Food Addiction: Causes, Signs & Treatment Options

Recognizing and Treating Food Addiction

In recent times, food addiction has been acknowledged as a major issue, despite the fact that it is less talked about and less well-known than other types of addiction, such as drug or alcohol addiction.
Food addiction, also known as binge eating disorder, is a condition in which you become so fixated on a particular food — typically one with a high carbohydrate, salt, fat, or sugar content — that you are unable to think of anything else. You consume so much of it when you have it that you either feel bloated and uncomfortable or sick. But a short while later, you simply crave more.
Contrary to popular belief, a general hunger for a particular cuisine should not be confused with an addiction to it. It’s an all-or-nothing feeling and desire for the food addict. Additionally, it can be fatal, causing everything from uncontrollable weight gain to hypertension and stroke.
Ironically, food addiction can feel nice, especially after the food’s components have been processed. The reward areas of the brain are activated by fats, carbohydrates, and salts, which results in a feeling of pleasure. Of course, the high quickly wears off, necessitating more food to rekindle the same feeling. Food addicts frequently claim that they must consume more food month after month, year after year, similar to alcoholics. Otherwise, they aren’t content and “satisfied.”

Science, Stats, and Food Addiction

Science backs up the fact that certain foods make some people feel great when they eat them. Research also tells us that food addiction is widespread and growing:

  • A recent study showed that a significant portion of the college-aged sample size (22.2%) showed food addiction problems.
  • Almost half of the individuals in the United States who are obese have some level of food addiction.
  • About 400,000 Americans who are obese will pass away as a result of their obesity. If half of them suffer from food addictions, then about 200,000 deaths are directly related to food addiction.

These numbers are enough to make anyone stand up and listen, yet food addiction is ignored among many populations. Why? The reason is straightforward: Food just isn’t seen as an addictive substance.

Factors Leading to Food Addiction

We are taught as children that using illegal substances, abusing alcohol, smoking, or abusing over-the-counter pharmaceuticals is terrible. But we are never taught that eating can be anything but a good thing. Even though we are advised to eat in moderation, we nevertheless eat excessively to mark birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and special occasions.
We get used to certain meals that we identify with happy times, love, relationships, friendships, and excitement, from Christmas cookies to French fries. As a result, we are predisposed to developing an addiction to the very substance that gives us life.
Every food addict develops an addiction for a different reason, and the reasons for food addiction vary. Someone else might not be affected by your cravings for certain foods to the extent that you indulge in them excessively at the expense of your health and social life. However, most people with food addiction exhibit one or more of the following traits:

  • They tend to overdo everything in their lives. For example, they are unable to simply visit the gym for a quick workout. Alternatively, they constantly feel the need to exercise for hours at a time, or they are dissatisfied with their performance.
  • They have experienced addiction before. This could mean addiction to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, love, etc. Rather than moving past their addiction, they simply substitute it with food.
  • They feel an emotional connection with food. When their emotions are strong, they turn to food. The same is true when they are under a great deal of stress.
  • They were always encouraged to see food as something to comfort them. Thus, when they need companionship or attachment, they choose to eat in large quantities to satisfy their desires.
  • They have developed a tolerance for eating large quantities of food. They might even lose the ability to physically react appropriately to reasonable amounts of salt, sugar, and fat. Instead, they require more of them to achieve the same “high,” as is the case with narcotics, alcohol, and nicotine.
  • They feel isolated. When feelings of isolation or loneliness are strong, food becomes a companion and source of satisfaction.
  • They have suffered personal trauma. When someone has a traumatic situation, they may use food to numb their feelings rather than see a therapist to process the event and move on.

Whatever the reason, if you’ve ever wondered, “Do I have a food addiction?” it’s time to take your thoughts seriously and get to know the signs and symptoms related to food addiction.

Food Addiction – Signs and Symptoms

“How do I know if I have become addicted to food?” Are you asking this question? You’ll soon know if you recognize any of the signs and symptoms below:
Despite having a meal, you get a sudden craving for a certain dish or food following. Then you can choose to eat covertly somewhere else, or you can have a big dinner and then return home to eat more.

Even if it requires extra travel, you will go out of your way to obtain the cuisine you are desiring. Have you ever had such a strong desire for a snack item that you got out of bed in the middle of the night and went to a 24-hour mini-mart to buy it?

  • You eat in quantities that are unusually large for your size, age, gender, etc. This could mean eating a quart of ice cream or perhaps several quarts.
  • You frequently overeat to the point of getting sick or feeling nauseous, but you feel unable to stop. You just keep eating more food even if it seems like your stomach is going to burst. You might even take a little break to let your stomach settle before continuing to binge eat.
  • You feel guilty about how much food you consume. To prevent anyone you live with from finding out how much you ate, you may conceal the empty packets or bury them deep in the trash can.
  • You conceal food at your house, workplace, or vehicle. Many food addicts keep a hoard of food in secret places, so they don’t have to travel far to receive the comfort and euphoria that come with food addiction.
  • You have trouble functioning without your food “fix.” It’s all you can think about from morning until eating.
  • Eating interferes with employment, relationships, academic success, and other activities. You sit and eat rather than finish your work or make a phone call to a loved one.
  • Due to your ongoing overeating, you experience numerous stomach issues. It seems as though your belly is being stretched. You may often need to take antacids since you have bloating and diarrhea.
  • You make excuses for yourself when you binge eat. To stop feeling like a failure, you tell yourself it’s the last time you’re going to binge, and you’re going to work on it.
  • You’ve made numerous independent attempts to stop overeating but failed each time. You immediately binge consume a lot of food every time you can’t control your food addiction.
  • You suffer from panic attacks. These panic attacks can come before a binge, as a trigger, or after a binge, as a source of shame.
  • You feel emotionally numb. Eating helps you feel grounded and connected to the world around you.
  • You suffer from depression and may have suicidal tendencies. You feel like life isn’t worth living, so why should you care about how much you eat?

