The news of Amy Winehouse’s death in July of this year was tragic, but it wasn’t surprising. Her struggle with addiction and eating disorders had been well-documented during her meteoric rise to fame. The autopsy results last week confirmed the suspicions that her addictions indeed led to her ultimate demise. I found this so sad and predictably true. It was also clear in interviews with her and her loved ones, that she suffered from incredibly low self esteem. In spite of her amazing success, she still did not feel worthy of love from herself or anyone else. Even for those of us not subject to her particular behavior, her story has a lot to tell us about addiction and self esteem.
An article from the British newspaper gets directly to the issue in an article entitled “Addiction Killed Amy Winehouse – what sort doesn’t matter.” The author, Deborah Orr, writes, “. . . addictive substance abuse is addictive substance abuse, whether it’s legal or illegal . . .”. That’s what makes food addictions so difficult. Unlike drugs or alcohol, which can be cut out of our lives all together, we need to eat in order to live. It’s certainly not easy to cut out drugs and alcohol; I know that firsthand, having struggled with alcoholism in addition to eating disorders. But when the source of your addiction is something you still need to consume in some form, it can feel more difficult.
The irony of this is that food is not the enemy and should not be reduced to something we loathe and make wrong. We actually need it to live and it was not created to be overused and abused. And knowing that does not fix being addicted to it. It is however a point I needed to make.
However, food addiction can manifest itself in many ways, from anorexia to bulimia to compulsive overeating. And more often than not, these addictions are a direct result of low self esteem and negative body image. We decide we don’t like what we see in the mirror, which for some leads to self-starving and for others results in self-punishing binge eating. Either way, the effects are clear:
poor body image –> low self esteem –> mistreatment of food . . . and it starts all over again.
So how do we break out of the cycle? It is challenging and yet totally possible– addiction is both psychological and chemical, and the longer we’ve engaged in this pattern the harder it is to break. Unlike drugs or alcohol, which have very obvious effects, the effects of food addiction – obesity, lack of energy, depression – are so common in today’s society that we may not even realize we have them too. So often we may only see the results and not realize the source. It can be hard to accept that we are addicted – to sugar, to carbs, to denial. Yet the sooner we can come to terms with our own addictions, the sooner we can get help, and the sooner we can get better.
It is possible to break out – my own story and the stories of so many of my students who have rebuilt their body image, improved their self esteem, and repaired their relationship with food. Kicking addiction alone, however, is nearly impossible. It’s a hard enough thing to do, and when you start out, it can be challenging to hold yourself accountable and take the necessary steps. That’s where friends, family and loved ones come in. The more support, love and encouragement you have, the easier and more successful you’ll be.
You do not need to fall victim to addiction – put yourself out there, ask for help, and you shall receive it. It is possible to break out of the cycle of negativity – to start, just reach out your hand. I promise you someone will be there to love you back.