Food Addiction / Sugar Addiction Expert Forum
Evening eating
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Evening eating

My husband quit smoking nine months ago after 45 years of addiction.  Now I think he has replaced cigerets with food.  I try to make sure that he is eating a healthy diet, he has a good breakfast and I pack his lunch with nutritious foods.  He doesn't always eat everything I give him but he is eating normally.  The problem starts after supper.  He will usually leave a little on his plate, but wether he eats it all or leaves some he always claims he is full.  Within 30 minutes, sometimes less, he is looking for something to eat and will continue that until bedtime.  He use to get up every 30 or 40 min and go out for a smoke, now he gets up looking for food, and it is always bad food.  I don't buy junk food or sweets - he is overweight and tired and sore most of the time - but he will and gets upset if I question what he is eating.  I am so happy he quit smoking but I think he is still addicted.  How can I help him?
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Hi Katarina

Your husband is not alone! Many people find that once they have quit smoking they will gain approximately 5 kg weight. While some of this is due to the fact that nicotine suppresses hunger (thus the ex smoker feels initially hungrier more often), much of the weight gain is due to overeating. You are most likely accurate in your assessment: the ex smoker, your husband,  is substituting his nicotine dependency to another addictive substance, which in this case is  junk food.

Your husband may not be a food addict, but from what you have illustrated, he is eating addictively. 1) He is eating when he is not hungry, 2) he is craving particular food (junk foods) over healthy foods, 3) he is irritated when you express your concern, 4) he is underestimating the dangers of his eating, and 5) he is eating at night when his 'will power' and need for comfort are most likely the greatest.

Your husband is already predisposed to becoming addicted to food (namely, sugar and starches) because of his nicotine addiction. The phenomena of addiction rests in the limbic part of the brain and is not specific to a particular drug. When the person stops drinking alcohol, they often turn to prescription medication (i.e. sleeping pills or pain meds) or most commonly food. In my view, sugar and starches are drugs, as they can significantly alter or moderate mood. Comfort food after all provides comfort. This is a neurochemical process that mimics the high of other drugs.  All these substances, i.e. food, alcohol, nicotine, enter the body and ultimately degrade to the same neurochemistry that is common to all addiction. On the neurochemical level, your husband is  substituting one drug for another.

This means that he may find it difficult to stop the problematic eating at night, until he is willing to go through the 'last leg' of his nicotine withdrawal process. He also runs the risk of relapsing back to smoking, as often people who have substituted for food will think that the tradeoff of eating poorly and gaining weight has worse consequences than smoking.

I would suggest that you explain to your husband that the science of addiction is supporting your contention that he is eating addictively and if he wants to be freed from him cravings to smoke and eat, he may have to pay attention to the addictive impulses of both and act accordingly. Since neither food nor smoking are easy to quit, and since he is dismissive of your concerns thus far, he may not yet be ready to hear your message.

For your own peace of mind, be aware that two cardinal features of any addiction are 1) denial and 2) an inability to see the full spectrum of the consequences of the problematic drug use. You cannot change your husband's behaviour or mindset. You can present him with the information and let him come to the decision himself. He may have to 'hit bottom' as we say in the addictive realms, where he is loathe to accept the consequences of smoking or eating junk food (being overweight, tired and sore are just some of those consequences) and then will be willing to try anything to avoid the pain that came with those behaviours.  
2 Comments
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Hi Katarina.

First off, I congratulate your husband for quitting smoking after nearly half a century of smoking.
He does have will-power and he does want to live a long healthy life.
He quit smoking because he knew that cigarets would kill him.

Now it is time to make him realize that his next step to stayhealthy is to take control of his food intake just like he did with cigarets.

From what you describe, I would be surprised if his blood work was stellar and he was not pre-diabetic.

Next time you see your family doctor, ask him to go with you over the blood work and help him realize, based on his blood work, weight, bmi, age etc what is the likelihood he would develop a serious condition in the upcoming few years. Diabetes is terrible disease which causes a tremendous amount of suffering. Diabetes is also preventable.

I think once your husband realizes the price he is about to pay by eating snacks and junk food, he would get committed to do something about it, just like he did with smoking.

You mentioned that you cook his meals for him. That is great because eating out/cafeteria food is seldom a healthy thing.

However, there is a chance that the food does not satisfy you husbands needs in spite of the best intentions. Sugar craving also happens when the blood sugar levels spikes and then drops. I suggest you see a dietician that would help you two to come up with a meal plan that would keep him satisfied. It can be done.

The first thing a dietician would ask you on the first appointment is to make a detailed journal of every food item you eat. I suggest you start doing it right now.
Once you keep a log of each food item, name, time and caloric value, you would be surprised how sometimes our stomach plays tricks on our memory.
It would be quite a reality break.

Last but not least: I try to avoid eating 3 hours before you go to sleep. The food sits in the stomach for about 45-60 minutes. Then it slowly makes its way through your system. By eating close to bed time you create a few problems:
1) the stomach is still working hard while you are trying to sleep so you dont get enough rest.
2) when you lie down, the part where the esophagus that connects to the stomach becomes the lowest point so gravity makes the content "gather there". At night time the esophageal sphincter, that one-way-valve that let food get into the stomach tends to relax so the contents of the stomach flows into your throat. In another word - reflux. It can cause a whole range of problems (heart burn and damage to the tissues that are not supposed to come in contact with the erosive stomach juices). This is even worse for people who are overweight because the belly weight puts even more pressure on the stomach.
3) the movement in the intestines  is much slower during sleeping, almost down to a halt. Think what happens to food when it kept at 98.6 degrees for long periods of time. You get the picture.

I know it is hard to go to sleep hungry. But it is strictly a matter of habit. Just like on the nights before you do your annual blood work, if you can't eat then you can't eat.

Again, you husband had the amazing will-power to quit smoking. He can also take charge of his diet. He only needs to put his mind to it.
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