Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

You may think that it is simply not possible to get addicted to food. However, the concept that an individual can very well be addicted to food has, in recent times, found a lot of support. With support growing for food addiction, the concept hinges upon brain imaging and other studies that have found that compulsive overeating triggers the pleasure centers of the brain. For such people, eating healthy or losing weight or even maintaining a healthy weight, seem to be impossible to achieve. In spite of their best efforts, they keep finding themselves eating large amounts of food, knowing well that it is harming their system. Studies supporting food addiction have now shown that certain foods have an effect on the brain that is similar to addiction. Food addiction is not to be taken lightly. Read on to find out all you need to know about food addiction and how to deal with this condition.

Dealing With Food Addiction

What is Food Addiction?

Food addiction simply means being addicted to junk food. The condition is similar to the manner in which drug addicts are addicted to drugs or alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. Food addiction involves the exact same areas in the brain. Even the neurotransmitters involved in food addiction are the same as drug addiction, and some of the symptoms of food addiction are also similar to those of any other addiction.

How Common is Food Addiction?

As food addiction is a relatively new concept that has gotten the support of researchers, statistics on just how common this condition is, are not available yet. Food addiction is also considered to be similar to other eating disorders such as bulimia, binge eating disorder, compulsive overeating and others.

How Does Food Addiction Work?

Similar to other addictions, food addiction is associated with the 'pleasure' centers of the brain. This follows the premise that several types of processed junk foods have an overpowering impact on the 'pleasure' centers of your brain. This effect involves neurotransmitter in the brain such as dopamine.

In fact, experiments done on both humans and animals have found that the reward and pleasure centers of the brain that get triggered by drugs, also become activated by food, particularly by foods that are highly palatable. Highly palatable foods refer to food items that are rich in:

  • Fat.
  • Salt.
  • Sugar.

What happens is that these highly palatable foods trigger the chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, which is known as feel-good chemicals. Once individuals experience the pleasure associated with an increased transmission of dopamine in the brain from eating certain foods, they quickly start to feel the need to eat that food again. What also happens is that these reward signals from consuming highly palatable foods start to override other signals of the brain related to satisfaction and fullness. Due to this, people keep eating, even when they have become full and are no longer hungry.

Compulsive overeating is also known to be a type of behavioral addiction. This means that an individual tends to become preoccupied with a certain behavior, be it eating, shopping, gambling, or doing drugs that trigger feelings of intense pleasure. This is why people suffering from food addiction start to lose control over their eating behavior and often find themselves spending not just excessive amounts of time, but also a huge amount of money, on indulging their eating behavior or food addiction. Over a period of time, people showing symptoms of food addiction will find that they develop a certain level of tolerance towards food. The more they eat, the less food starts to satisfy them, thus making them eat even more.

What Is The Relationship Between Food Addiction & Obesity?

Food addiction is known to play a crucial role in obesity. However, this is not to say that people who have normal weights do not struggle with food addiction. These people may simply be programmed genetically to better handle the extra amount of calories they take in. They may also be increasing their physical activity to make up for the overeating.

Can You Control Food Addiction if you have a Strong Will Power?

The condition of food addiction has nothing to do with the lack of willpower. In fact, it is caused by an "intense dopamine signal hijacking" of the brain's biochemistry.

What are the Symptoms of Food Addiction?

As of now, there is no blood test or any other diagnostic test available to diagnose food addiction. Diagnosis is based on behavioral symptoms, similar to how other addictions are determined. However, researchers from the Yale University have come up with a questionnaire that helps identify people who have food addictions. The questionnaire includes such types of questions, with the questions beginning with Do You:

  • Eat to the point you start feeling sick?
  • End up eating much more than what you intended to eat when you started eating a certain food item?
  • Keep eating specific foods even if you are no longer feeling hungry?
  • You go out of your way to obtain certain foods when they are not available?
  • You often feel guilty after having certain foods, but find yourself eating them again within a short span of time?
  • You find yourself making excuses in your head justifying why you should eat certain foods that you are craving?
  • You start hiding your excessive consumption of certain foods from other people?

If you answer positively to at most of these questions, then it is very likely that you have a serious problem with food addiction.

The questionnaire also asks questions about psychological withdrawal effects and whether or not you experience anxiety and agitation when you are forced to cut back or cut out certain foods.

Steps to Deal with Food Addiction

Here are some ways in which you can deal with food addiction:

Step-1: The first step is to take the Food Addiction Questionnaire developed by Yale University to find out whether your relationship with food is a healthy one or an unhealthy one.

Step-2: In order to deal with food addiction, it is necessary to develop a healthy relationship with food. Similar to other addiction recovery models, food addicts are also challenged to abstain from the foods that trigger their addiction in order to heal. An individual suffering from food addiction has to learn how to eat healthy again and establish a healthy relationship with food by following a certain diet plan.

Step-3: When dealing with food addiction, you begin your strict diet plan and you will have to remove the triggers or unsafe foods from your diet and set certain boundaries. This will allow you to manage your diet in a healthier way and relearn how to eat healthy. For example, if you know that you like to binge on ice cream when under stress, then it is a good idea to not keep any in the house. You have to work towards eliminating the temptation of binge eating till the time you are able to resume eating ice cream in a balanced manner.

Step-4: Following a well-balanced and a structured meal plan helps a lot in dealing with food addiction. People who have an unhealthy relationship with food need to come back on the right path to recovery by following a structured meal plan to resume a normal eating pattern. This helps set safe boundaries with food and also helps you feel satisfied, thus eliminating the physiological need to eat more in spite of being full.

Step-5: Like any other type of addiction, dealing with food addiction also involves seeking professional help when needed. Recovering from any kind of addiction is no small feat. Beating food addiction will not happen overnight. It is recommended that you get the help of a dietitian and a therapist who specialize in eating disorders. Getting the help of professionals allows addicts to implement an appropriate strategy towards recovery and it will also instill a sense of accountability.

Conclusion

Food addiction can be a serious problem and you may need professional help to come out of your addiction and re-establish a healthy relationship with food. Research is ongoing on finding treatments and better understanding the condition of food addiction. While some argue that it is very complicated to recover from food addiction when compared to other types of addictions, others believe that like other addictions, food addicts can also recover by following a step by step recovery problem. There are also many programs available today that are designed to help people suffering from food addiction. Programs like Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous have a 12-step recovery program that helps people addicted to not just food, but also alcohol, drugs, and gambling.

It is possible to recover from food addiction. By admitting that you have an unhealthy relationship with food, you can embark on the process of recovery.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: September 7, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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