Fit Nation participant Ron Cothran says he doesn't understand how somebody can eat just one Oreo.

Editor’s Note: Ron Cothran is one of six CNN viewers selected to be a part of the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program. Follow the “Sassy Six” on Twitter and Facebook as they train to race the Nautica Malibu Triathlon with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on September 14.

Story highlights

Experts disagree on whether food cravings rise to the level of addiction

Ron Cothran says his food addiction left him with guilt, gas and growing stomach

Cothran had gastric bypass surgery and is now training for a triathlon

CNN  — 

I’ve never understood how someone can eat just one Oreo.

In my mind, those scrumptious cookies are supposed to be eaten in groups of six or eight or more, and it would be a culinary sin not to wash them down with a large glass of milk.

My name is Ron Cothran, and I am a food addict.

I used to fill up on stuff, not really knowing what I was eating but just going through the motions until I got my “fix.” Most of the time I was left with guilt, gas and a growing stomach to accompany my gluttony.

People would tell me simply “don’t eat that” or “just don’t buy it” or “leave it alone.” Once in a while, it would work. But most of the time, there was an almost uncontrollable urge to indulge – I just had to have whatever it was that I thought my taste buds were craving.

My name is Ron Cothran, and I am a food addict.

Is it possible for a person to be addicted to something that they need to sustain life? Modern science tells us that the nicotine in cigarettes can be as addictive as heroin. We know that alcoholics are always susceptible to their drink of choice.

But what about food? There’s compelling research to suggest certain foods affect the brain’s pleasure centers the same way addictive substances do, but experts disagree on whether the cravings rise to the level of addiction.

Diabetes took my teeth but not my life

After my gastric bypass surgery, I had to eat only soft foods for two weeks. During that time, a national chain was advertising its chicken-fried steak sandwich. That was the last thing I needed after what I had just put my body through. But the urge was so strong that I ended up going to the restaurant, ordering the sandwich, and bite by bite, chewing each morsel, then spitting it out back into the bag.

How stupid was that? I could have endangered myself if I had swallowed, but I felt I had to satisfy the craving.

My name is Ron Cothran, and I am a food addict.

I know now that my addiction to food was a symptom of a much deeper problem. I can’t tell you when it started, but food had become my confidant. It wouldn’t openly condemn me; it wouldn’t make fun of me. It made me feel good (while I was eating it), and it was always there when I wanted attention. It was my little secret – my reward for working so hard for everybody else.

Fit Nation: Too young not to run

I didn’t realize this about myself until I had gone through my surgery and was forced to find a new way to deal with difficult circumstances. I no longer could eat to feel better; I needed to find a healthier way to deal with life.

I chose to make a healthy lifestyle my goal, and notable successes I found along the way became the warm fuzzies I needed to validate that I was a worthy individual. I believe that my food addiction is real. I have been “sober” now for six years and two months, and I feel great.

Here’s the good news: As long as you have breath, you have the ability to change. It is not a battle of the tongue, but a battle of the mind. Yes, I used weight loss surgery to start the process, but it is only a tool, not a cure. I had to hit rock bottom before I realized that I have the ability to decide each day how my life is going to go.

Once I made the decision to live the second half of my life better than the first, a new journey began. It has been rough at times. I still get a craving now and then, but the difference is in how I respond. I have let things into my life that have so much more value than the satisfaction of a chicken-fried steak sandwich.

Nothing tastes as good as the feeling of good health.

More from Ron: That dying patient could have been me