Eating Disorders, Transfer Addiction, and Body Image

Whether it’s overcoming an eating disorder, conquering an addiction, or both, the general assumption is that once a person receives treatment, they will be “cured.” However, there is a danger of trading your addiction.

Addiction replacement, or transfer addiction, occurs when an individual in recovery substitutes one addiction for another. The transfer occurs as a person substitutes one addiction for another to compensate for some perceived absence, either an emotional or psychological one.

Similar to addiction, the abuse of food can create a false sense of happiness or relief. Some studies suggest that the same pleasure centers in the brain that are triggered by drugs can also be triggered by food. When eating, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins are released in the brain. The pleasure derived from the release of these chemicals can override the body’s feeling of fullness. As a result, people will sometimes continue to seek that same pleasure. For those who have undergone weight loss surgery, they can no longer indulge in their addiction to food, which means they may turn to a different addiction to get the same pleasurable feelings they once did with food.

A transfer addiction can affect anyone who has restricted their food intake or made any lifestyle changes.

How Eating Disorders Affect Your Relationship with Food

Eating disorders affect the brain’s pleasure center similarly to drugs and alcohol. As a result, the brain can rewire a person’s thoughts and behaviors. The psychological and behavioral impact of this type of rewired thinking among those with an eating disorder include:

  • Unrealistic body image
  • Dismissal of maintaining a healthy diet
  • Deep self-loathing
  • Obsessive levels of exercise
  • Reinforcement of control issues

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) may develop as a result of an eating disorder and after bariatric surgery. BDD is characterized by persistent preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance. A person with BDD may perform compulsive behaviors to hide or improve their flaws, such as exercising excessively.

Identifying a Transfer Addiction

Addiction transfer doesn’t require becoming dependent on a consumable substance like drugs or alcohol. Some individuals may transfer their addiction into what might seems like harmless and even healthy activities, like exercise. However, over time, the replacement for a once-thriving eating disorder can quickly turn into an addiction. Some signs of addiction transfer can include:

  • Constantly thinking about the new vice
  • Losing sleep or time at work or school to participate in the new activity
  • Neglecting self-care
  • Experiencing stress or anxiety if unable to complete new vice
  • Neglecting aftercare programs or meetings

As with many things in life, the first step in preventing or addressing transfer addiction is awareness. Once a person is aware that this may happen, they can find healthy ways to replace the reward they may have experienced from their eating disorder or addiction.

At Destination Hope, our team helps each client develop healthy ways to cope with everyday stresses and how to respond to triggers. Aftercare and alumni programs can help those who conquered their addiction and/or eating disorder remain on the right path.

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