Updated: Sep 18, 2020
What is food addiction?
Food addiction refers to a biochemical dependency on food. For some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine can be activated by highly palatable food.
Highly palatable foods are often rich in fat, sugar, and salt. These foods trigger feel-good brain chemicals (i.e., dopamine), which induces feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This creates a chemical dependency on certain foods for some individuals, which means when they do not have highly palatable foods, they experience withdrawal symptoms.
Causes of food addiction
Anyone can develop an addiction due to a myriad of biological, psychological, or social reasons. According to Debi Anson LMSW, LCSW, CAADC, a therapist at Telebehavioral Health.US, "eating disorders can affect anyone at any time, but they're typically most often reported in adolescents and young women.”
Signs & symptoms
We all have foods we indulge in from time to time and cravings. But at what point do these cravings become problematic.
Listed below are some food addiction signs and behaviors:
Feeling a loss of control eating certain foods
Experiencing relief, comfort, and extreme pleasure while eating
Avoiding social interactions or relationships to spend time eating certain foods
Going out of your way to obtain certain foods
Difficulty function in a career or job due to decreased efficiency
Continuing to eat certain foods even if you are no longer hungry
Experiencing panic attacks, anxiety, and irritability when food is not readily available
Spending an excessive amount of money on buying certain foods for bingeing
Undergoing intense feelings of depression or self-hatred following periods of overeating
If you would like to more information on symptoms or think you may have an unhealthy relationship with food, researchers at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Science and Policy developed a questionnaire to identify people with food addictions.
If you or someone you love is experiencing food addiction, seek professional help.
Debi Anson states, “early intervention and treatment work the best. The chances for recovery increase the earlier an eating disorder is detected.”
12 step programs
Individuals attend a 12 – Step program with others who are suffering from food addiction as well. During the program, an individual will receive a sponsor who will help them navigate recovery and develop a dietary regimen. This treatment option provides a great support system. There are several different programs to choose from, and they are usually free.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a great option for treating food addiction and other eating disorders. Debi Anson states, "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for eating disorders. Nutritional counseling is also a critical component to incorporate education about nutritional needs.” Visit our website if you are interested in speaking with someone regarding CBT.
Commercial treatment programs
Some commercial treatment programs for food addiction include ACORN, The Turning Point, and Milestones in Recovery. Food Addiction Institute is an excellent resource for further details and information on these types of programs.
If you'd like to book an appointment with Debi or any of our other clincians, please click here.