The realisation that staff at my local Chinese takeaway now have my address memorised invokes an instant sense of shame. However, it’s quickly displaced with thoughts of finding change for the deliveryman’s tip.
“18 Deansgrange -”
The receptionist cuts me off mid sentence.
“That’s grand; it’ll be about thirty minutes.”
With this the line goes dead.
It’s Tuesday night, closing in on 8pm.
Am I hungry?
Realistically, I can’t be.
I had dinner two hours previous – an enjoyable meal which could only be credited to an Irish mammy – a wholesome stew.
What I do have though is an insatiable craving for something tasty to consume whilst watching the reveal of Lucy Beale’s murderer on Eastenders.
In fact, half an hour earlier I had made a hurried trip to the local Tesco Express in order to source a dessert.
Being the second night in a row that I had stealthily made my way to that refrigeration aisle, the shame factor had arisen there too, as I circumvented the self – service check outs, my embarrassment spiking when I spotted a familiar looking staff member, loading products into the ice cream fridge. (I had had a conversation with him two evenings previous regarding the edibility of a tub that had been removed for the defrosting process.)
Thankfully he moved aside without any sign of recognition, allowing me to fetch a large tub of Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Chew Chew.
Later that night, as I sit filled to the brim on the couch, subconsciously extending the collar of my jumper to its full capacity in order to cover what is undoubtedly the beginnings of a double chin, I swear to myself that I’ll kick the junk food habit.
Family and Facebook friends are supportive. Slimming World and a walking group are recommended. A link to a Ben Dunne membership form is supplied by a friend who has a metabolism quicker than Usain Bolt. RTE’s ‘Operation Transformation’ is set to pre – record.
However, three nights later, I find myself huddled in the furthest corner of the house, attempting to avoid a pre -order family intervention by whispering those five sweet words – “Can I place an order?” – into my smartphone. When the receptionist asks me to speak up, I realise that I have a problem.
There’s no escaping it – I am a junk food addict.
While aligning my overeating with the word ‘addiction’ may to some seem extreme, research into this topic is at fever pitch of late.
So far, the most convincing cases for food addiction have resulted from studies conducted on animals.
In one such study by the late Bart Hoebel from Princeton University, drug like responses to sugar in animals were discovered. In fact, when sugar was offered in high doses and then removed, classic withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, tremors, and chattering teeth were displayed.
Taking it beyond the scope of animals, Nora Volkow, along with a team at Brookhaven National Laboratory, found through the use of PET Scanners that the brains of obese people lacked certain receptors to dopamine. Volkow found in her subjects that a lack of dopamine receptors resulted in an inability to repress the strong urges sent into the areas of the brain involved in action, leading to overeating.
While the above research outlines some of the science relating to the neurological causes of overeating, what it doesn’t examine is the why.
According to many experts in the field, this can be attributed to the phenomenon of emotional eating.
“Chronic stress creates elevated levels of the hormone cortisol,” says Jeffrey Morrison, M.D., a family practitioner in New York City, and the author of Cleanse Your Body, Clear Your Mind. “Your body thinks you are going through a famine, which can increase your cravings.”
Framing emotional eating another way, Michelle May, M.D., founder of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program in Phoenix, believes that emotional eating is caused by our tendency to associate food with comfort. She traces this back to our subconscious memories of being fed in our mother and father’s arms as a child.
So what is the solution?
With the journal The Lancet showing that a massive 66 per cent of Irish men over 20 are considered overweight or obese, and 50.9 per cent of Irish women over 20 years (well in excess of the western European average of 47.6 per cent), it is clear that we are in need of one.
While there are a myriad of books on the market offering to help overeaters kick their habit, the one that has caught my attention is a book entitled What Are You Hungry For, published in 2013 by American bestselling author Deepak Chopra.
Examining hunger from an emotional and spiritual perspective, Chopra outlines his belief that in order to lose weight you must fulfil yourself. In fact, he believes that obesity is a deprivation syndrome.
“People put food in their body for two reasons,” Chopra states, “One, because they are physically hungry and two, because they’re hungry for something else.”
In his book, Chopra details what he has labeled the S – T – O – P Formula – S standing for STOP (no surprise there), T taking a breathing break, O observing your body (asking yourself ‘am I hungry?’/’what am I hungry for?’) and finally P, proceeding with awareness.
While I’ve been implementing Mr.Chopra’s teachings, and at the time of writing am eight days into my junk food detox, kicking the habit is by no means easy.
In fact, by the time that this article is published, there’s a very real chance that I could be using Mr. Chopra’s book to balance my three in one tray. (I live in hope however, with Snap’s 1990 anthem ‘I’ve got the Power’ mentally on repeat as my source of motivation.)
That said, if you do happen to spot me on a Tesco refrigeration aisle, risking hypothermia as I thoroughly search the ice cream fridge for my favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor, I’d ask that you do one thing.