Ask an Expert: My Husband Says I'm Addicted to Ice Cream

By Stacey Rosenfeld 01/08/15
Today's question is on how to know if a food addiction is affecting your marriage.
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I am having problems in my marriage and it is added to because of weight gain which turns my husband off.  I am consuming much more sweets than I know I should, ice cream especially, and can't seem to stop.  My husband says I have become addicted. Any help that works would be more than appreciated.

Stacey Rosenfeld: We know that eating can sometimes be emotional and during times of stress or discord, this can intensity. While the research doesn't offer convincing support for the idea that food itself is inherently addictive, we know that food can be used in an addictive way. Many people get trapped in what we call the diet-binge cycle, restricting foods at some times and then overdoing them when feelings of deprivation kick in and rigid control over intake breaks down. Eating disorder specialists will often note that the diet-binge cycle is, itself, addictive.

I wonder if you typically limit the foods you mention and that now that you're going through a rough time, you're seeking comfort in them - they have too much value because they're typically forbidden (the lure of "the forbidden fruit")? The idea is to equalize all foods so that there are no "good" or "bad" foods. When this occurs, people develop a more neutral approach to eating and tend to reduce overeating of previously restricted items. 

Toward this goal, I'd allow yourself access to sweets - if you want dessert every day, have it. You'll likely notice that the amounts will come down naturally over time as you trust your permission to eat these foods. In my practice, I've also found that patients who binge on sweets are typically denying themselves carbohydrates - a diet trend these days. Once they add back sufficient carbohydrates into their diets, sugar cravings seem to subside.

At the same time, I'd work on recognizing when you're hungry and full (and trying to honor both). Intuitive eating involves eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full. If you find yourself eating when you aren't hungry or eating past fullness often, you might want to figure out what feelings are triggering these behaviors. If no obvious emotion preceded the overeating episode, go back a bit in you day. Were you sad? Lonely? Anxious? Did you have an argument with your husband? What might be some other options for coping with these emotions rather than turning to food? 

The goal is to use food to nourish (and to experience some pleasure in eating) but not as medication. Take a look at the consequences of overeating, too. How do you feel after? (physically? emotionally?) You say that your husband is less attracted to you - is there a possibility you might, in some ways, be trying to push him away? If you have trouble coping with emotional triggers for overeating, or sorting through the consequences of the behavior, it might be time to turn to a therapist who can help you sort some of this out. A course of couples counseling might also be indicated so that you and your husband can work through your concerns in a productive manner.

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Ask An Expert" is guidance for the general public and is not to be construed as a doctor/patient relationships, which requires private and extensive consultation.

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Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who treats patients with eating disorders, anxiety/depression, substance use issues, and relationship difficulties. A certified group psychotherapist, she has worked at Columbia University Medical Center in NYC and at UCLA in Los Angeles and is a member of three eating disorder associations. The author of the highly- praised Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight, she is often interviewed by media outlets as an expert in the field. www.staceyrosenfeld.com   Full Bio.

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