching the most interesting TED talk ever. So a couple of things that I just want to bring up that I thought of that you also answered. One, food is something that gives me dopamine and that lowers my anxiety level. So I in my brain can connect food with less anxiety, with safety, with feeling better. A way that you can sort of attach those two things from each other is by finding dopamine from other places friends, community.
[33:16] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Sunlight, sex, any enjoyable activity. So this is a question that I get commonly, which is, are food cravings and hunger the same thing? And so the answer is that they’re on the same spectrum, the way that you experience it. But whereas hunger is both a physical and a psychological experience, so is craving. But you can crave even when you’re not hungry. And so that has everything to do with what we talked about earlier with the dopamine system. What we know is that when we are under stress — and chronic stress is the worst. I always tell my husband for like all of our friends who are doing diets, you know, you say eliminate diet and you see the Atkins diet and you see the Keto diet, and people are like desperately trying to lose weight. And I say to Joel, the best way to lose weight is to reduce chronic stress, because what chronic stress does is turn on the amygdala, which is in the center of your deep brain, which is responsible for telling you when things are dangerous and you need a solution to resolve this danger. And, oh, you know what resolves that feeling of danger? Food. And so the more chronic stress you have — and this is what’s happening with the Covid pandemic. Like, we didn’t have social distancing for two weeks and then it go away. We had social distancing, and they were like always going to go away, and now we’re like, is it going to go away? So that chronic stress, amygdalas around the world, are working overtime, trying to protect us, but leading us to these behaviors, food included, that are not necessarily in the long run protecting us.
[35:23] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: So even after Covid is over, like I said, look at before Covid came, look to after Covid, the number one intervention you can make towards “normalizing” eating behavior. And the way I want to define “normalizing” is removing negative consequences associated with, is to call out stress.
[35:48] Claire Jones: What are some ways that people — I mean, you sort of mentioned this earlier, but what are just off the top of your head, some ways that people can cope with stress?
[35:55] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Routine, routine, routine, connection, connection, connection. So literally, just neurobiologically, a brain feels safer in a predictable situation that it’s been in before. And so the way you can create predictable situations, even here with social distancing, even within the midst of all of this stress by the Covid pandemic, don’t get up first thing in the morning and start watching all the media coverage. Get up in the morning, do something renewing. So for me, that’s yoga. For somebody else that might be cooking breakfast, that might be hanging out with the kids. That might be reading a book. Whatever it is, start your day with something renewing, and make this a routine. Start your day with something renewing. Know what’s coming next. For me, that’s going to be work. Know what’s coming next? On Monday, that’s going to be seeing Claire’s lovely face. Know what time you’re going to eat. Don’t let yourself get caught up and not eat. Because then when you do eat, trust me, it’s going to be a combination of hunger and craving and stress-eating. Schedule in the time that you’re going to spend on Covid coverage. Like, don’t let that just be willy-nilly, take over your life. You want to know what’s going on. You do not want to get yourself consumed with all of the grief and the fear that is the Covid pandemic, because it’s a lot. And so routine, routine, routine, and part of that routine has to be connecting. So if you live by yourself, who do you call on Mondays? Who do you call in the middle of the day? Who do you see on video at the end of the day? Who do you chat with? On what day of the week, at what time? And set up something that your brain can look forward to and know that it’s coming because that gives a sense of stability and comfort that will undermine the stress.
[37:50] Claire Jones: OK, so another question that we got. Where is the line between consuming conference food that isn’t particularly healthy more than usual to cope during a global pandemic and having an unhealthy relationship/addiction to food?
[38:04] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Yeah. So thank you for whoever sent this question in, because it’s actually really important to recognize that we are in unprecedented times. This is not a normal state of being. And part of the way we can, you know, literally drive ourselves over the edge is by trying to make things be normal when they are not normal. That has to do with our eating also. And so in some ways, we have to give ourselves some latitude. Like, no, I don’t usually make dessert everyday for dinner. I’m allowing myself to make dessert everyday for dinner and not give myself flak about it. Right? No, you and your roommate don’t usually bake two dozen cookies every day.
[38:50] You know what, guys? Bake your cookies. We are in a pandemic. And so the same way alcohol use is up 55 percent, people are smoking more, there’s the — when you first have a tragic event, which we can equate this to, like it came out of blue and stole all of our routines and all of our normalcy. And routine and normalcy is the way the brain defines safety. So it basically, like, stole the things that we pin our safety on. There’s a period of time where you just have to let yourself adjust to that. And you’re going to need actually to reach to those things that bring you comfort food can be one of those. As we get more to settling in, then drawing the line between this is just because I’m trying to cope with the pandemic and this is an unhealthy relationship, look at what your relationship with food was like before the pandemic. Because a couple of things are happening. There was just like a regular relationship with food that doesn’t take up any cognitive space. And, you know, you just go about your life and you eat what you eat and it’s fine. The pandemic came and suddenly food is a central source of your comfort.
