How Is Food Addiction Different From Other Forms Of Overeating
If you overeat at most of your meals, or have the occasional out-of-control binge eating episode, are you addicted to food?
Pretty much everyone experiences periods of overeating, and/or instances of binge eating.
As the following continuum shows, its only when urges and compulsive behavior around food become severe, frequent, and chronic that a person can be diagnosed with an eating disorder or food addiction.3,4,5
As you may notice, binge eating disorder and food addiction share several major similarities.
But food addictionwhich more closely resembles a substance use disorderis more severe than BED because it causes even more life disruption.
Getting To Be A Habit
When words like “food addiction” are bandied about, there are plenty of skeptics who hesitate to put foods like cheese and chocolate into the same category as widely acknowledged addictions such as cocaine or alcohol. But Barnard asks, “What other term would you use for a woman who gets into her car at 11:30 at night and drives six miles to the 7-Eleven to get a chocolate bar, and does it every night? She’s gaining weight, she feels profoundly guilty afterward, and though she resolves to stop this behavior, she does it every night, night after night? That’s a food addiction.”
The proponents of this food addiction theory point to possible differences between the sexes in their compulsions. Women may be more susceptible to chocolate, particularly in the premenstrual period. While some men may have a sweet tooth, many more say that the one food they’re least likely to give up is steak. Barnard points to an April 2000 survey of 1,244 adults, which concluded that one in four Americans wouldn’t give up meat for a week even if they were paid a thousand dollars to do so. “It sounds an awful lot like an addiction to me,” he says.
In an animal study at Princeton University in 2002, researchers found that after rats binged on sugar, they showed classic signs of withdrawal when the sweets were removed from their diet, suggesting that sugar may have addictive properties.
“Yes, people do get into habits,” adds Ayoob. “But the good part is that habits can be changed.”
Drop The Nutrition Lecture
Yes, maybe youre a health or nutrition coach.
But in this case, focusing too much on nutrition can backfire.
Clients struggling with food addiction are usually already overly concerned with what and how much theyre eatingand they probably feel tremendous shame around that.
Instead of nutritional value, focus on how foods make clients feel.
You can ask : When you eat , how do you feel in your body? And what thoughts come up?
Although sometimes uncomfortable, this exercise can help clients identify foods that do feel good in their bodies, and align with their values. Over time, this can build a more positive, practical relationship with food.
Help clients develop awareness around their triggers.
Ask gently: What was going on before you started to feel the urge to eat? Where were you, who were you with, and how were you feeling?
When youre aware of your patterns and habits, its easier to find opportunities to re-route them.
Collaborate to come up with eating-replacement activities.
Stress is a common trigger for overeating, so ask your client to make a list of activities that calm them down, and bring them joy.
Note that overeating isnt forbidden. Clients always have the option to use this coping mechanism.
But they can also slowly develop alternative behaviors to eatingwhich they may learn to prefer over time.
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The Harmful Effects Of Food Addiction
For years, people have said that eating too many sweets and bad foods was a lack of willpower, but this is not the cause.
Food addiction to these types of foods is believed to be caused by dopamine, which can affect the brains biochemistry.
Although it might not be viewed as bad as drug addiction, food addiction is still a serious problem.
Not only can it cause you physical harm, but it can be a leading factor in different chronic conditions, like type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Not to mention, it can be mentally harmful as well because it can impact your self-image and damage your self-esteem by becoming unhappy with your body.
This can sometimes be more harmful to you than even the physical aspects of food addiction because it will reflect on how you feel about yourself.
This being said, avoiding junk food entirely might seem like an impossible task because it is such a major part of modern culture.
However, it can be necessary for your health, and you should take precautions to ensure you are taking care of yourself not only for yourself but for your loved ones, as well.
After making the decision to not eat your trigger foods, it can become easier if you avoid places where you might be tempted by them.
Sohow Can You End Food Addiction
Your first step toward food addiction recovery is to discover what youre trying to compensate for or attain with food. As a food addict, youre probably disconnected from your emotions. It doesnt mean you dont have any it just means that you probably dont sense where theyre coming from and why.