If any of these sound familiar, you might be addicted to eating. Also available here is further information on the telltale signs and symptoms of food addiction. To help you decide if it’s time to consult a professional to finally kick your food addiction, we’ve provided a little questionnaire at the end of this article.

Effects of Food Addiction

Each person experiences food addiction in a unique way. There isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of food addiction. Persons struggling with this can be of any social status, ethnicity, age, and/or other characteristics. However, they are all at risk for the physical and psychological effects of food addiction:

  • Increased risk for medical issues. These range from lower libido, stroke, renal disease, and osteoporosis to diabetes, liver disease, and chronic fatigue.
  • Tremendous guilt. You could feel ashamed and humiliated when you eat more than you realize you should and spend money on food to binge on.
  • Increased stress and lowered self-esteem. When you have a condition, you feel you can’t control; you run the risk of losing confidence while also experiencing more anxiety.

These are extremely negative consequences, which highlight the necessity of early intervention for food addiction. However, it should be recognized that not everyone with food addiction is overweight. In truth, certain individuals’ bodies are capable of quickly metabolizing significant amounts of food. Therefore, having a food addiction is possible even if your weight is average.

The Necessity of Intervention and Treatment for Food Addiction

If you or someone you know has a food addiction, intervention plays a huge part. Like any addiction, food addiction can be difficult to treat for many reasons:

  • The food addict is hesitant to admit to their problem.
  • The food addict isn’t ready to get help.
  • The food addict has lived with the addiction for so long it has been comfortable.
  • The food addict doesn’t think he or she has a problem.
  • The food addict has tried to quit overeating before but has never had any success.

This is why seeking assistance from a professional who specializes in treating food addiction is so important. Therapy for food addiction is considerably different from treatment for drug, alcohol, or tobacco addiction. After all, we require food to survive. This implies that humans cannot completely stop eating. Instead, we need to alter the way we think and feel about the food we eat.

Preventing Relapse in Food Addiction

Anyone who has become addicted to food can suffer from a relapse. That’s why so many food addicts follow the steps below to help prevent turning back to food. They can also use these steps if they do relapse and want to get on track with a healthier lifestyle:

  • Not eating any of the foods that trigger their food addiction. This can be really challenging because it requires giving up some meals completely. Most food addicts learn that, even in moderation, they cannot eat the things they crave. In essence, individuals must fully eliminate the trigger foods from their diets. The cost of breaking the cycle of addiction is minimal.
  • Going into therapy. Counselors can assist food addicts in identifying the cause of their addiction. In doing so, the food addict is able to address the root issues that have resulted in an atypical relationship with food.
  • Going to AA meetings or AA-style meetings. Along with alcohol addicts, food addicts have found value in the core principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). A food addict may find it easier to concentrate on achieving control over their eating in AA meetings.
  • Asking for help when things get tough. Getting help when you are about to turn to food because you are stressed may not be easy, but it can curb an urge and stop a binge-eating episode.

Food Addiction Self-Diagnosis Test: “How Do I Know If I Have a Food Addiction?”

The following self-diagnosis tool will give you a better understanding of whether or not you may have a food addiction. All questions are to be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” Try not to say “maybe” or “sometimes” unless it truly applies to your situation.

  1. Do you eat certain foods until you feel sick and then continue to eat the foods?
  2. Do you hide foods from the people in your life?
  3. Do you feel ashamed after you eat large quantities of food?
  4. Do you have regular cravings for foods, and have to satisfy those cravings as soon as possible by bingeing on the foods?
  5. Do you feel you have to keep eating more and more of a certain type of food to feel good?
  6. Have you ever avoided a social situation or called in sick to work so you could stay home and binge eat?
  7. Have you ever spent money to binge on food, even if that meant not paying other bills?
  8. Is eating large quantities of food all you can think about?
  9. Have you lost friendships or relationships because of your binge eating?
  10. Have you been gaining weight because you’ve been bingeing on foods?
  11. Do you feel out of control when it comes to eating?
  12. Have you ever been told by your doctor that you have to stop eating large quantities of food for health reasons?

Get assistance if you have three or more “yes” responses. Find the medical strategy that will benefit you the most. Food addiction can be overcome. Support and intervention are necessary, but ultimately, the initial step can only be made by you.

Get Help Today!

Food Addiction can be a difficult struggle to take control of. At Addiction Experts, our professional, compassionate and discreet staff are experienced and standing by to help you get started on your journey. Give us a call today, and let’s get started!

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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