- Food addiction is a brain disease like alcoholism and drug addiction which causes loss of control over the ability to stop eating certain foods as the body has become dependent on them.
- Scientifically, food addiction is a cluster of chemical dependencies on specific foods or food in general.
- After the ingestion of highly palatable foods such as sugar, excess fat, flour, grains and/or salt, the brains of some people develop a physical craving for these foods. Over time, the progressive eating of these foods distorts their thinking and despite negative consequences they are unable to stop the behavior.
- Food addiction is a DIFFERENT disease than non-substance dependent obesity and eating disorders.
- Food addiction requires a DIFFERENT approach to treatment.
- While all of the overweight and obese are not food addicted, chemical dependency (addiction) is one of the driving forces of the obesity epidemic.
- Food addiction is a more complex and difficult problem and requires special, addiction informed care in order to be properly and successfully treated.
- Seek help. Find a support group or health care practitioner to provide encouragement and guidance
- Make a list of binge foods. Eliminate sugar, flour/grain/starch, salt, and trans fat from your home and work environments, even if these foods are not yet on your list
- Plan and write down your meals and meal times. Keep a journal to identify feelings or circumstances which act as triggers to reach for food
- Make a list of healthier ways to self-soothe (i.e. walk or bicycle, talk to a friend, practice deep breathing, be mindful, or get a massage)
- Don’t skip meals. Eat at regular intervals
- For more information, tips, support, and additional resources, explore our website and share it with others.
- Cravings for more and/or particular foods, such as those that contain sugar, flour/grain/starch, salt, and/or fat
- Thinking one “cannot live” without favorite foods
- Preoccupation with planning, buying, or eating food—even after having just eaten
- Eating in secret or alone
- Continued over/under eating despite adverse physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual consequences
- Compulsive eating episodes that become more frequent and demand increased quantity to get the same effect
- Emotional or physical withdrawal symptoms when stopping or reducing specific types of foods
If you eat when you really do not want to or if you persistently eat more food than your body needs, or eat in a way that you know is not good for you, you may be a food addict. Characteristics of a food addict include physical craving, loss of control, withdrawal, tolerance dependency and denial. Click here to take a self quiz.
For some, food ingredients (including sugar, flour/grain/starch) can produce brain changes and reactions similar to what happens in those who have other addictions. The treatment required for food addiction (substance use disorder or food dependency) is fundamentally different from moderation, which may be appropriate for treating other food-related disorders. For people with food cravings, abstinence or refraining from trigger foods and behaviors is essential because of the following:
- The brain develops a stronger preference for foods that are calorie-dense (i.e. foods containing sugar, flour/grain/ starch, salt, and/or fat)
- Consuming these foods activates the brain’s reward system and triggers the release of the “pleasure hormone” dopamine in the same way other addictive substances do. The brain then calls for more and more
- The rewarding nature of these foods can sometimes encourage eating whether one is hungry or not
- The behavior that results is not considered “normal” eating
- Cravings (i.e. insatiable desired for more food or specific foods)
- Feelings of guilt/shame/remorse about eating
- Lying to self or others about eating behaviors
- Stealing food
- Distress or difficulty functioning due to behavior related to eating (i.e. fatigue, headaches/migraines, foggy brain, and/or aching joints)
- Thinking about food almost all the time and wanting more
- Food obsessions which impair normal functioning whether an over/under eater
- Uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal occur when problematic foods are removed
It must be pointed out that most health professionals received little or no training in food addiction screening, diagnosis or treatment during their graduate and professional school training. Many have even been taught that food addiction does not exist. So it is important to have the following criteria in mind, at a minimum, when selecting a therapist, dietitian or other professional for food addicted patients.
Ask the following questions when looking for a healthcare provider:
- Has the provider successfully helped others struggling with food addiction?
- Does the provider offer an abstinence-based approach?
- Does the provider understand the importance of identifying addictive foods and finding ways to enjoy eating without them?
- Does the provider offer regular contact for patients challenged with food addiction?