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Getting Help With Your Food Addiction
Curbing food addiction is a difficult thing to take on, but in the end, it will be worth it to help you in your life.
Just like with any type of addiction, most people will quit before they succeed in kicking their addiction in the long run.
This is nothing to be ashamed of. Plus, it is alright to ask for help to get over your food addiction.
If you have failed a couple of times, you might even seek out a psychiatrist or a psychologist who has experience in helping their patients with food addiction.
One-on-one support can be the thing that makes the difference for you, but there are also several free support groups that you might seek out.
Food Adicts in Recovery Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous are just a couple of examples of 12-step programs that might be able to help provide you support in becoming successful with curbing your food addiction.
Basically, there are a number of ways that you can curb your food addiction. Some of these will involve the help and support of other people, and some will be directly on you.
However, it is important to know that it is possible and you can curb your food addiction, regardless of how strong it is if you really wish to.
This is important because if you are not in the mindset that you WILL curb your food addiction, then you will fail with or without help.
It is a mindset that you must be willing to commit to in the long wrong and not be discouraged if you fumble a little along the way.
What Is A Food Addiction
This is a newer term that is still controversial in the medical field because there isnt any way to prove its existence with medical tests.
However, many scientists and doctors, alike, have come to recognize this as food addiction.
Much like drug addiction and alcoholism, food addiction is a serious disease that needs to be managed properly to avoid any negative side effects or to help reverse ones that have already occurred.
However, you do not need to worry because there is hope in being able to identify your food addiction and get help.
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Scientific Evidence For Food Addiction
Most of the evidence supporting the concept of food addiction is biological in nature, with some behavioural evidence also available.
Here are some of the key findings from studies that support the notion of food addiction:
How To Overcome Your Eating Addiction
So weve established that substance-based food addictions arent a thing and that chocolate addiction isnt real. But behavioral eating addictions can still very well exist. Heres a few ways to overcome them.
First of all, analyze your cravings. Are they fueled by certain food restrictions? If they are, you need to let go of them and to give yourself permission to eat.
Now this may seem scary at first surely if youre allowed to eat anything you want then youll only eat junk food, right? Well, for a brief period, you might. If youve been banning certain foods from your plate for a long time and youre suddenly allowed to have them, youll certainly binge on them at first.
However, while having ice-cream and chocolate dinners for the rest of your life might seem appealing now, it probably wont after youve had it for a few nights in a row. If you want to know more about this, check out my article on how to end your obsession with food .
Its also important to let go of the all-or-nothing mentality, which you can read more about here.
If you feel like you dont restrict but are still addicted to eating, here are a few things to consider.
You could be restricting without even realizing it or you could be thinking about restricting your food intake all the time but end up giving in.
If not, youve probably developed poor eating habits and are used to eating highly-processed, calorie-dense foods instead of healthy and balanced meals.
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Eat A Well Balanced Diet
Fad dieting, severe restriction and skipping meals will predispose you to binge eating and overconsumption at your next meal time. Dont do it. Follow a healthy, well-balanced meal plan with protein, high fibre carbohydrate, healthy fats and lots of fruit and vegetables.
The most important thing to remember is to not give up. You want to change your eating habits and lifestyle forever, so give yourself a break if you have a relapse into old habits and try again tomorrow. The great thing about life is that its never too late.
Here at The Healthy Eating Hub we are keen to help you kick your food addiction.
If youd like further help with your nutrition please click below:
How Can You Tell If You Have A Problem
Typically, food addiction occurs with foods that are highly palatable, processed, and high in combinations of energy, fat, salt and/or sugar while being low in nutritional value. This might include chocolates, confectionery, takeaway foods, and baked products.
These foods may be associated with high levels of reward and may therefore preoccupy your thoughts. They might elevate your mood or provide a distraction from anxious or traumatic thoughts, and over time, you may need to eat more to get the same feelings of reward.
However, for others, it could be an addiction to feelings of fullness or a sense of reward or satisfaction.
There is ongoing debate about whether it is components of food that are addictive or the behaviour of eating itself that is addictive, or a combination of the two.
