In more than one of my therapy sessions over the past few weeks, clients have been reflecting on their increased engagement with unhealthy food, especially chips. They are quite confused by this and don’t seem to understand what is drawing their brain to that particular food item, especially as it’s usually one specific brand and type that they prefer.
Now, let’s keep in mind that I work mostly with people who have Addiction. When people have Addiction, the brain’s reward circuitry operates differently than those without Addiction. Specifically, the brain has an impaired ability to say ‘slow down’ or ‘no’ to engaging with substances or behaviours. Most of the time, people come to appreciate they have Addiction with behaviours that are seriously out of control and ruining their lives-drinking, drugging, gambling, sexing-to the point that it has become unmanageable. So how do chips fit in?
Although it may seem like such a non-issue (other than for the waistline), this craving and engagement with chips is a result of the Addiction brain and represents the underlying process of craving, seeking, and intoxication. The brain that has Addiction will continue to seek a hit of dopamine wherever it can find it, including with food. It may be chips or it may be sugar or other specific foods. I have even had clients struggle with apples due to the high fructose content contained within.
Therefore, this unhealthy relationship with chips is not something to be scoffed at and needs to be taken seriously. Letting the behaviour run amuck opens up the person to their Addiction gaining momentum and that spilling into other, more severe, areas of health. In dealing with issues with food, awareness, boundaries, and action are all essential as they would be for other manifestations of Addiction.
Researchers are still exploring the underlying mechanisms that create such strong, specific craving in one brain versus the other. It is a unique physiological thing why one person craves dill pickle chips whereas another could care less but is enticed by all-dressed. Obviously we are unable to know the individual’s personal vulnerabilities other than through experience and anecdotal evidence but as you start to gather some of this personal data, it’s important to take action on it.
So that’s what’s with the chips.
By Paige Abbott
Paige Abbott is a Registered Psychologist in Alberta, Canada. She has been registered since 2009 and practices with Addiction and Mental Health typically with the professional population.