Food Addiction Amnesia

A few weeks ago, someone wrote to our customer support center. She wasn’t a member, and she’s not in the Boot Camp, but she found us and wrote in. Her email said: “How do I stop the amnesia that sets in when I’m off sugar and flour and go back to thinking I can eat it ‘just once,’ but then my life falls apart all over again?”

Aaaaah. Such a great question! You’ve stumbled onto one of the defining features of addiction. Almost 100 years ago, some men discovered this phenomenon. In the 1930s, they developed The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and what you’ve written is something they focused on.

There’s a paragraph in The Big Book that says: “The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called willpower becomes practically non-existent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.”

They follow this with numerous examples to illustrate how people pick up a drink with no effective thought about the consequences. 

One example is when you have thoughts of resisting the urge to eat that are so underdeveloped in size and magnitude that they don’t offer anything close to sound reasoning. You have plenty of evidence that the consequences will be tremendous, but your brain doesn’t work in that moment. That’s addiction. But another, similar situation—like being allergic to strawberries—your brain works just fine. If you eat one strawberry and suffer the consequences, you know enough not to eat them again. But with food addiction, that connection doesn’t work. 

Three things are going on in your brain that explain this.

The first is ineffectiveness in the prefrontal cortex. Addictive impulses are generated deep in the part of the brain that gives a good dopamine rush when you eat highly rewarding food. But lots of things can hijack those reward structures, including modern-day concoctions of sugar and flour. 

The prefrontal cortex is where executive functions are happening. Things like planning, evaluating options, and decision-making. What happens in addiction is that the prefrontal cortex stops having the ability to override impulses. 

Second, we have a phenomenon called state-dependent learning and state-dependent memory. These cognitive functions have to do with states such as where you are, how you feel, and what substance you’re on. When you’re in the state of not eating sugar and flour, your brain selectively recalls all the times you’ve been in that same state and you feel like life is good and you’re in control—that’s state-dependent learning. In that state, it’s harder to call to mind the state you would be in after you picked up those foods. 

Third, we have procedural memory. A procedural memory is implicit—it’s also called muscle memory—and an example is knowing how to ride a bike. You get on a bike, and it comes back to you even if you haven’t ridden in years. Procedural memories are automatic and don’t require conscious decisions to execute them. The actions that happen in eating are also procedural memories, so you can find yourself eating in a familiar situation, like having a plate in your hand and going down a buffet line, and suddenly anything and everything is on your plate and you didn’t really make a “decision” to eat all that.

So what do you do about it?

What the men in AA concluded was this: “We’re absolutely hopeless, there’s no solution to this, therefore our defense must come from God because we are without human aid.” They encapsulated this orientation toward God in the 12 Steps. 

That approach works and it’s shorthand for: you’re going to have to work a heck of a program

So, to my writer: from what you’ve written, we’re really not supposed to diagnose people, but what you’ve written is truly the hallmark of food addiction. The impairment and distress you’re describing is the foundation of late-stage addiction. 

What that means is that you have a fatal, incurable, progressive disease. The only solution is to work a very strong program. You’re not in the Bright Line Eating Boot Camp. You need to get in it. 

What will that do? It will give you an identity as someone who doesn’t eat sugar and flour. And you need to put it first, even before your family, because if you do that, you’ll get to show up for your family every day, with love to share—because your life won’t be falling apart.

There’s no easy answer here. It’s a life-changer to realize the extent of the problem you have. 

But your whole life will be different if you’re using a full-bodied, comprehensive treatment to deal with the condition that you’ve got. It’s the only way.

Food Addiction Amnesia | Bright Line Living | The Official Bright Line Eating Podcast