[40:03] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: There’s another pattern where there wasn’t a relationship with food that was bringing some negative consequences already. The pandemic came and now is shining a light on that and it has gotten worse. And then there’s full-out food addiction before the pandemic. And now the pandemic is pouring gasoline on the fire. If we collect on kind of those three pathways, the person who is at least risk is the person whose relationship with food was not bringing any harm before the pandemic. What is most likely is that they will have food coping during the pandemic, as things start to normalize, their food behavior will most likely normalize. There’s a small set of people that’ll get caught and it won’t normalize and they’ll need help. But the majority will go. For those who had maybe an unrecognized trouble with food before the pandemic, they are at higher risk that it will be more difficult to get their food behaviors back to a less risky pattern after coronavirus. And also because there’s probably something underneath driving it. There’s probably lack of fulfillment, history of trauma, depression, anxiety, stress. There is something underlying that food behavior that the food is comforting. And so even when Covid goes away, that thing will still be there, if not made worse by the pandemic. And so those folks are at higher risk, and so I implore you to just go ahead and start working on it now while we’re in the Covid era. And then the last group, which either kind of had what we’ll call a food addiction, is in remission, or had active food addiction coming into the pandemic, that is our highest risk group. Because the illness is already there.
[42:01] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And we know the kind of stress and anxiety and depression and disconnectedness that comes from this pandemic is going to drive the symptoms of that illness. And so I definitely want those folks to be taking this chance to seek out support and professional help if it would be helpful.
[42:26] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: One question that often comes up that people ask me when I’m talking about food is everybody with food addiction overweight? It’s not a far-fetched question because you think to yourself, food addiction and then you’d think to yourself, eating excessive amount of foods, and then you’d think to yourself, gaining weight. And then so your brain makes the connection. It must be that everybody who has a food addiction is overweight. And the other direction, also, everybody who is overweight must have a food addiction. And so the answer to the question is no. The two are related, but it’s not a one-to-one relationship.
[43:06] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: So absolutely, people who are not overweight can have food addiction. Especially when you define it the way we have, which is like any beginnings of negative consequences, psychological or physical, from food. But the food and eating habits are not changing. So when you define it that way, there are a lot more people who would qualify kind of for the definition of food addiction, and not everybody is overweight. The same is true. Not everybody who is overweight has a food addiction.
[43:43] Claire Jones: And you can be overweight and healthy.
[43:44] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Yeah, for sure. For sure you can. I’m glad that you said that because it gets to how you define healthy. And so I want to make sure that we’re defining healthy, not so often as we do in this country as physical health. And not even only as physical health plus mental health. But we have to put in their social health, relationship health, social-cultural health. So I know I can’t go one episode without mentioning Eleanor Health, because that’s like the two big parts of my life, work and family. But when we were conceptualizing the care model for Eleanor Health, we were like, what does it mean to be whole person? Because you’ll hear the term “whole person care” to just mean you can see a physical health provider and a mental health provider in the same place. But it is so much bigger than that. It is meaningful connectedness. It is a support system. It’s having at least that one person you can go to with your scariest fears, and know that you’re not going to be judged. It’s receiving goodness from your world and it’s putting goodness back out into your world. And that means something different from everybody. But so when you say, yes, a person can be overweight and healthy. Absolutely. Three hundred and sixty degrees. Right. A person can be thin and unhealthy.
[45:10] Claire Jones: And that’s not the way that we’re ever taught to think about it. So anything unless you have anything else to add, I think that’s it for our show.
[45:19] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: I just stuffed food in my mouth. But yes, that is all I have for today. Thank you, Claire.
[45:31] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: In Recovery is a Lemonada Media original. The show is produced by Claire Jones and edited by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Dan Molad. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs are our executive producers. Rate and review us and say nice things. And follow us @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, or find me on Twitter @naharrisonmd. If you’ve learned from us, share the show with your others. Let’s help destigmatize addiction together.
[46:20] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Hey, In recovery listeners, this Nzinga. We had planned to do this upcoming Monday show on a different topic, but the world is burning, literally. And as you get to know me, you will know that I do not stay silent in the face of racism, police brutality, oppression, discrimination. And so we’ll be repurposing next Monday’s show to touch on what we’re all going through. We said that this show would be about all things addiction. And we defined addiction as those things we keep doing despite negative consequences. And I think you can agree, if we consider the United States the person, that racism is most certainly an addiction that the United States is dealing with. The negative consequences are a lot, but like I say about all behaviors, we don’t continue to do them unless there is some benefit. And so we have to take a look at the negative consequences of racism and police brutality, but we also have to look at what systems are benefiting from racism and police brutality. We’re going to take a hard look. We’re going to talk it through. Yes, there will be neurobiology. Yes, there will be hope. Yes, we will talk through solutions. But the first step, as it always is, is recognizing that we have a problem, and having the courage to look at that problem in its face. To talk about it, to plan against it. To plot against it. To strategize, organize and mobilize against it. So I hope you’ll join me on this show coming up Monday, June 8th. Thanks.