Sunday, June 16, 2024

What To Do About Food Addiction

What Are The Causes And Risk Factors

Food Addiction: Why We Can’t Stop Eating

Like all other addictions, food addiction starts in the brain and involves neurotransmitters and hormones that affect the brains reward centers.

These reward centers release chemicals called neurotransmitters, which cause an increase in a good mood and a decrease in tension and stress.

Food addiction occurs when you experience a strong feeling of pleasure while eating certain foods, leading to addictive behaviors such as overeating or binge eating.

It is important to note that not everyone who eats processed junk food will develop a food addiction, and in fact, most people can eat these types of foods without developing an addiction.

Food addiction usually develops when you:

How To Overcome Food Addiction

The effects of certain foods on the brain make it hard for some people to avoid them.

Food addiction operates similarly to other addictions, which explains why some people cant control themselves around certain foods no matter how hard they try.

Despite not wanting to, they may repeatedly find themselves eating large amounts of unhealthy foods knowing that doing so may cause harm.

This article examines food addiction and provides tips to overcome it.

Food addiction is an addiction to junk food and comparable to drug addiction.

Its a relatively new and controversial term, and high quality statistics on its prevalence are lacking .

Food addiction is similar to several other disorders, including binge eating disorder, bulimia, compulsive overeating, and other feeding and eating disorders.


Food addiction is a highly controversial concept, though most studies suggest it exists. It works similarly to drug addiction.

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Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the reward centers of the brain. These effects are caused by brain neurotransmitters like dopamine .

The most problematic foods include typical junk foods like candy, sugary soda, and high fat fried foods.

Food addiction is not caused by a lack of willpower but believed to be caused by a dopamine signal that affects the biochemistry of the brain .


Food addiction is thought to involve the same neurotransmitters and areas of the brain as drug addiction.

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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Stop Keeping Foods Off Limits

One of the ways I treat binge eating with clients is by having them actually eat their binge foods. I encourage them to go to the grocery store, buy one binge food, or off limit food, and keep it in their house. If you decide to do this, remove the off limit label, stop calling the food bad and allow yourself unconditional permission to eat this food. You might find in the beginning that you overeat these foods, but overtime, keeping off limit foods in your house and allowing yourself to eat them whenever youd like, causes these foods to lose their alluring effect. If you can have them whenever, and wherever youd like, are they really that special anymore? The more you are exposed to your off-limit, binge foods, the less alluring they become, and the less likely you will be to binge eat those foods. But start slow, with one binge food at a time. Once youd mastered keeping one binge food in the house without overeating it or obsessing over it, repeat the process with a new binge food.

Avoid Alcoholic Drinks And Caffeine

The Difference Between Food Addiction and Eating Disorder?

As much as you can, avoid alcoholic drinks and caffeinated beverages . Evidence shows that drinking alcoholic or caffeinated beverages triggers poor eating choices.

Coffee can cause the body to crave sugary drinks or sweet foods. In addition, too much caffeine can cause anxiety, and an anxious person may end up resorting to binge eating comfort foods to feel better.

Drinking alcohol may also cause you to become hungry. For sure you have experienced this. After a night of drinking or bar-hopping with friends, eating whatever you see on the fridge, even junk food seems like a good idea. Because alcohol causes poor judgment in many people, so this can break your recovery.

Also, avoid soda because it has addictive substances and has high sugar contents. Dont make it a part of your every day life to consume sugar because this can trigger addiction to your brain.

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Preoccupation With Substance Use

Given obvious constraints, no animal studies assessed the characteristic of preoccupation as it relates to food addiction. However, Tuomisto and colleagues found that self-identified chocolate addicts were significantly more susceptible to hunger compared to controls, possibly indicating a heightened preoccupation with food . Additionally, Merlo and colleagues found that in children, food addiction symptoms were significantly associated with greater preoccupation with food .

How Common Is It

Many factors contribute to overeating. The abundance of fast food, junk food advertising, and the highly palatable ingredients of many processed foods can prompt us to eat whether we are hungry or not.

However, some people report a lack of control over their eating, beyond liking and wanting, and are seeking help for this.

Around one in six people report addictive patterns of eating or addictive behaviours around food.

While food addiction is higher among people with obesity and mental health conditions, it only affects a subset of these groups.

Also Check: How To Become An Addiction Counselor

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:

  • Frequent craving of foods despite being full.
  • Eating big servings of craved food much more than the intended serving.
  • Eating certain foods up to the point that you are excessively full or about to throw up.
  • Feeling guilty after overeating but excessively eats again
  • Makes excuses why giving in with a food craving is a good idea.
  • Repeatedly tries to quit food addiction but is unsuccessful in doing so.
  • Hides from others when eating unhealthy foods or hides certain foods from their partner or family.
  • Finding it hard to control themselves from eating unhealthy foods despite knowing the negative consequences caused by food 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.

    How To Tell If You’re Struggling With Food Addiction

    Food Addiction: Why We Can’t Stop Eating

    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.”

    Read Also: How To Beat Alcohol Addiction

    Support Groups And 12

    Support groups and 12-step programs help people work on overcoming food addiction. Many of the 12-step programs available use the same 12-step approach developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, where participants work through the steps with the help of a sponsor.

