Just like with any other addiction, people can become addicted to the act of eating and the pleasure that they get from it. Not to mention that most foods addictive in nature aren’t hard to come by. Given the factors working against someone already struggling with their food habits, food addiction can be challenging to overcome without proper support.
Food addiction is extremely damaging to the health and overall lives of those who eat compulsively. This article will explore the causes, factors, and signs of food addiction and overcome it.
What is Food Addiction?
Food addiction is a behavioral addiction that refers to the compulsive consumption of food. People who struggle with food addiction – like other behavioral addictions – become preoccupied with junk food and eating because it’s pleasurable.
However, this intense pleasure is relatively short-lived compared to the negative long-term impact of compulsive overeating on a person’s life. That said, the feel-good reward signals in the brain that someone with food addiction experiences is intense enough to override signals of satisfaction and satiety. This is one reason food addiction encourages a person to keep eating, even when they’re not hungry.
The Challenges of Understanding and Overcoming Food Addiction
Whether food addiction is real is a controversial topic among experts. First and foremost, food addiction is not an official medical condition despite addictive food behaviors being linked to medical conditions like binge eating disorder and obesity.
Secondly, while food addiction is a behavioral addiction, overeating doesn’t alter the state of a person’s mind like drugs do. There is also no single food ingredient that is addictive, even though certain foods contain a combination of ingredients that are typically more problematic for compulsive overeaters.
Despite the debates among experts, no formal diagnosis is necessary to see that food can be problematic. But unfortunately, these scientific unknowns are partly why recovery from food addiction can seem just as complicated as food addiction itself. Some people claim that recovering from food addiction is more difficult than other types of addiction. Alcoholics, for example, may completely stop drinking alcohol. However, people who are addicted to food still need calories every day.
Regardless, overcoming food addiction is entirely possible. A psychologist, doctor, or nutritionist with experience and knowledge in food addiction can help.
How Highly Palatable Foods Impact the Brain
Many different foods can be addictive. These highly palatable foods include sugar, salt, and fat. These food elements can become addictive because of how they impact the brain.
For example, food with a lot of fat and sugar activates dopamine release in the brain. Dopamine is one of the chemicals that control our body’s reward system – it also happens to be released when someone uses drugs or alcohol. So, eating high in fat and sugar food can activate dopamine release, tricking our brains into wanting more.
Furthermore, as food addiction becomes a larger problem throughout society, many food manufacturers have begun adding even more fat and sugar to their products to make them highly palatable. This means that food manufacturers intentionally make food for the maximum pleasure of the consumer rather than nutritional value.
Signs and Symptoms of Food Addiction
Several signs and symptoms can indicate food addiction. One sign is if someone frequently feels the need to overeat, even when they’re not hungry. Other signs include eating in secret, feeling guilty after eating, obsessing over food, and hiding food from others.
Other possible signs of food addiction include:
- Eating more than planned when it comes to certain foods
- Eating to the point of feeling ill
- Worry about cutting down or not being allowed to eat certain foods
- Going through trouble to obtain certain foods when they aren’t readily available
There are also signs of food addiction to help indicate an unhealthy relationship with food and the impact food choices have on one’s emotions, such as:
- Eating such large amounts of food or eating so often that it overrides one’s time and capacity to work, engage in hobbies, or spend time with loved ones
- Problems functioning well at work or school due to food and overeating
- Avoiding certain social situations where food is available due to fears of overeating
In many food addiction cases, people will experience difficult emotions and mental issues such as self-loathing, guilt, anxiety, or depression. They may also eat to avoid or minimize these negative emotions. In either case, they are likely to start eating more because continuing to eat the same amount doesn’t reduce negative feelings or induce pleasureful ones like it used to.
While these signs and symptoms indicate someone struggling with food addiction, not everyone who experiences these symptoms is addicted to food. It’s important to speak with a healthcare professional if you’re concerned about your relationship with food.
Although more research is needed, addictive behaviors surrounding food are a reality. And for those struggling with compulsive overeating, it can cost them their health, self-esteem, and quality of life.
How to Overcome Food Addiction
Someone with food addiction tends to anticipate the emotional effects of compulsive overeating, which contributes to a vicious cycle if they eat as a means to cope. They may find themselves eating excessive amounts of food to the point where they lose control over their eating behaviors.
Like any other addiction, overcoming food addiction requires time, effort, and support. Here are some tips food addicts can use to overcome food addiction.
Set Boundaries: Food addicts can take control of their food cravings by setting boundaries for themselves around the types and quantities of foods they eat. For example, if a person notices that eating sweets makes them crave more sugar, they could set boundaries on how often they eat sweets.
Mindfulness: It’s important to recognize food triggers and cravings to stop eating when you’re not hungry. Food addicts can do this by practicing mindfulness, which focuses on the present moment without judgment or interpretation.
Eat Regularly: Food addiction often develops because of irregular eating habits, so food addicts should eat regular, planned meals and snacks throughout each day.
Get Support: Like all addictions, food addiction is tough to overcome alone. Food addicts need the support of others who understand what they’re going through. There are some food addiction recovery groups that food addicts can join for help and support from people who understand.
Seek Professional Help: If food addiction is causing significant problems in someone’s life, it’s best to seek professional help. A therapist specializing in food addiction can help food addicts overcome their addiction and develop healthy eating habits.
See a Nutritionist: A nutritionist or registered dietitian can help improve one’s relationship with food. Some specialists know about nutrition and nutrition therapy and interventions, making them invaluable in aiding food addiction recovery.
Final Thoughts on Overcoming Food Addiction
In conclusion, food addiction is a real problem that can hurt food addicts and their loved ones. Maintaining recovery all comes down to maintaining healthy habits. If food addiction is causing problems in your life, it’s time to take steps to overcome it. With the help of family members, friends, support groups, and professionals, you can overcome food addiction for good.