When combined with a history of eating disorders and anxiety, any form of addiction that impacts levels of stress hormones and blood sugar are a terrible mix. We often talk about addiction to substances, such as alcohol or cigarettes, but one just as addictive – and easily assessable – drug is caffeine.
When suffering with an eating disorder, caffeine is seen as a good, reliable friend. It is said to speed up the metabolism, thus increasing the rate of weight loss. And it’s not just about coffee. From green tea, to guarana, to green coffee extract and yerba mate, health magazines and fitness gurus alike will be inundated with the health benefits of these natural sources of caffeine.
Arguably the most addictive of these caffeine sources is coffee. It can be very high in caffeine and is easily accessible, affordable and a social norm.
However, the impact it has on a person prone to anxiety is not to be underestimated. In a nutshell, it pumps up the body into a heightened state of alert. For someone already in a highly anxious state, it doesn’t take much to see a person’s stress bucket begin to overflow.
It is also detrimental for sufferers of bulimia or binge eating disorders. Blood sugar levels go up, insulin is released, only for blood sugar levels to rapidly drop. This leads to fatigue and a craving for carbohydrates and sugar – foods which are common binge foods.
When you have both an eating disorder and anxiety, there is a constant battle in your mind. You know you should cut back on caffeine, but you feel addicted. You also believe it might be the answer to your weight loss regime (which, of course, isn’t true). But that little eating disorder devil in your mind would prefer to tell you otherwise. With an addiction, you want that rush of dopamine and endorphins that will make you feel good. As your anxiety increases, you really want something that will help you feel better. Caffeine has become that ideal, just like a person may feel the same way with alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.
Anything from 2.5 cups of coffee per day can lead to an addiction. You tend to know if it’s happened to you, because the idea of missing just one cup is extremely uncomfortable and makes you feel irritated and agitated to an unhealthy level. It’s not just feeling annoyed, but like you can’t function or focus on anything else until you’ve had that ‘hit’.
As with any addiction, the easiest way to break this cycle is to quit cold turkey. This is easier said than done, so perhaps in the first instance it might be worth limiting yourself to one caffeine substance per day and see how you feel. It will feel uncomfortable, it will feel frustrating, but unless you get those stress levels lowered, there are a range of longer term health conditions awaiting you on the horizon: from diabetes to Cushing’s disease.