Food Addiction Epidemiology And Relation To Obesity
Evidence regarding the prevalence of YFAS defined food addiction is still somewhat preliminary30 however, in surveying over 130,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, Flint and colleagues found that nearly 6% of women met YFAS defined criteria for food addiction, with a positive association between higher BMI and food addiction diagnoses.45 Using much smaller, general population-based samples, the prevalence of food addiction in overweight/obese subjects, one study found the prevalence of food addiction to be approximately 7%, while another found the prevalence of food addiction to be approximately 15%.46,47 In a clinical sample of obese patients seeking bariatric weight loss surgery, nearly 54% met criteria for food addiction.
Yvonne H.C. Yau, … Marc N. Potenza, in, 2014
The Downsides Of Thinking In Terms Of Food Addiction
However, the problem with thinking of food as addictive is that we become disempowered.
Once you define yourself as someone who is addicted to food, you see yourself as a victim with no control over your own destiny.
With this mentality locked in, we start to see all food as bad instead of choosing more optimal foods that will empower us.
Instead of feeling grateful for having it, enjoying it and celebrating it for nourishing us, we begin to fear it. All food becomes our enemy.
Food addiction constitutes a medicalisation of common eating behaviours, taking on properties of disease. The use of this medical language has implications for the way in which society views overeating and obesity.
If we medicalise our behaviour, we are less likely to take responsibility for our choices.
How Food Addiction Works
People tend to get cravings when the brain starts calling for certain foods often processed foods that arent considered healthy or nutritious.
Even though the conscious mind knows theyre unhealthy, some other part of the brain seems to disagree.
Some people dont experience this and can easily control the types of foods they eat, while others cant.
This isnt due to a lack of willpower its a much more complex situation.
The fact is junk food stimulates the reward system in the brain in the same way as addictive drugs, such as cocaine.
For susceptible people, eating junk food can lead to full-blown addiction, which shares the same biological basis as drug addiction (
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About The Expert: Ashley Gearhardt Phd
Ashley Gearhardt, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology in the clinical science area at the University of Michigan. She also earned her BA in psychology from the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. While working on her doctorate in clinical psychology at Yale University, Gearhardt became interested in the possibility that certain foods may be capable of triggering an addictive process. To explore this further, she developed the Yale Food Addiction Scale to operationalize addictive eating behaviors, which has been linked with more frequent binge eating episodes, an increased prevalence of obesity and patterns of neural activation implicated in other addictive behaviors. It has been cited over 1,000 times and translated into over ten languages.
Her areas of research also include investigating how food advertising activates reward systems to drive eating behavior and the development of food preferences and eating patterns in infants. She has published over 100 academic publications and her research has been featured on media outlets, such as ABC News, Good Morning America, the Today Show, TheWall Street Journal, and NPR.
The Case For Behavioral Addiction
Its been eight years since my doctoral research regarding the treatment of binge eating disorder. At that time, prior to the distribution of the DSM-5 in May 2013, there was debate as to the inclusion of Binge Eating Disorder as a stand-alone eating disorder. Some believed binge eating should be considered as an addiction spectrum disorder.
In many ways binge eating has the behavioral characteristics of substance addiction: Loss of control, increasing amounts of food to get the same reward effects, unsuccessful attempts to cut back as seen in yo-yo dieting, continuing to binge eat despite severe health consequences, increased social isolation due to stigma, and behaviors that are accompanied by a feeling of shame and self-loathing.
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Is There Food Addiction Rehab Available In The Uk
Those who suffer from food addiction may often become anti-social, withdrawing from social events and isolating themselves from others to conceal their addiction. However, the statistics prove that you are never alone in your compulsive eating struggle. Thanks to an increased understanding of food addiction in recent years, some inpatient rehabs around the UK now offer help with food addiction.
UKATs eight private inpatient rehab clinics around the UK offer holistic treatment programmes to tackle many forms of substance or behavioural addiction. UKATs behavioural addiction programmes involve Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy . These therapies provide you with the right tools to understand the roots of food addiction and the best techniques to handle your cravings in the future.
Of the eight UKAT rehabilitation centres, Banbury Lodge in South Oxfordshire specialises in eating disorders and addictions involving food.
Repeatedly Failing At Setting Rules
If someone struggles with their self-control they often try to set themselves rules. Yet those rules virtually always fail. Rules that are set around eating are just as likely to fail. People with food addiction often set a rule of having a single cheat day each week, or only eating trigger food at the weekend, but then they fail to adhere to that rule.
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Causes Of Food Addiction
Addiction itself is a complex disease. Once a line is crossed, there is no going back, and this is the same whether dealing with drugs, alcohol, or food. With food addiction, the intake of certain types of food act as a sort of drug that produces pleasure or a feeling of comfort, even when the body does not need the nutrients. One study found that food addiction occurs when a persons neuroanatomy and neurochemistry become altered.
