Is it possible for a person to be addicted to food, or is this just an excuse for overeating? Being overweight is viewed by many as merely a bad choice or the result of unhealthy eating habits. However, more and more research is being conducted to investigate whether obesity can be caused by an addiction to food. Currently, there is growing evidence in support of the notion that it is possible for humans to suffer from being addicted to food.
Food addiction is a condition which causes a person to feel psychologically compelled to overeat. Unlike the occasional overeating, most people have experienced. Being addicted to food may significantly affect a person’s quality of life as he or she is continuously obsessing over eating more food.
What if You Think You are Addicted to Food?
If you think that you or a loved one may be addicted to food, there are some signs you can watch for which include but are not limited to:
- Feeling depressed, hopeless, sad, or ashamed about weight or eating habits
- Using food as a reward for accomplishments or comfort when upset
- Feeling irritable after eating flour, sugar, or wheat
- Greater interest in eating food than participating in social gatherings
- More exceptional interest in the food that is served at events than in the people attending
- Emotions intensify after eating trigger foods
- Inability to control food intake
- Several unsuccessful weight loss or dieting attempts
- Vomiting, using laxatives, taking diuretics, or exercising excessively to control weight
The Science Behind Food Addiction
Although the food addiction theory has not definitively been proven, researchers believe that very palatable foods may trigger a response in the brain that is similar to the brain’s response to certain drugs. Studies suggest that consuming certain foods may release dopamine and other pleasure chemicals in the brain. After experiencing the effect of the pleasure chemicals through the brain’s reward pathway, the person may have an immediate desire to eat again. The impact of the pleasure chemicals may override the body’s natural signals that indicate satisfaction and fullness. Therefore, a person may continue eating despite no longer having a physical need to do so.
Also similar to drug addiction, people who have a food addiction may develop a tolerance, which causes them to need to consume more and more food to recreate the pleasure effect. If a person is unable to stop him or herself from overeating, obesity may be the natural result. However, people who can maintain a healthy body weight may also struggle with food addiction. When a person suffers from food addiction, he or she will continue to eat despite consequences like weight gain, impact on social life, and even strained relationships. These people may also have difficulty cutting back on their excessive eating even though they may want to stop the unhealthy behavior.
Treating Food Addiction
People who find themselves mentally, emotionally, or psychologically affected by their overeating should seek treatment immediately. A counselor can help address the underlying issues that may cause a person to overeat or to look to food for comfort compulsively. Depending on the extent to which a person is addicted to food, there are many different approaches to addressing the addiction and breaking the habit.
Therapeutic fasting involves undergoing a period of water-only fasting under medical supervision. After the initial water-only period, other basic foods like fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts can be reintroduced into the diet. Undergoing a fast may reset the way the brain perceives food and break the cycle of emotional eating.
Another approach to helping someone who is addicted to food is merely eliminating trigger foods. First, a food addict must identify the foods that elicit a sudden change in emotions or a feeling of being “high” upon consumption. These may be specific foods like chocolate and pizza, or a trigger may be a group of foods like sugary deserts or carb-laden foods like bread and pasta. Cutting down on foods that elicit a strong emotional response may not be enough. However, by cutting all ties with addictive foods, a person’s tastes will have changed within three weeks, and he or she will likely no longer crave that particular food. One significant difference between food addiction and other addictive substances is that people do not experience physiological withdrawal symptoms when cutting trigger foods out of their diet cold turkey. Nevertheless, some people do report feeling lethargic or depressed upon depriving themselves of the foods they crave. Many people also backslide before making forward progress and ultimately resolving the addiction.
Exercise may also be an essential key to overcoming food addiction. Food addicts often experience a “high” when eating their trigger foods. However, exercise also causes the release of pleasure chemicals and can create a high of its own. Incorporating a fitness routine can also help food addicts who struggle with weight management and obesity. Also, exercise is beneficial to mental and physical health overall.
Overeaters Anonymous May Help Someone Addicted to Food
Joining a program like Overeaters Anonymous may also help food addicts. OA offers a 12-step approach to help people with all eating disorders overcome their troublesome relationship with food. The program focuses on abstinence from compulsive eating in the interest of achieving and maintaining healthy body weight. OA encourages its participants to seek the advice of a dietitian or healthcare professional to assist in assembling a healthy eating plan. Participants may receive more healthy eating suggestions during meetings and from their sponsors.
If You or a Loved One are Addicted to Food, Seek Help from Healthcare Professionals
People who recognize unhealthy eating behaviors or other symptoms of a food addiction should consult a healthcare professional immediately. Whether attempting a medical fast, eliminating trigger foods, or another means of breaking their habit, it is best to have medical supervision when trying to modify eating behaviors. Most importantly, food addicts must realize that relapse may occur. In the event of a relapse, the most important objective is for the addict to forgive him or herself for relapsing, stop the unhealthy behavior and continue to move forward. Seeking the professional mental, emotional, and nutritional support can significantly enhance a food addict’s likelihood of having a successful outcome and overcoming his or her compulsion to overeat once and for all.