“Food has replaced sex in my life. Now I can’t even get into my own pants.”MARNIA ROBINSON, CUPID’S POISONED ARROW
Our Unique Addictions
In the late 1990s as I was carrying out work as a fitness professional and personal trainer, I had the new experience of working with a mostly female clientele. Many of these women were in their mid-30s. I noticed right away that most of them were very busy with their jobs, families, and all of their other commitments. They were so busy that some of them told me they found food had become their main reward system and realized they were addicted, but felt powerless to do anything about it. They could consume it quickly and move on to the next thing that had to be done. Obviously, spending quality time with their husbands and on their love lives had suffered.
I witnessed the phenomenon illustrated by Marnia Robinson’s quote at the beginning of the chapter during these years with many young women clients. Food had replaced sex in their lives and, in most cases, had caused them to become overweight. It made me wonder where this had started and if it could be prevented. This curiosity made my switch to working with college students, and eventually mostly college women, very interesting and thought-provoking. I could see that college was where much of women’s over committed behavior began and started taking notice of sex differences in behavior.
Starting at the university, I had the opportunity to observe some very interesting sex difference phenomena during my years of teaching co-ed personal conditioning to college students. I’ve always included a segment of the course devoted to covering addictive substances and behaviors. In one lesson, I would take the following addictive substances and display them to the class on the ground through photos: regular and diet sodas, candy bars, cigarettes, coffee, a representation of sexual activity, and simulated cocaine. My first question would be, “Which ones are mind altering?”
Most classes agreed that they all were.
Then, I asked them which were addictive.
Again, most classes agreed that they all were.
Finally, I would ask them to show, in their opinions, which were the hardest hitting and most addictive. This is where things got really interesting. In the co-ed classes, young men invariably rated sexuality highly as a hard-hitting and addictive behavior. Oftentimes it was up near cocaine on the hierarchical rating. But in the women’s classes,it was much different.
Frequently, sexual activity was rated much lower by women, often in the neighborhood of coffee, but women rated food at the same high-level men rated sexuality. I took note of this in class after class and it rarely varied. I began to see in real life and real time that for young men and young women, the power of food to compel behavior has a significant sex difference. That accidental discovery led me to start studying this phenomenon.
As I started researching, I discovered that Dr. Gene-Jack Wang had found through brain research that a woman’s amygdala is less able to turn off craving signals for food,46 whereas other research showed that the amygdala of young men is more strongly compelled by sexual situations. The amygdala is the brain’s survival, command, and control center and it controls much of our highly motivated behavior, and there are reasons behind a woman’s amygdala being shaped as it has been by thousands of generations to react to food stimuli so strongly. Hopefully,after reading and understanding this historical background, it will make more sense to young women and young men.