When we think about addictions, drug addicts, and alcoholics are usually the first things that come to mind. However, food addiction is another unhealthy condition in which an individual is addicted to a certain food or food group.
But since it’s not a very well known addiction, it can be confused with food cravings, obesity or just a lack of willpower. But research shows that it is actually a very serious problem.
What is food addiction?
According to the Food Addiction Institute, “Food addiction is a disease which causes loss of control over the ability to stop eating certain foods.” How does this happen?
Food addiction usually involves three main foods: sugar, fat, and salt. When certain individuals eat one or any of these foods, it activates the same pleasure and reward centers in the brain that get triggered in drug addicts when they use drugs like heroin or cocaine.
With food addiction, it’s sugar, salt or fat, instead of drugs, that makes the brain release the feel-good chemical, dopamine. Therefore, it’s not necessarily the food that people are addicted to, but to the pleasure/reward experience that they get from it.
As you can see, it’s not an issue of willpower, or a person being weak. Food addiction is considered a disease due to a chemical dependency on food(s).
One survivor shares “that food addiction is the same as addiction to drugs…exactly the same. The symptoms and thought processes are completely identical. It’s just a different substance and the social consequences aren’t as severe.”
But because this dependency can become so strong, people actually become dependent on these foods. And according to Web MD, “People who show signs of food addiction may also develop a kind of tolerance to food. They eat more and more, only to find that food satisfies them less and less.”
Therefore, it’s not hard to see how food addiction can become quite serious, both in terms of physical and psychological health.
Common behaviors in food addiction
When you hear the term “food addiction”, you might write it off. After all, aren’t we all “addicted” to one food or another. Maybe you have to have your coffee every morning. Or, maybe you go gaga for a certain chocolate bar. But as you can see, these food addiction behaviors are outside of ordinary, food-loving behavior.
When an individual suffers from a food addiction, there are many behaviors that arise. Some of the behaviors are listed below, and they reveal a very unhealthy relationship between the individual and food.
- Eating even if you’re not hungry
- Eating more food than you can physically handle
- Eating so much food that you feel sick
- Eating secretly and alone
- Avoiding social events so that you can eat specific foods
- Going out of your way so you can have specific foods
- Spending lots of money on trigger foods to binge
These are just some of the sigs that an individual is struggling with a food addiction. And if the individual is addicted to sugar, salt, and fat – in short, junk food – it’s safe to say that they overeat a very unhealthy substance.
These eating habits can lead to negative health problems. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Physical health risks from food addiction
Fatty, salty and sugary foods can be oh-so tantalizing, and we all eat them from time to time. But for individuals with food addiction, it’s like the Pringle’s slogan says, “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.”
And this dependency on these foods can really lead to many health problems, including metabolic syndrome conditions, as well as their risk factors.
It’s not hard to imagine that if an individual is addicted to sugary foods, they will eventually gain a lot of unnecessary weight. Yes, even to the point of being obese. Obesity, in turn, can put an individual at a much higher risk for hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Psychological effects of food addiction
As with all other forms of addiction, food addiction can hijack an individual’s mental health. Individuals can experience depression, panic attacks, feelings of sadness, hopelessness and even despair. In some cases, food addicts can even experience suicidal ideation.
It’s strange to think that food, which is meant to nourish us, can also be the cause of so much duress and suffering. However, it’s important to remember that food addiction is a very real concern for some individuals, and treatment is necessary to help them navigate this difficult condition.
Treatment for food addiction
Food addiction might not seem like that big of a deal. After all, it’s just food. But since the thought processes of food addiction mimic those of drug and alcohol addiction, it’s a problem that needs to be taken seriously.
According to Food Addiction Institute, there are four recovery principles that need to be addressed in order to help the individual overcome their food addiction. These are their four principles:
- Completely eliminate specific binge foods and compulsive eating behaviors
- Develop feeling skills to deal with difficult emotions without using food
- Ask for help, especially in identifying and making decisions about chronic irrational thinking about eating, body image, and food
- Effectively break biochemical denial regarding food addiction
Of course, all of these sound easier said than done, and sometimes, it can be incredibly difficult to do this on your own. And asking for help can be incredibly challenging too, especially as the food addiction becomes worse.
However, food addiction treatment centers exist to offer much-needed professional help. This often includes nutritional counseling as well as psychotherapy. Support groups also can help individuals address their addictions with accountability and compassion. Some of these groups include:
Food addiction can be a very difficult mental illness to deal with. It distorts your relationship with food and places you within a vicious cycle – a cycle that can be very hard to get out of.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a food addiction, realize that it isn’t due to weakness or a lack of self-control. Remember that it is something much more than that. But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. You can recover and have a healthier relationship, both with yourself and with food.