    Some of the common 12-step programs for food addiction include:

    • Food Addicts Anonymous:Food Addicts Anonymous believes that food addiction cannot be cured by willpower or therapy alone and is a biochemical disorder rather than a moral or character issue. They approach food addiction recovery by abstaining from addictive foods, following a nutrition plan, and working through the traditional steps.
    • Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous: Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous is an international fellowship for those who have experienced problems with food and eating. Their path to recovery follows the traditional steps among the mutual support of others recovering from food addiction.
    • Overeaters Anonymous: Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship of people who are in recovery from compulsive eating. Their goal is to abstain from compulsive eating and food behaviors through mutual support, shared experience, strength, and hope.
    • Compulsive Eaters Anonymous: Compulsive Eaters Anonymous is designed for anyone seeking recovery from compulsive eating. The meetings use a structured, disciplined approach to recovery by accepting and carrying out each of the steps among the support of peers.

    The Best Solutions On How To Overcome Food Addiction

    We all know how delicious junk foods, ice cream, or processed foods are. They are called comfort foods for a reason, and you can easily get addicted to them. But did you know that these comfort food have certain effects on the brain that make it hard for other people to avoid them? Or let just say that eating can be addicting in general.

    Do you know the scary part? Food addiction is similar to substance abuse disorders or drug addiction. It is real, and its a hard habit to break, no matter how hard other people try. For some people, like individuals diagnosed with eating disorders, when stress is felt, relapse happens. This causes the person to start having bad eating habits again. Food addiction, is one of the bad eating habits people have.

    In this article, youll learn what food addiction is and how to overcome it.

    Read Also: What Are The Effects Of Drug Addiction

    What Are Eating Disorders

    Daily, new research is revealing that eating disorders are much like any other addiction. They affect the pleasure centers of the brain much like cocaine or heroin, and can be even more dangerous. Eating disorders are biologically based brain disorders.

    In medical terms, there are 3 classes of eating disorders: ANOREXIA, BULIMIA and BINGE EATING DISORDER. The criteria used to make these diagnoses have recently changed, such that more people meet the diagnosis than ever before.

    How Does Food Addiction Happen

    Food Addiction

    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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    Types Of Food Addiction

    Food addiction is a type of eating disorder. Two types of food addiction are binge eating and bulimia nervosa. Binge eating is compulsive overeating with the inability to control food intake. The food addict may have attempted at control through dieting, which often leads back to overeating in response to some emotional trigger. Bulimia is a dangerous cycle of overeating combined with purging to prevent weight gain. A bulimic person is often secretive about the disorder and obsessed with weight gain.

    Treatment Of Binge Eating Disorder: Integrating An Addiction Perspective

    Given the psychological and neurobiological overlaps between BED and substance use disorders, it may be useful for clinicians to integrate an addiction perspective into current treatments for BED.49,50 There are presently no empirically supported guidelines for the treatment of food addiction, and we are not aware of any studies that have evaluated an addiction approach to the treatment of BED. There is however considerable empirical support for the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy in the treatment of both BED and substance use disorders.35,120,191,193 Indeed, the CBT approach for BED and the CBT approach for substance abuse share many strategies including psychoeducation, functional analysis, identifying triggers for problem behaviors, teaching coping skills for managing urges/cravings, cognitive restructuring techniques, and relapse prevention strategies.67,117,121

    Mark S. Gold, Richard L. Shriner, in, 2013

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    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.

    What You Should Remember

    How To Overcome Food Addiction Or Any Addiction 4 Key Steps

    Food addiction is not a clinical disorder recognized by the medical community, but some people can struggle with unhealthy cravings for certain foods.

    These cravings are similar to those experienced by drug addicts and can lead to an uncontrollable desire for certain foods and a decline in general health.

    If you find yourself struggling with a food addiction, you can reduce the symptoms by making healthier choices and reducing stress.

    It is also possible to receive treatment for other disorders that might have prompted your food addiction, such as an eating disorder, depression, or anxiety.

    Remember that food addiction is a complex problem, and you may need to seek treatment for related conditions before you can begin to recover.

    Also Check: How To Help Someone With Addiction Problems

    How It’s Like Other Addictions

    Neurotransmitters and the brain’s reward system have been implicated in food and other addictions. In animal studies, for example, dopamine has been found to play an important role in overall reward systems, and binging on sugar has been shown to influence dopamine activity.

    Food, drugs and other addictive substances and behaviors are all associated with pleasure. When advertising or the people around us tell us that food, drug, or activity will feel good, it sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are more likely to seek it out, and we are more likely to experience pleasure when we indulge.

    Obesity Palatable Foods And Food Addiction

    Some studies suggest that food addiction is a plausible cause of obesity, and the food addiction model even emphasizes being overweight or having obesity as one of the clinical criteria.

    Some researchers have also associated food addiction with certain eating disorders, particularly

    highlighted that a substantial number of individuals with BED do not have obesity and that most people with obesity do not experience disordered eating or food addiction symptoms.

    This brings the ability of YFAS to diagnose food addiction into question, and some researchers that this scale simply identifies eating disorders and not an addiction.

    Furthermore, palatability is not necessarily a factor in overconsumption and obesity, as reported that even a nonpalatable food meaning one that is not high in fat or sugar can become the subject of food cravings.

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