Assessing Food Addiction
Do you think you might need to be screened for food addiction? You may need to be screened, and/or professionally assessed and diagnosed for food addiction, if the following apply to you:
*You notice a pattern of gaining weight and restricting food *You are overweight or obese *You admit to guilt or shame regarding stealing food and lying about overeating *There is a pattern of overeating or alcoholism among family members *You are reactive or a little bit too defensive at the suggestion of being food addicted *Your anorexic behavior is because “it is the only way I can stop bingeing” *You have gone to or considered attending a food related 12 step recovery meeting *You think life would not be worth living without favorite binge foods *You display many or most of these characteristics and you don’t think of it as unusual.
Other Possible Signs:
Euphoric recall, short blackouts during or after eating, continuing to eat while in pain, eating when peaceful and happy as well as sad, angry or fearful, regaining weight after bariatric surgery, becoming alcohol or drug addicted after surgery, gaining a lot of weight after quitting smoking or alcohol, continuing to overeat when obesity is likely driving life-threatening diseases: diabetes, depression, heart disease.
S-UNCOPE Screening for Food/Sugar Addiction
A short initial screening instrument that is being used by food addiction professionals in the US, Sweden and in a growing number of other countries is the S-UNCOPE. It was developed by: BITTEN JONSSON Reg. Nurse, Leg.SSK for use during initial screening interviews to rapidly identify the possibility of addition to sugars [food], alcohol, and drugs. (Sugars can be any carbohydrate such as pasta, bread, sweets, cookies, soda, ice cream, junk food, etc.)
We have adapted this screening tool for use as a self-assessment quiz available on the home page of this website and in the link below. We encourage you to take the quiz, count the number of questions you answered yes to and then click “submit” in order to learn what your responses might suggest.
Here are the six items coved by the S-UNCOPE:
- U = Unplanned Use: In the past year, have you ever eaten [food] sweets, more than you meant to? Or have you spent more time eating and using sweets than you intended to?
- N = Neglected: Have you ever neglected some of your usual daily responsibilities because of using sweets and/or overeating?
- C = Cutdown: Have you felt that you wanted or needed to cut down on eating/sweets in the last year?
- O = Objected: Has anyone objected to you overeating sweets? Or, has your family, a friend, or anyone else ever told you they objected to your eating habits?
- Preoccupied: Have you ever found yourself preoccupied with wanting [food] sweets? Or have you found yourself thinking a lot about sweets/food.
- E = Emotional discomfort: Have you ever used sweets/food to relieve emotional discomfort, such as fatigue, sadness, anger, tiredness or boredom etc ?
Yale Food Addiction Scale
Another initial screening instrument that many food addiction professionals use is the Yale Food Addiction Scale. It was developed by Ashley Gearhardt and colleagues at Yale in 2009. A short version of the Yale Scale and some preliminary scoring information is provided immediately below. For more detailed information about the Yale Scale and variants of the scale (including a much longer version), please follow this link: http://fastlab.psych.lsa.umich.edu/yale-food-addiction-scale/
"Yale Scale" - Short Version:
The following questions ask about your eating habits in the past year. People sometimes have difficulty controlling their intake of certain foods such as sweets, starches, salty snacks, fatty foods, sugary drinks, and others.
Choose from the following answer options for questions 1-7:
- Once per month
- 2-4 times per month
- 2-3 times per week
- 4+ times per week
The bold number(s) at the end of the question is what is necessary to meet that symptom.
- I find myself consuming certain foods even though I am no longer hungry. (4)
- I worry about cutting down on certain foods. (4)
- I feel sluggish or fatigued from overeating. (3 or 4)
- I have spent time dealing with negative feelings from overeating certain foods, instead of spending time in important activities such as time with family, friends, work, or recreation. (3 or 4)
- I have had physical withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and anxiety when I cut down on certain foods. (Do NOT include caffeinated drinks: coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, etc.) (3 or 4)
- My behavior with respect to food and eating causes me significant distress. (3 or 4)
- Issues related to food and eating decrease my ability to function effectively (daily routine, job/school, social or family activities, health difficulties). (3 or 4)
Answer yes or no to questions 8 and 9. In the past 12 months…
- I kept consuming the same types or amounts of food despite significant emotional and/or physical problems related to my eating. (YES)
- Eating the same amount of food does not reduce negative emotions or increase pleasurable feelings the way it used to. (YES)
Food Addiction is likely the problem if you chose the following:
- 3 or 4 “yeses” for either question 6 OR 7
- 3 or more “yeses” for questions 1-5 and “yes” to questions 8 or 9
Reference: Gearhardt, Corbin, Brownell, 2009
Are You A Normal Eater?
Today it may not seem that many people can call themselves a normal eater. If you identify with three or more of the following then you ARE most likely a normal eater:
- You have maintained a healthy weight most of your life.
- You can stop eating when you want to.
- You do not frequently use food to numb your feelings.
- You are not often preoccupied with food, eating or weight.
- You find it easy to be specific and tell the truth about eating and food.
- You almost never binge, restrict or purge food.
- You do not obsess with exercise to control weight.
- You can diet when you gain a little too much weight.
- You lose weight from dieting, then don’t worry about food or weight.
- You enjoy and eat a wide range of foods.
- You have a healthy concern about eating too much junk food.
- You are willing to put down some favorite food completely if this will add to your health.
- The image of your body corresponds to what friends/health professional say they see.
- You can maintain healthy eating habits without trying very hard.
- You have considered yourself eating disordered or food addicted and received a professional evaluation which confirmed that you are a normal eater.
The Current Status Of Food Addiction
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) www.asam.org
Tens of thousands of food addicts are abstinent, maintaining significant weight loss, and have significant improvement in well-being. Most have sought and benefitted from peer support.
It took twenty years for the medical profession to catch up with AA in declaring alcoholism a disease. It is taking much longer for food addiction to be broadly recognized by the medical community.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine has formally recognized food addiction (See the definition below).
The American Psychiatric Association allows that some of those with eating disorders also present with characteristics of substance use disorders, i.e. food addiction, but the APA is still formulating a formal description of the disease.
Much of the work on food addiction by medical professionals is explicitly trial and error as they search with their patients for more definitive assessment and treatment.