A doctor once told me that food addiction and stay at home parenting often go hand in hand. He went on to say that the very nature of being a stay at home parent makes you more susceptible to food addiction. The concept of food addiction is a very recent development and certainly has a stigma attached to it.
In fact, it’s not yet recognized in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. For every doctor who says it’s a legitimate psychological condition or disease, dozens more say it isn’t.
In the months since that discussion, I’ve spent time pondering and exploring just what drives this addiction specifically in the community of stay at home parents. What makes this population more prone to this type of addiction?
Addiction is generally perceived as a lack of self-control in the user over the cravings for their substance of choice. The disease of addiction literally changes the brain by boosting the limbic system (pleasure center) and depleting the frontal cortex (judgment and decision making).
However, as a stay at home moms and dads trudge through their daily routines of meeting the needs, wants, requests, and demands of others, the freedom to choose what and when to eat can provide a misguided feeling of control over one’s own life. As a stay at home mom, I do my best to manage my two kids and our household, but I very rarely feel completely in control of anything–especially my own.
I attempt to regain a feeling of control through binge eating whatever comfort food I can find. Does it work? Only briefly, and it almost always results in guilt. However, that is the result of the changes in the brain’s anatomy caused by the addiction. A few minutes of pleasure outweighs any consequences and draws the user in again and again.
I could use a plethora of words to describe the life of a stay at home parent. Chaotic, fun, frustrating, rewarding, and exhausting are all words that come to mind. One word that could never be used to describe this life, though, is “consistent.”
Everything from the working spouse’s schedule to the kids’ moods changes daily, if not multiple times a day. It’s genuinely astounding how few things actually stay consistent as a stay at home parent, but in the midst of all the uncertainty, food can always be counted on—particularly carbs like bread, chips, and pasta.
Carbs have been proven to regulate and improve our moods by boosting the levels of tryptophan and serotonin in the brain. When we reach for our favorite “guilty pleasure” foods, we know what to expect and are rarely disappointed. The moment of calmness and clarity that happens in these situations is enough to get through another few hours of chaos.
This is not unlike someone with an addiction to opiates, reaching for the prescription bottle in a desperate attempt to find a moment of peace. The very basic human need for consistency, for the ability to know what to expect in a situation, is a powerful force. Addiction, even if unintentional, meets that need and creates a cycle of destructive behavior.
A commonly overlooked aspect of being a stay at home parent is the loneliness and isolation. Most don’t get much face time with other adults, which sometimes results in some talking the ear off of the 17-year-old cashier at the grocery store or the Amazon delivery driver.
My husband works the overnight shift at his job and on multiple occasions, I have gone days without seeing another adult for more than ten minutes at a time. Most of my friends are also moms with busy schedules, so we text or talk on social media, but that doesn’t replace human contact. Enter food and emotional eating.
On these lonely days and nights when my husband is working and my friends are unavailable, food is my friend. Food can bring a ray of sunshine to a bad day or put the cherry on top of a great one. It’s even quite literally a remedy for boredom. In fact, some neuroscientists believe that food can stimulate the brain’s production of dopamine, the hormone associated with motivation and drive.
I would compare both emotional and boredom eating to an alcoholic using their drink of choice to complement their current situation. Food can create the illusion of companionship, no matter how illogical that seems. Then again, addiction is never logical.
Don’t Be Fooled
Control, consistency, and companionship are all good things under the right circumstances. It seems too good to be true to think that they can be found inside the pantry or freezer. The truth is, they can’t. The food itself cannot bring any of these things to reality.
This loud, booming voice tells the food addict day after day that food will fix everything, but that is the addiction talking and the voice of addiction is a fantastic liar. Real help is available in the form of therapy, professional nutritional advice, and even prescription medication.
Try looking for places like places like First Step Recovery can help get to the root of the food addiction and figure out what you need. Talking to a doctor can you help you realize doctor the relationship you have with food and change your perspective.
It will be difficult, but you can change for the better. If you are struggling with food addiction, don’t accept this as your fate; don’t stay silent and don’t heed anyone’s opinion that food addiction isn’t real. It’s as real as an addiction to heroin, tobacco, or any other drug. You are not alone and if you want to beat this, you will.