Signs And Symptoms You May Be Addicted To Food
This Eating Disorder can be recognizable by numerous signs and symptoms. The following are possible symptoms of an addiction to food:
- Gorging in more food than one can physically tolerate
- Eating to the point of feeling ill
- Going out of your way to obtain certain foods
- Continuing to eat certain foods even if no longer hungry
- Eating in secret, isolation
- Avoiding social interactions, relationships, or functions to spend time eating certain foods.
- Difficulty function in a career or job due to decreased efficiency
- Spending a significant amount of money on buying certain foods for bingeing purposes
- Sleep disorders, such as insomnia or oversleeping
- Digestive disorders
- Suicidal ideations
If you or your loved one has been experiencing any of these above symptoms as a result of food addiction, seek out professional help immediately to work through these pertinent issues.
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Its A Serious Problem
Though the term addiction is often thrown around lightly, having a true addiction is a serious condition that typically requires treatment to overcome.
The symptoms and thought processes associated with food addiction are similar to those of drug abuse. Its just a different substance, and the social consequences may be less severe.
Food addiction can cause physical harm and lead to chronic health conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes .
In addition, it may negatively impact a persons self-esteem and self-image, making them unhappy with their body.
As with other addictions, food addiction may take an emotional toll and increase a persons risk of premature death.
Food addiction increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Excessive weight may also affect a persons self-esteem.
Completely avoiding junk foods may seem impossible. Theyre everywhere and a major part of modern culture.
However, in some cases, entirely abstaining from certain trigger foods can become necessary.
Once the firm decision to never eat these foods again is made, avoiding them may become easier, as the need to justify eating or not eating them is eliminated. Cravings may also disappear or decrease significantly.
Consider writing a list of pros and cons to think through the decision.
Write everything down no matter how peculiar or vain it may seem. Then compare the two lists and ask if its worth it.
If the answer is a resounding yes, be assured that its the right decision.
What Are The Effects Of Food Addiction
Effects of the condition can vary from person to person. The most common food addiction effects are listed below.
- Physical effects: Food addiction can have adverse physical effects on a person due to the excessive amount of food that is consumed. People who suffer from the disorder may experience physical effects such as unhealthy weight gain, headaches, obesity, and digestive problems.
- Psychological effects:Addictive behaviors around unhealthy foods can affect a persons mental health. Some of the psychological effects that someone with food addiction may experience include anxiety, increased irritability, low self-esteem, depression, hopelessness, and in severe cases, suicidal ideation.
- Short-term effects:Consistent overeating can also have short-term effects that are often experienced physically. These include heartburn, lack of energy, nausea, vomiting, and an upset stomach.
- Long-term effects:Food addiction increases ones risk of developing a wide array of health problems. Some of its long-term effects include type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, stroke, sleep apnea, reduced sex drive, and heart disease.
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Treatment: How To Beat Food Addiction
If the previous sections of this guide have made you feel hopeless, fear not. There is freedom from food and sugar addiction.
The first step is to recognize you have a problem by knowing the signs, as listed above. Then, when you understand what is happening in your brain at a neurochemical level, this helps you give yourself the love and compassion for why it may be so difficult to control your cravings and the impulse to eat and eat despite being full and despite adverse consequences.
The next step is to take an honest inventory of the foods that you simply cannot moderate in your eating, the ones you crave and cannot control. These are your trigger foods.
The most common trigger foods are sugar and sweets, refined flour and carbohydrates, and mixtures of sugar, refined carbohydrates, fat, and salt.
In my experience, food addiction usually starts as a sugar addiction, and then progresses along a continuum from mild to moderate to severe. In the early years a food addict may be triggered only by sugar and have a hard time controlling eating candies and sweets.
But over time, and increasing exposure to sugar, food like refined flour and other carbohydrates that rapidly digest to sugar may become a problem. The more addicted an individual becomes, the more foods exist that trigger the binges and disordered eating.
What are your trigger foods? Generally, if you have even a small bite of your trigger food, a binge or some food issue that you cant control typically follows.
What Are The Risk Factors For Food Addiction
Research on food addiction is still in its infancy, so theres limited information on the risk factors. However, addiction in general is associated with genetic and psychological risk factors, and it seems possible that these may apply to addiction-like eating behavior as well.
The risk of drug addiction has a strong genetic component. Although there is not much direct evidence on the genetic basis of food addiction, eating disorders in general tend to have a sizeable genetic component, including binge eating disorder, which is strongly correlated with food addiction as diagnosed by YFAS. The related concept of uncontrolled eating is also strongly influenced by genetics. It therefore seems likely that the risk of food addiction has a substantial genetic component.
