Because food is necessary for energy and nutrition, food addictions often are not diagnosed or treated. Research shows that certain foods can produce the same symptoms of addiction like heroin, cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol. Food addictions are also significant factors in obesity and nutritional disorders. Beating food addiction, just like any other addiction, is not easy but it can be done. Here is some helpful advice for those who are addicted to food.
Beating food addiction is not as hard when you have a good support system to help and encourage you along the way.
Signs of Food Addiction
For behavior to be considered addictive, it must adhere to the criteria developed by psychiatric research. According to an article in the Huffington Post, Dr. Mark Hyman researched this topic to see if it meets “the diagnostic criteria for substance dependence or addiction found in the bible of psychiatric diagnosis, the DSM-IV.” He compiled the following list of addictive behaviors to see if there was a correlation between food addiction and other addictions.
- People who are addicted to a particular substance will have a larger intake of it than those who are not addicted.
- They spend time and resources to obtain the substance regardless of whether they can afford it.
- They become tolerant to the effects of the substance and must increase their intake to experience the same level of satisfaction.
- They exhibit withdrawal symptoms if they are deprived of the substance.
- They forgo social activities to partake of the substance. This may also impact their employment attendance.
- They make repeated, unsuccessful attempts to quit the habit.
Dr. Hyman’s interviews and treatment of obese patients found that some of their eating patterns exhibited several of these behavior patterns. He cites frequent bouts of dieting as the food addicts attempt to quit and break the addiction. This indicates that food addictions can be an underlying factor in obesity. Common signs of food addiction include individuals who crave many processed foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar.
The Effect of Food on Brain Chemistry
The physiological aspect of addiction occurs in the brain. Addictive substances cause the elevation of two chemicals, dopamine, and opioids. These two compounds produce a sensation of euphoria and well-being. Because these feelings are pleasurable, the addict seeks to trigger this reaction repetitiously. This drives the addict to find higher intake levels to experience the “reward” of addiction.
Research has found that the excessive amounts of sugar, fat, and salt in heavily processed foods trigger the release of dopamine and opioids. These foods cause compulsive overeating and addiction. Since these foods are low in essential nutrients, they can also cause malnutrition which aggravates the problem.
There is also an emotional aspect to compulsive eating. Family and social gatherings center around food. Memories of these events can produce emotions of security and happiness that contribute to food addiction. When a person experiences a stressful situation, they may try to relieve the stress by consuming so-called comfort foods. These foods are high in fat, which makes them highly palatable.
Common Behaviors Related to Food Addiction
People who suffer from food addictions tend to exhibit these common behaviors:
- They consume the substance even when they are no longer hungry
- They are secretive about how much food they eat
- They stash “emergency supplies” of the particular food item
- They express negative emotions about their eating habits
- They exhibit anxiety or agitation if they attempt to stop eating that specific food item
- They increase the amount of the food item despite negative physical symptoms
Those who show these symptoms may be struggling with food addiction and should seek professional help. Counselors and nutritionists can help identify the issues that trigger the addictive behavior. Support groups are also available to help the food addict overcome their addiction.
Beating Food Addiction
Although food addiction may be a complicated issue, there is hope for those who wish to improve their health by overcoming compulsive eating and beating food addiction for good. Nutritionists advise making small changes over time that will become permanent. Making these changes will help to break the cycle of food addiction and improve overall health.
- Identify which foods trigger addiction. A food diary can help to identify which foods are consumed in excessive amounts. It can also detect emotions or stressful situations that trigger overeating.
- Don’t purchase problem foods. Those who live alone will find this more accessible, but those who live with others need to be honest about their problem and ask for support in overcoming their addiction.
- Replace problem foods with healthy ones and exercise. Find an enjoyable activity that doesn’t involve food and participate in it.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause sensations that masquerade as hunger. Drinking plenty of water will alleviate these symptoms.
Proper nutrition is also essential to beating food addiction. Eating a diet that emphasizes fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and lean protein gives the body the nutrients it needs and leaves little room or desire for binge eating. Over time, these nutrient-rich foods replace the craving for foods that are high in sugar, salt, and fat. This leads to an improvement in health that brings more satisfaction than binge eating.
Beating Food Addiction with Exercise and Relaxation Techniques
Exercise relieves stress and increases endorphin levels, which produce feelings of well-being. The other positive effects of exercise include a more positive body image and increased confidence in social settings. This counteracts the social impacts of addictive behavior and is an essential part of breaking the cycle. Fresh air and sunshine also elevate mood and have a positive effect on health.
Relaxation techniques can calm anxiety during periods of withdrawal. Deep breathing, yoga stretches, listening to soft music or reading can relieve symptoms of agitation. Studies show that cravings usually last 30-45 minutes and can be overcome if the person can get through that time.
It is important to realize that overcoming any addiction is a process rather than an event. Relapses will occur, and it is crucial that the person be patient during this process. Focus on improvement rather than success. This will help counteract feelings of guilt or shame which can cause total failure. Making one small change at a time produces permanent results. This will help to bring the person into a healthy relationship with food and have a positive impact on their health. Beating food addiction will take a lot of hard work with possibly some setbacks, but it will all be worth it when you regain your health and your self-confidence.