The Psychology Of Food Addiction
Your psychological relationship with food is based on how you think about and behave around food. When you have a food addiction, you lose control over the types and amounts of food you eat. You become dependent on the feel-good effect that certain foods have on you, even though the good feelings dont last.
Heres what it doesnt mean to be a food addict: It doesnt mean you have an eating disorder. Food addiction has never been classified as a true eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia. But while food addicts may not have a diagnosed eating disorder, they certainly show signs of having an unhealthy relationship with food.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Additionally, dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations in a pathological state in which an individual pursues reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. The terms food addiction and food addict were coined because the behavior of a food addict resembles that of an alcoholic, drug abuser, or gambler, all recognized addictions.
How To Tell If You’re Struggling With Food Addiction
Food addiction will play out differently in everyone, but there are some common symptoms to look out for.
Behavioral symptoms of food addiction, according to Cohen, Hopkins and Masterson, as well as the 2018 systematic review on food addiction, can include:
- Intense and persistent food cravings
- Eating past the point of fullness, and even past the point of physical discomfort
- Eating in isolation or secrecy, especially because of feelings of shame
- Finding it very difficult to say “no” to fatty, sugary, processed foods
- Feeling guilty after overeating
- Spending excessive amounts of money on foods, specifically for bingeing
- Avoiding social interactions to avoid trigger foods, or to eat in isolation instead
- Making food rules for yourself and breaking them over and over
Food addiction also brings about emotional symptoms, such as low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness, as well as physical symptoms, such as fatigue and digestive issues.
As for when to seek help, Masterson says to look at how food is affecting your life. “If something you’re doing causes you impairment in an aspect of your life, such as your health, relationships or job, it’s worth addressing,” she says. “If you suspect it’s a problem, it probably is. Often we don’t recognize a pattern as problematic until it’s pretty well-established and hard to ignore.”
Putting It All Together
It may feel a bit overwhelming to deal with emotional eating habits, but it doesnt have to be. You can make small changes in your diet and lifestyle as you are able, and seek out additional help from a therapist or other professionals.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Michelle Sands, ND. She is double board certified in Integrative Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine and is also a Board-Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and competitive endurance athlete. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you recognize patterns of emotional eating in your life? How do you deal with food cravings?
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Mental Hack #: Leveraging Social
Your social networks can fuel your food addiction and contribute to being overweight.
A study done in the New England Journal of Medicine found that social networks can promote obesity people with friends, siblings and spouses who are obese are much more likely to be obese themselves.
Now, although this wasnt in reference to online social networks , there is evidence that shows that youre many times more likely to share the same interests as your friends.
This is just the long way of saying that people have a huge influence over your success or failure, and youre likely to end up like the people around you in more than one way.
You can leverage the internet social spheres in your favor too. There are a couple innovative sites to help you integrate a positive social environment with your own personal goals.
Fitocracy in a nutshell: Its health and fitness, gamified. You earn points for doing quests , and then you can level up and reach new levels.
It integrates with a social feed like facebook, and lets others motivate and help each other out.
Stickk in a nutshell: Stickk is another way to socially integrate betting with attaining your own goals.
Its based on the whole carrot and stick theory of motivation that to motivate people, you can offer them incentives , or punish them.
The key is to pick a charity you hate so much that youd rather die than see your money go there
Social betting gone digital.
Keep Your Goals In Mind
Setting short- and long-term goals and referring to them often may help you stay on track and reduce the urge to overeat.
Knowing the reason for overcoming overeating and how overeating is preventing you from reaching your health and wellness goals can motivate you to work toward establishing new eating patterns.
Jotting down motivational quotes and hanging them in prominent places around your living space can help inspire you to stick to a plan throughout the day.
Summary Identify specific short- and long-term eating goals and refer to them often. It can even be helpful to place motivational quotes around your home.
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Mental Hack #: Cognitive Control
Cognitive control revolves all around how you view food, and I divide it into two broad categories:
Theres often a lot of self-talk going on when we try to fight foods . And what usually ends up happening is that the more time we try to talk ourselves out of something, the stronger it becomes and the more it steals our attention.
Ever tried jumping off a high rock? The longer you wait and talk yourself up, the less chance you will actually jump.
One of the easiest things you can do in regard to your mind is change the mental chatter.
Rather than looking at cookies and ice cream and saying to yourself, Oh man those look good, tell yourself the truth, I know I cant just have one bite Im going to eat 20, and even remind yourself of your goals, tomorrow Im going to feel like crap and totally regret this.
Jon Grant, at the university of Minnesota, asks patients with a history of shoplifting to write out a shopping list before they go to the grocery store and just put two items on the list: handcuffs, to remind them of their previous history, and a bologna sandwich, to remind them of what they were eating in jail.
Basically this just jogs their memory and reminds them of the consequences of their behavior, and similar to saying Ill feel terrible after eating cookies, it instills a sense of guilt beforehand. .
Setting rules for your food is another way to beat using willpower.
Alternatives To Emotional Eating
If youre depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.
If youre anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
If youre exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
If youre bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy .
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Identify Your Emotional Eating Triggers
The first step in putting a stop to emotional eating is identifying your personal triggers. What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event.
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:
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Food Addiction Signs And Symptoms
There are certain signs that a physician can look out for to assess if someone is addicted to food or not.
These include the following:
- If the individual eats certain things more than the planned amount.
- If he continues to eat even after getting full.
- If the person does not worry about certain kinds of things being unhealthy for him/her and does not cut down on them.
- If he continues to eat till the point that he gets physically sick.
- If he has the uncontrollable urge to eat something and if it is not available, goes to any length to get it and consume it.
The addict himself might feel certain symptoms, which can let him determine that he has a dependence so he can seek help.
These symptoms include the following:
How Does Food Addiction Happen
True food addiction works just like addictions to drugs or alcohol: by hijacking the reward pathways in your brain.
Food addiction develops just like drug and alcohol addiction, by affecting the way your brain works. Research shows that certain types of foods can influence neurological patterns in your brain, and some patterns overlap in people with obesity and drug addiction.
While no one can say for sure if there’s any one underlying psychological issue to point to, Masterson notes that the general theory is that “people who tend to become dependent on a substance have a deficiency in the reward mechanism in the brain.”
Ingestion of palatable foods can fill that gap, she says, which is what makes the food so satisfying. As for what causes the reward mechanism deficiency, Masterson says that any number of factors in your history or genetic or biological makeup could be the culprit.
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How To Overcome 3 Causes Of Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is a very real problem in the world today. I know because I struggle with this issue myself.
However, if you are not careful, emotional eating can lead to a list of health related problems. Eating disorders such as:
- binge-eating disorder
- inflammation issues
- and more
If you dont take control over your food eating habits, it will take control of you. In that case, you will need professional help to overcome these disorders. So, lets discuss how you can be EMPOWERED towards a HOPE and a FUTURE and regain control over how you eat.
What Causes Food Addiction And What Are The Signs
People with food addiction struggle every day with a loss of control or inability to stop eating foods that are high in carbohydrates, fat, salt, sugar, or artificial sweeteners. They also suffer from painful feelings of shame and embarrassment when it comes to their food behaviors.
Food addiction is a relatively new topic. But, its a complex condition that has similarities to other types of addiction, such as drugs, alcohol, shopping, or gambling. However, help is available.Understanding the causes and signs of food addiction can help you lower your risk and change potentially problematic behaviors.
Read Also: Where To Find Help For Drug Addiction
Help For Food Addiction
Science is still working to understand and find treatments for food addiction.
Some argue that recovery from food addiction may be more complicated than recovery from other kinds of addictions. Alcoholics, for example, can ultimately abstain from drinking alcohol. But people who are addicted to food still need to eat.
A nutritionist, psychologist, or doctor who is educated about food addiction may be able to help you break the cycle of compulsive overeating.
There are also a growing number of programs that help people who are addicted to food. Some, like Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, are based on the 12-step program that has helped many people addicted to alcohol, drugs, or gambling.
Others, like Food Addicts Anonymous, use the principles of the 12-step program along with strict diets that advise people to abstain from problem ingredients, like sugar, refined flour, and wheat.Ã
Binge Eating Disorder: How To Overcome Food Addiction
The most common eating disorder in the U.S., Binge Eating Disorder , affects nearly 3.5% of adult women and 2% of adult men. This article will go into depth about the disorder and help you learn how to tame your cravings and beat food addiction.
When you have a Binge Eating Disorder , you eat large amounts of food in short periods of time. This is often accompanied by feeling like there is a loss of control over how much you are eating.
The other vital features of BED are:
- Eating more quickly than normal
- Eating until you are uncomfortably full
- Feeling guilty after overeating
- Trying to hide your eating behavior
- Body dissatisfaction
For example, you may get a BED diagnosis if these symptoms occur at least once a week for 12 weeks. Some people believe that BED and food addiction are the same. However, unlike BED, food addiction is not a medical diagnosis.
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Mental Hack #: Figure Out Your Eating Type And Then Dominate It
In Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink, PhD, he cleverly put many of us into five main categories based on our eating habits.
Although the categories arent new, he put some clever names that help you remember which kind of eater you are.
He breaks people down into 5 common groups:
A. The meal stuffer. Meal stuffers eat primarily during mealtimes, but they stuff themselves and eat to excess. They often eat so quickly that theyre uncomfortably full after. These are the kids we often say have good appetites. They often go back for seconds.
B. Snack grazer. Snack grazers reach for food whenever its available. Convenience is usually the main reason in other words, food is available and they just constantly reach for it as long as its there. Snacking is sometimes a nervous habit or something they do when bored. Sometimes they snack as an excuse to get up and walk around, or they just feel bored when watching tv or reading.
C. The party binger. Party bingers are usually professionals or people in corporate environments. Food is either a backdrop for business or fun, and its easy to lose track of how much they eat or drink. Lots of social events and business meetings means lots of food and eating out.
You know you are prone to not being prepared for lunch. And you know that you usually feel too lazy to go out for a meal and end up feasting on the vending machine. So what can you do?
You can consciously prepare lunch beforehand and bring it.
Ditch The Diet Mentality
Fad diets probably wont help you stop overeating in the long run. Short-term, restrictive diets may lead to rapid weight loss, but they are often unsustainable and can set you up for failure.
Instead, make long-term lifestyle changes that promote health and wellness. Its the best way to create a balanced relationship with food and prevent habits like overeating.
Summary Instead of going on fad diets to curb overeating, find a sustainable way of eating that nourishes your body and helps it reach optimal health.
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Normal Eater Emotional Eater Food Addict
The Problem is Physical and Emotional:
|The Problem is Physical and Emotional and Spiritual:
|The Solution is Physical:
||The Solution is Emotional:
. . . and Physical
|The Solution is Spiritual:
. . . and Emotional and Physical
|Using What Process?||
||Using What Process?|