Psychological traits also influence the risk of drug addiction. The dual-process or dual-systems model of drug addiction hypothesizes that addiction is more likely in people who have both a strong drive to seek drug rewards and a weak ability to restrain their drug-seeking impulses. These same psychological traits occur in people who have higher food addiction scores on the AEBS, and they are correlated with a higher risk of weight gain over time. Psychological stress, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, is also correlated with a higher risk of food addiction.
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Moving Past The Shame
The self-blame or self-anger that comes after indulging in fast food can lead to eating even more fast food to ease the negative feelings. But you can break this cycle by showing yourself some compassion, love and acceptance. Accept that you ate a fast food meal. No, it wasnt the healthiest option, but its done and that cant be changed. But change the way you think about it afterward. Reflect on why you ate it . And then use that reflection to make your next choices positive and healthy. Do activities that care for yourself or choose food that fuels your body and keeps it healthy. Continue referencing this thought process to lower your reliance on the fast food.
Food Addiction Help And Treatment
If you or a loved one has found yourself stuck in the vicious cycle of an addiction to food, you have likely experienced a roller coaster of emotions, including despair, frustration, and hopelessness. Living with an addiction to food may be preventing you from enjoying a life you once lived, though the possibility for healing always exists.
There is also a myriad of support groups that you can become involved with, such as Food Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. These groups are 12 step-based programs that effectively address this on the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects, offering much-needed support to individuals seeking to heal from their addiction to food.
Attempting to deal with your addiction to food alone can possibly further draw you into fear or isolation. Having guidance, help and support from an eating disorder center that treats food addiction, specialist, or support group can provide you or your loved one with the tools and resources you need to recover and heal from an addiction to food.
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How Do You Get Rid Of Food Addiction
Similar to how food manufacturers optimise their products to target the bliss point and maximise their dopamine hit, we have used data from our challenges to reverse engineer satiety. This has allowed us to identify foods and meals that will help you get all the nutrients you need to manage your cravings, regain control of your appetite, and thrive.
Rather than feeling like a victim who has no self-control, its ideal to start by nourishing yourself and giving your body what it needs. As you provide your body with more nutrient-dense higher satiety foods and meals, you may lose interest in the siren call of the ultra-processed foods that you used to feel addicted to.
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Is There Any Help For People Suffering From Food Addiction
At the present time, scientists are still trying to find effective ways to treat addiction to food. Some believe that recovering from this type of addiction could even be harder than recovering from other forms of addiction since those with a food addiction must still eat to survive and therefore cannot abstain completely.
Psychologists, nutritionists and doctors with a specialist understanding of food addiction could help you to break your compulsive overeating cycle. There are also programs that can help those with an addiction to food. For example, Overeaters Anonymous has programs in Southern California that can help those who are struggling to quit overeating.
There are a few things you can do to make it easier to give up eating junk food. You can:
- Write a list of the different foods that you crave and that cause you to binge. These trigger foods should be avoided completely.
- Write a list of all the fast food outlets that serve healthier foods and write down the healthy options they serve. This can help you to avoid relapsing when youre hungry and cant be bothered to cook.
- Think about which foods youre going to eat each week preferably those that you like and already eat regularly and which are also healthy.
- Avoid dieting. Put your weight loss goals on hold for around 1 3 months. Overcoming your addiction to food is challenging enough without adding restrictions and hunger into the mix.
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Common Symptoms Of Food Addiction
By , published March 17, 2022
Fact checkedby Saul Mcleod, PhD
Food addiction is the uncontrollable consumption of highly palatable foods in quantities beyond necessary energy requirements. Like addictive drugs, highly palatable foods trigger chemical reactions in the brainâs âreward circuitâ that induce feelings of pleasure and comfort.
Similar to how individuals become dependent on drugs or alcohol to manage depression and anxiety, we can become reliant on highly palatable foods for satisfaction and stress reduction.
Some of the most common signs of food addictions include:
- eating much more than intended when consuming food,
- continuing to eat certain foods even past the point of fullness,
- eating to the point of feeling ill,
- emotional eating,
- avoiding certain social situations where certain foods are present due to fear of overeating,
- going out of your way to obtain certain foods,
- having trouble focusing at work or school because of thoughts of food
Food addictions involve abnormal eating behaviors, such as excessive food intake or restriction and binging and purging, to cope with oneâs negative emotions.
People who show signs of food addiction can also develop tolerances to food. This means that even if they continue to eat more, food satisfies them less, so they require even more food to obtain feelings of fulfillment.
The questions fall under eight specific substance dependence criteria as defined by the DSM-IV. The criteria are: