The diet of any individual is made up of their particular food choices. Food choices can be influenced by hunger but also, on occasion, by greed, despair, self harm and even a wish to die.
Nature's feedback system works well if you don’t deliberately override it. Before we eat, the bio-feedback mechanisms that we call “hunger” provide us with an appetite for the specific foods our body needs. In this subtle way, our ever-changing bodily requirements are satisfied and we remain healthy. After we have eaten, an orchestra of hormones ensures that blood sugar remains equable and digestion proceeds in a benign way. It's a delicate balance and easily misused.
There are some foods that excite our hunger, even on sight or smell. They mostly contain sugars, cereal starches and cows’ milk in one form or another. The food processing industry takes these basic ingredients - our favourite foods, of course - and combined them in the most delicious way possible to persuade us to buy. We all have experienced how the pure enjoyment of eating these favourite foods can override the natural appetite that is nature’s gentle way of keeping us healthy and well.
Food is a comfort and can soothe the emptiness and loneliness that accompanies despair. But not all foods are comforting: the sugars, cereal starches and dairy products in particular are favourite comfort foods for people in despair. People who eat out of despair eat themselves into despair in a vicious circle. This is the beginning of food addiction. A food addict's diet of choice is insufficiently varied to be nutritious and this has a depressing effect. Also, the weight gain and health problems that can result from overdosing on sugars, grains and dairy products can lead people into even deeper despair.
Addiction can be defined as participating willingly in an activity that will damage one’s health, wealth or well-being in full knowledge of the potential damage this is causing. Choosing to eat too much of the wrong kind of food is self-harm. Some foods disagree with particular people and are best avoided, but addicts don’t avoid the foods that harm them - they make themselves ill. Chocolate, for instance, can precipitate a migraine. A food addict would sooner suffer the migraine than not be able to enjoy chocolate.
A desire to die
The morbidly obese, who lose hundreds of pounds only to regain it (often several times over) or who never lose weight at all but simply eat themselves to death, are people who know they are eating to die and are not willing to stop. They don't know why they are doing it, but an early death will be the result. It’s heartbreaking to watch - but then so are most forms of slow suicide. The chronic anorexic is on the same mission: to fade away and die.
This descent from natural hunger into death happens slowly, stage by stage, through the process of becoming addicted. In order for any individual to climb out of an addiction of any kind, he or she must decide whether to live or die. That’s the first and most important choice. Other choices such as food choices flow from that.
Recovered food addicts know they have recovered when they are able for the first time to experience natural hunger - the subtle driver that has been so easily swamped by greed and addiction. It’s a magical moment of healing, like being fully alive again.