Given people consume foods for a wide range of reasons, and people can form habits around particular foods, it could be different for different people.
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Biological Factors: How Does Your Body Work
In early human history, food scarcity happened on the regular.
To survive, humans evolved to overeat when food was abundant, especially when that food was tasty and calorie-rich.6,7,8
But now, the instinct that once helped us survive makes it hard to stop eating.9
Highly-processed foodsespecially those with a combination of sugar, fat, and saltare the most difficult to resist.
Much like drugs and alcohol, these foods trigger a range of rewarding, feel-good neurochemicals, including dopamine. Highly-processed foods have this effect even when youre not hungry.10,11,12
These days, highly-processed foods are so accessible that you have to rely on your ability to self-regulate, or control your behavior, in order to resist them.
But people who deal with compulsive overeating often have a hard time self-regulating.
People with compulsive overeating may
Struggle with impulse control, possibly because the planning, strategizing center of the brain is impaired. This might be a hallmark of all addictions, and can contribute to poor recovery outcomes.14,15
React more easily and intensely to stressors. They have a higher level of cortisol release than others.16 And because stress can trigger addictive behaviors, people who are more physically sensitive to stress may be more likely to use food as a way to cope.
How Did We Get Here
Many organizations including the United Nations, World Health Organization, and National Institutes of Health are struggling to solve this big fat problem. Obesity-related issues account for 80 percent of U.S. healthcare costs and will create a global price tag of $47 trillion during the next 20 years. The NIH alone spends $800 million annually trying to find the cause of obesity. Yet despite all this attention, we are still failing.
The food industry would have us believe obesity is the result of personal choices. Their implication: People are fat not because their biology has been masterfully tricked into craving the food that the industry produces, but because people are lazy and gluttonous. If we all just took more personal responsibility, the industrys paid experts assert, we could solve this problem. There are no good or bad foods, they claim its all about moderation. And, of course, we should all just exercise a bit more.
The food industry would have us believe obesity is the result of personal choices. Their implication: People are fat not because their biology has been masterfully tricked into craving the food that the industry produces, but because people are lazy and gluttonous.
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Ways To Help If You Think You Have A Food Addiction
When thinking about addictive substances, most people will put illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes at the top of the list, without even giving a second thought to the food they consume on a daily basis. That makes sense, given that food addiction is not currently included in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , the standard classification used by mental health professionals in the United States to diagnose addiction. However, perhaps it should be, as there are more than 100 million adults considered obese in the U.S. compared with the countrys 17.6 million alcoholics and one million chronic heroin users. Is using food Americas drug of choice?
The jury is still out, so to speak, when it comes to classifying food as an addiction. On the pro side, scientific research shows us that certain palatable foods can create a reaction similar to the impact drugs have on our brain. For example, when a person repeatedly eats sugar, which is hidden in so many of the foods that we consume, it causes dopamine to be released in reward-related areas of the brain. These same areas of the brain are activated when you drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. The reward from eating sugar can lead to further eating, ultimately making it hard to cut back on intake.
If you or someone you know is struggling with food addiction, here are five topics to consider as an intervention:
Symptoms Of Food Addiction
There are no blood tests or laboratory exams that can diagnose the existence of food addiction. Like other addiction disorders, the diagnosis of food addiction is based on the persons behaviors. Here are the symptoms of addiction:
Can you relate to at least four signs above? You should start to worry about having a food addiction. But if you have six signs or above, go seek professional help because its most likely food addiction.
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The Science Of Sugar Addiction
Since sugar is by far the most addictive food type, it makes sense to cover the science behind sugar addiction.
The biochemical underpinning for sugar addiction can be explained in four simple steps:
- Step 1 An increase in blood sugar forces the pancreas to secrete insulin. The insulin breaks down sugar so blood sugar levels drop
- Step 2 When blood sugar levels drop, a signal is sent to the brain telling it blood sugar levels need to rise
- Step 3 The brain releases hormones that cause cravings for sugar. The person also feels weak and slightly agitated
- Step 4 The sugar addict then binges on sugary items in order to satisfy these cravings