Food Addiction

Food addiction is characterized by uncontrollable cravings for excess food, causing a person’s quality of life to deteriorate. Therapy and abstinence from certain foods can promote recovery.

Food Addiction Overview

Reviewed: May 19, 2014

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes a person to compulsively use a substance or engage in an activity despite the harm it causes to the person’s life, relationships, responsibilities, or health. Food addiction is similar to addictions with drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, internet use, and other behaviors. In food addiction, eating a particular food or a particular amount of food can trigger uncontrollable cravings for more food. This addiction typically involves eating salty, sugary, or carbohydrate-rich foods for satisfaction.

The cravings that a food addict will have to eat are so strong that the addict cannot control them and in many cases, food addiction will lead to a deteriorated quality of life. Physical, emotional, social, and spiritual happiness and well-being are all effected by food addiction. Once an individual who is addicted to food eats and experiences the “high” or pleasurable state that they feel when they are done eating, they will quickly feel the need to eat more or to eat again to feel that feeling.

Various types of food addiction exist. Some food addictions are marked by an individual’s desire to consume large amounts of food at one time (binge eating) while others are characterized by the obsession that an individual has with food (bulimia). Food addiction can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other serious health issues.

Food addiction can be treated, but there is no cure. It is a long-term disease that people must learn to manage. Most treatment plans for addiction involve abstinence from certain foods, cognitive therapy, and peer support programs.

Food Addiction Symptoms

The manifestations of food addiction vary. Overeating, undereating or self-starvation, bulimia (including exercise bulimia), and extreme obsession with weight or food can all be included among the symptoms of this addiction.

The symptoms of food addiction affect an individual physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. Food addicts gain pleasure from the anticipation of eating, the availability of food or from actually eating food. This pleasure leads to excessive eating, typically unhealthy types of foods, that can lead to increased weight gain, poor self-image, and a range of other medical conditions. Often times, food addicts do not even realize that they are addicted to food as their addiction and improper eating habits have simply become a way of life.

Early detection of a food addiction is vital to the successful recovery for the individual. Further, the sooner that one realizes the need for help, the least chance there is for negative consequences to have set in such as extreme weight gain, physical illness, or other problems that are associated with eating too much or consuming the wrong foods.

Physical symptoms of food addiction include:

  • Inability to control cravings for food or to control amount of food that is eaten
  • Trying many different weight loss or diet programs but still excessively consuming food
  • Vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising in excess to avoid weight gain as a result of over consumption of food
  • Social symptoms of food addiction include:
  • Eating behind closed doors to prevent others from seeing what you are eating or how much
  • Avoiding social interactions because you feel like you cannot be around others due to a lack of ability to control your eating
  • Avoiding social interactions because you do not feel like you look good enough or have clothes that fit correctly due to your eating habits
  • Stealing food from others
  • Obsessing over food and paying more attention to the food that is being served than to those friends or family members who you will be consuming the food with

Emotional symptoms of food addiction include:

  • Feeling ashamed about your weight
  • Feeling depressed or sad about your weight or self-image
  • Feeling hopeless when it comes to losing weight
  • Eating when upset or depressed
  • Eating as a reward for a job well done
  • Eating when you are not hungry
  • Becoming anxious or irritable when eating certain foods or when not eating or if there does not seem to be enough food

Food Addiction Causes

There are no specific causes of food addiction. Most likely, food addiction is caused by a combination of factors: physical allergy, mental obsession, and personality traits (fear, doubt, insecurity, and negativity). Together, these factors drive the addict to repeated, destructive behaviors and a dependence on food or eating in order to cope.

Food Addiction Diagnosis

Most addictions are diagnosed on the basis of your symptoms and behaviors. There are no specific tests to diagnose food addiction. Your health care provider will examine your medical history and review your symptoms to establish a diagnosis of food addiction.

Living With Food Addiction

Living with food addiction is difficult and can be debilitating. Daily activities and relationships are negatively affected, and physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences are common. However, help is available for the person suffering from food addiction and their families. Many support services and organization can help live with and manage addiction. Living with and overcoming addiction is easier with encouragement, comfort, and guidance. Abstinence from trigger foods and situations is critical to most successful treatment programs.

Keeping a food diary and monitoring the diary to determine which emotions or situations trigger you to eat, or which foods are your downfall you can take steps to get rid of such situations, can help you change such behaviors or eliminate certain danger foods from your diet.

Food Addiction Treatments

Food addiction is treatable, though there is no cure. Like most addictions, food addiction is a life-long disease that requires consistent management to prevent relapses to unhealthy behaviors or new addictions. For food addicts, abstinence from trigger foods is a planned, disciplined way of eating that leads to the addict’s release from food cravings, obsessions, and destructive behaviors. Abstinence is simple and clear, but it is difficult to sustain continuously over the course of a lifetime.

Food addiction treatment also includes behavioral therapy, nutrition counseling, education, and social support. If an addiction to food is primarily the result of an emotional disorder such as anxiety or depression, psychological counseling and medication to treat the mental illness can often reduce the adverse addiction to food.

Nutritional counseling is often effective at helping those who are addicted to food to at least learn about the foods that are better for them so that they eat healthy. Nutritionists can help those with a food addiction to learn how to cook healthier meals, learn about the foods that they can indulge on and learn about the foods that they can safely eat to make them feel full for longer. Healthy eating habits can become a normal part of everyday life for recovering food addicts with the help of some nutritional counseling, therapy and support.

Support groups can offer encouragement and assistance for long-term lifestyle modifications and recovery from food addiction. Individuals can get social support in a recovery group, many of which use a 12-step program to help food addicts to learn how to eat better, reduce their food intake, seek spiritual happiness, and socially support one another.

Food Addiction Prognosis