Cravings for food can be as bad as those for drugs, according to new research.
A survey of more than 5,000 slimmers found that a fat ‘high’ can be like an addiction.
And two in three who get these urges feel they are judged by society in a similar way to those hooked on controlled substances.
Three in four (76 per cent) compare their weakness to an addict’s desire for cigarettes, drinks or drugs and more than half (55 per cent) believe they got ‘a buzz’ from their favourite foods in the past.
The survey of 5,139 Slimming World members also revealed most slimmers had tried using food to make themselves feel better when they were low, with 94 per cent having turned to high fat food to boost their mood.
But almost eight in ten (77 per cent) said while there was an initial improvement, they were much worse afterwards. Even more (83 per cent) reported feeling like a failure or criticising themselves for not being able to stick to a diet.
As well as their emotional problems, slimmers also felt challenged by a food environment that encourages unhealthy eating.
Three in four (76 per cent) felt ‘bombarded’ by advertisements for junk food and nine in ten (89per cent) said the modern world made it easier to eat unhealthily than healthily.
Getting an unhealthy meal or snack in their local area after 10pm would be ‘very easy’ for eight in ten (78per cent), but fewer than one in twenty (four per cent) felt the same about a healthy one.
The poll was carried out ahead of a BBC2 documentary looking at food’s affect on emotions and how slimming clubs support people to make healthier choices and manage their weight.
Slimming World research specialist Dr James Stubbs said: ‘We live in a world that encourages people to eat more unhealthily.
‘People get used to using certain foods as a way to try to make themselves feel better and it becomes a habit, so when they are feeling down they are always likely to turn to those foods and it quickly becomes a cycle.
‘With high fat and high sugar foods being so readily available it is really difficult for people to ignore those signals.
‘There is growing evidence high fat, high sugar foods have some addictive qualities and this survey suggests slimmers feel trapped by food cravings, aggressive marketing and easy availability of less healthy foods.
‘The real danger is it is very easy for people to enter into a vicious cycle where they try to take comfort in food when they are feeling down, but then feel guilty and judged for what they perceive as a lack of self control.
‘These feelings of failure and sense of feeling judged affect self esteem and so people take comfort in food again, and so the cycle continues.’
Added Dr Stubbs: ‘The group support provided by slimming clubs, and this is especially true of Slimming World where the emphasis is on caring and compassionate understanding, helps to create a safe environment where slimmers can share support with a community of people just like them.
‘Having the care of an empathetic consultant who has lost weight themselves and the understanding of their fellow members, helps slimmers to understand and feel less guilty about their choices, so they are less likely to give themselves a hard time.
‘Being part of the group provides motivation and gives people the confidence to make their own decisions. In a world that encourages people to make unhealthy choices, having the skills and knowledge to eat healthily and the confidence to take responsibility for your own decisions makes healthy eating much easier.
‘The survey revealed 87 per cent of our slimmers feel confident in maintaining these healthier habits in the future.’
Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum, said there should be a limit on chemical food additives beyond which manufacturers cannot go.
He said: ‘The controversy still rages over whether food is addictive, and I think it is. Manufacturers are putting chemicals into food and after a while you do not get the same ‘buzz’ from eating it, so you have to have twice as much.
‘Some of these additives can actually drive children wild. It is appalling. The food manufacturers do not even have to list all of these ingredients, either, so we do not know what they are putting in. A limit could easily be devised by the Food Standards Agency beyond which they cannot go.
‘But we have a messy government in Westminster which is in league with the food industry. It is no good giving them the carrot, when what they actually require is the stick.’
source: Dailymail UK