We have to eat to live. That is a basic fact. We like to eat foods that are well prepared and presented, and that have good taste. For a food addict, his obsession goes beyond enjoying a good meal. The obsession to eat, or rather consume, takes over your life.
Food addicts find themselves trapped in an obsession they can’t control. When they are not eating, they are thinking about the next snack, experiencing cravings for certain types of food. Not all food addicts have bulimia, which is characterized by the consumption of large amounts of food and the elimination of food through vomiting or laxatives. People with anorexia may be addicted to food too, but they do everything possible not to eat.
What is food addiction?
Like addictive drugs, highly palatable foods increase the production levels of brain chemicals that create the impression of well-being, such as dopamine. Once people experience pleasure, associated with the increase in dopamine in the brain’s reward circuit, when eating certain foods the need to eat more appears.
Reward signals created by very appetizing foods can nullify the signs of fullness and satisfaction. As a result, the addicted person continues to eat even when he is not hungry.
People who show signs of food addiction can also develop a tolerance for food. They eat more and more, only to discover that the food satisfies them less and less.
Scientists believe that food addiction can play an important role in obesity. But people with normal weight may also have difficulties with food addiction. Their bodies can simply be genetically programmed to better handle extra calories, or, they can increase their physical activity to compensate for overfeeding.
People who are addicted to food continue to eat despite negative consequences, such as weight gain or damaged relationships. And just like people who are addicted to drugs or gambling, people who are addicted to food will have trouble stopping their behavior, even if they want or have tried many times to reduce food consumption.
Signs of food addiction
Food addicts may show the following signs:
- The strong desire for certain types of food
- They eat secretly or hide the eating habit
- They eat when they are not hungry
- They eat more after the feeling of fullness appears, or even to the point of feeling sick
- They feel guilty for what they eat, how much they eat, or both.
- They spend a lot of time thinking about what they ate or what they are going to eat
- They use food to relieve stress or to cope with unpleasant emotions
The causes of food addiction
Some people who are addicted to food eat because they associate certain foods with well-being. We grow by associating food with celebrations and special occasions of all kinds. Children can receive special food as a reward for good behavior. Adults can choose special foods to treat themselves for various reasons.
A person who feels depressed or stressed consume foods that contain high amounts of sugar, fat or salt due to the effect that these ingredients have on the brain, to feel better. These foods act in the same way as endorphins, and the food addict experiences a kind of euphoria after eating. After the effect has disappeared, the person feels guilty and more depressed. To feel better, you need to eat again, and the cycle repeats.
The effects of food addiction
Not all food addicts are overweight or obese. The addict may suffer from low self-esteem and/or depression, and is usually unhappy with his body image. Some people with this type of addiction are depressed to the extent that they consider or even attempt suicide because they find it impossible to overcome the compulsive eating disorder.
Complications and effects of long-term food addiction
A problem with food addiction can help develop numerous negative health consequences, including:
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Renal disease
Help and treatment for food addiction
There are a couple of options available to help you stop overeating. A therapist can help you stop resorting to food whenever there is a change in your life and this type of treatment is usually the best option.
Addiction can be a symptom of an underlying disease, which needs to be addressed to help the client learn to have a healthier relationship with food and discover how to stop eating compulsively.
A support group can also be part of the treatment process. Since most food addicts tend to suffer from low self-esteem and/or depression, a group of people trying to overcome these types of problems may also help. The exchange of experiences and the support of people who understand addiction can be an effective part of treatment.
The recovery and rehabilitation of food addiction
Stopping eating is obviously not a possibility for food addicts or for anyone, so it is necessary to learn to have a better relationship with food. Medications for depression or anxiety may be prescribed, but therapy is the key to overcoming this addiction.