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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Lumiére

Addictive eating during a pandemic

Obesity is an epidemic in the UK that not only destroys lives, but can be painfully interlinked with many other illnesses, and the pandemic hasn't helped.

In 2020, the NHS reported "11,117 hospital admissions directly attributed to obesity," and the majority of adults being obese equating to "67% of men and 60% of women."

Despite how prominent the issue is, there is an awfully unsympathetic shame culture directed at individuals who struggle with obesity and other eating disorders, as if food addiction and emotional eating is the siloed fault of those that demonstrate it. This is grossly unfair and narrow-minded.

Western culture breeds addictive behaviour through relentless advertising, cross-selling and manufacturing (addictive ingredients). This attack-from-all-angles is designed to promote addictive relationships with many products for commercial gain, from food to alcohol, cigarettes and more.

The attack artfully exploits, hijacks, and eventually warps the reward-seeking circuit that exists in the human brain, which is a very normal, healthy (when allowed to operate as it should) brain circuit we all possess for survival means. Individuals suffering from obesity have fallen short to this industrial attack. In other examples, alcoholism or smoking is the result.

The reasons some people become addicted to food and others to alcohol are embedded in all sorts of intricate environmental and biological vulnerabilities that science and psychology are still uncovering today. That said, what is known is that while extreme sufferers are victims of industry, biology and environment, addictive behaviour can be observed in a far greater number of individuals than the extreme.

Do you need a coffee at the same time every morning before you feel grumpy? Do you enjoy your favourite chocolate at the same time each evening? Would you go out of your way to get these things if you ran out unexpectedly? Would your mood be impacted if you couldn't get access? The answer is likely yes to these questions in many of us, but we deem these behaviours as harmless when we are generally fit and healthy.

But these traits are also signs of the same underlining behaviour that, when circumstances tip against us in terms of environmental and biological vulnerabilities, can easily lead to overconsumption and addiction. So, it is imperative that we show the same empathy and understanding to sufferers as we offer to those with other serious illnesses, instead of shaming them personally for the cause and social burden of this epidemic.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw troubling peeks in social anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Habits such as emotional and addictive eating were exacerbated, and even the healthiest of us were guilty of boredom eating. Greater understanding and awareness of the true causes of the obesity epidemic can lead to industrial and social change. It starts, though, with compassion, and we need to stop fat-shaming individuals who are suffering this way.

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