Is It Genetic or Environment? Pondering what causes food addiction and binge eating disorder has been questioned for years.
My sister flew in from Chicago to attend a conference in Orlando, in my state of Florida, so we decided to spend a few days together at our family get-away beach house.
The getaway is the very place I go to get away and write—toting along Gracie, my crazy, slobbery White Swiss Shepherd, and Oliver my talking Eclectus parrot.
But this trip, was about sisters hanging out and catching up.
So, while we were spending time together we kayaked up and down the quaint inlets yacking away catching up on family stuff; walked along the ocean picking up a sea shell here and there; along with checking out restaurants for dinner each evening.
My food addict antenna was alerted, observing my sisters eating patterns up front and close. She enjoyed a pink margarita trimmed with sparkles of salt, hosting a pink umbrella bobbing up and down between the crushed ice one night, and on another, a golden whiskey concoction with many liquors mixed in.
On other outings I noted her nibbling at chocolate/peanut butter ice cream dripping in chocolate, tasting the breads smothered in butter with dinner along with other delectable treats that I chose not to eat.
Why you ask?
Hi, my name is Lisa, I’m a food addict .
You see, I’m a food addict with years of binge eating followed by diets—sometimes extreme. It was not uncommon for my weight to bounce up and down fifty to one hundred pounds each way. One bite of any of the delectable edibles my sister was ingesting would have sent me off into a binge bliss.
This is not the case for my sister. She is NOT a food addict, binge eater, nor one to gain loads of weight only to turn around and diet. Oh sure she diets like the best of us, but not like an eating disordered person or a person who is addicted to food.
My family of origin is made up of two brothers and fours sisters, including me. I am the only one who got the food addiction/binge eating disorder dis-order.
Why is it one of six has an eating disorder? Is it genetic? Is it environmental? Or perhaps it is a combination of the two.
This is an age-old question asked on all addictions across the board. And it depends on whom you ask, as different answers are sure to surface.
I worked with a lovely patient, will call her Lucinda, who suffered from alcoholism. She was adopted as a baby, raised by a lovely Christian family who didn’t drink. She pondered, not knowing her birth family, if it was genetic or environment.
Lucinda attended a 12-step program, at my strong suggestion, where she posed this very question. The take away she got was that if you look for the cause you are looking for an excuse.
Often the twelve-step rooms suggest if one questions whether the addiction is environment or genetics you are looking for a reason why you are addicted rather than dealing with the addiction, regardless of how it came to be.
But in any event, what is going on? I think it is something to explore.
While my sister and I were perusing through our two days she continued to taste a bit of chocolate or coconut crusted salmon drizzled in a secret sauce, crab cakes, another whiskey concoction that would have knocked my socks off, sauces—and other edibles. But who’s watching?
Though I am a food addict in recovery I’m also a watcher. I’m the silent food police watching what people eat and how they behave when they eat, but not with the intensity when I was in the food.
Foody people watch what other people eat. I see what every one is eating on any given day—taking their inventory. In my eating days, before recovery, I took interest in every morsel eaten and drunk with drudgery because I’d be eating something pure and clean. Something with no sugar, flour, and wheat.
Even though I still look it’s a glance and that’s it. I’m not romancing the idea of eating any of the delectable treats my sister consumed. Today, I don’t wonder obsessively what others eat nor do I question why I can’t eat that.
After years of coming to terms with my eating disorder, I understood food is fuel and nutrients my body needs to operate at an optimal level, yet at the same time I enjoy what I eat.
In recovery you know longer obsess about food, weight, or the next diet.
My three sisters are always on this diet or that diet. One beautiful sister is wearing her fit bit ALWAYS. You couldn’t peel that thing off of her. And without a doubt she’s getting up every hour on the hour as it instructs her to move her body. No matter what. She is not an eating disordered person nor does she have food addiction, but she is a dieter—and serious at that.
Dieters can be eating disordered but not all dieters are. Eating disordered, no matter which type, should not diet, it breeds more obsession and eating issues.
So back to the original question: Are eating disorders genetic or environmental? The Center for Eating Disorders: At Sheppard Pratt says eating disorders are complex illnesses with a genetic component that can be affected by a wide variety of biological and environmental variables. So in other words, it’s not that easy to pinpoint an eating disorder into a pigeonhole and say, yes this is why you behave around food the way you do.
But, with that said, I find eating disorders have many tentacles and the food addiction seems to fit in a category all on it’s own. It is a chemical imbalance that triggers the brain to eat certain foods once one ingests it, smells it, and in many cases just thinks about it.
The article goes on to say that dieting is one of the precipitating factors in the development of eating disorders. Why is it that I, one of six siblings, developed an eating disorder while the other five did not? And my sisters diet like the best of them but it did not trigger an eating disorder.
When I was 13 I started dieting and it catapulted me into a full blown active eating disorder, until I hit my late 30’s, when I began to grasp what I needed to do to tame the giant. My first book, Release Your Obsession with Food: Heal from the Inside Out, unleashes eight food addicts sharing their journey from the throws of binge eating to recovery.
So, back to the question, is it genetic or environment? I think there are hints of eating issues in my family if you poke around the family genetics but it is not pronounced. My mother was obese but I never saw her eating crazy or doing odd things with her food or doing strenuous diets. So, perhaps environment played a role. My maternal grandmother, on the other hand, was most likely an undiagnosed food addict, who in many ways, mimicked much of my behavior when I was active in the food. She had mood swings, impulsive behaviors and she was an incessant dieter.
Yes, for sure I had a chaotic childhood but most of us do in one way or the other, and eating disorders are NOT in my immediate family, with the exception of my maternal grandma. I think the answer is addictions and eating disorders are environmental and genetic—one or the other or a combination of the two.
Lucinda’s case is different. After hunting down the biological parents it was revealed to her that both died of alcoholism. A case of genetic for sure as her parents who raised her were not drinkers—not ever.
So is it genetic or is it environment or is it a combination of the two that leads to eating disorders and/or weight gain? On any given day the answer depends on whom you ask. But I ask you, does it really matter at the end of the day whether it’s the environment or the genetics. Perhaps it’s not an excuse to ask but rather the need for confirmation—but even then does it really matter? NO. No it doesn’t matter.
If you have an eating disorder, food addiction, or struggle with your weight going up and down like a yo yo you have answers to power through to the recovery side. Start with nutritious foods, free of sugar, flower, and wheat and moderate exercise and you too can begin the process of healing from the inside out regardless of whether it’s genetics or environmental.
Do you suffer from food addiction? Have you questioned whether it’s genetic or environment? What are you reading? Does it apply to your self-awareness and self- improvement? What are you reading these days? Does it relate to a diet of some sort? Reach out; I’d love to hear from you.
Hugs to you, I care!
Speaker, writer, licensed clinical psychotherapist, PhD in addiction psychology, eating disorder professional, hypnotherapist changing the view about compulsive eating one addict at a time.