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Food Addiction, | 09.22.21

Tolerance: The Trap that Leads to Addiction and How to Break Out of It

Imagine the first time you ever rode a rollercoaster…. pretty intense experience right? Wind rushing through your hair, the suspense before the drop, intense twists and turns. Whether you were utterly terrified, completely excited, or in total bliss, you were likely feeling something very intense. 

Now imagine going on that same exact ride every day for the next year. The next few times might still be quite exhilarating, but how do you think you’d feel by the end of the year? For sure not the same as the first time you rode. With the predictable ups and downs, twists and turns, you’ll probably be not quite as satisfied. In fact, you may even be looking for a rollercoaster even more extreme or more intense to match that same exhilaration you felt the first few times you rode.

While not many of us have gone on the same rollercoaster ride every day for a year, imagining what it might feel like to do something again and again illustrates that rewards lose potency over time. This is a bit like tolerance, a main hallmark of addiction. 

Tolerance is defined as “the capacity of the body to… become less responsive to a substance… especially with repeated use or exposure.”

In addiction, this is observed when you need more and more of a substance to achieve a desired effect, or when you notice less and less effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance. 

Tolerance in Your Relationship with Food

Here’s what tolerance might look like in your relationship with food- you may notice that a normal serving size or two no longer cuts it and that fruit is no longer sweet compared to the intense taste of a chocolate milkshake or ice cream. This is tolerance at work.

Eventually tolerance takes us to a point where we hardly find the substance enjoyable at all- and what we’re left with is the negative consequences- the shame, aches and pains, weight gain, low self-esteem, you name it. We start eating simply to cope with that, and thus the tolerance increases and the cycle continues.

Whew. Tolerance is such a trap, isn’t it? The only way out of the cycle of tolerance and increased consumption is stopping to use the substance, and coping with the short-term withdrawal that comes with it. The good news is that the body is amazingly resilient- our pleasure center and brain rewires with more and more distance from the substance, and before we know it, fruit now tastes sweet and a regular serving size actually seems like a regular serving size. With practice, determination, and vigilance, you can spot tolerance when it’s happening and break the cycle for good. 


Want more support? Check out Molly’s youtube channel and subscribe to the Sunday Love Letter to get support, information, and motivation on your journey to create a loving relationship with food.

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