We need to eat to live. That's a basic fact. We enjoy eating food that is well prepared and presented, and that tastes good. For a food addict, their obsession with food goes well beyond enjoying a great meal. The obsession with eating, or rather consuming, takes over their lives.
What is Food Addiction?
A food addict is caught up in an obsession with food that they can't control. When they are not actually eating, they are thinking about their next snack or meal, craving certain kinds of foods, or engaging in a cycle of eating heathy foods part of the time and bingeing on junk food at other times. Not all food addicts have bulimia, which is characterized by consuming large quantities of food and then purging. People with anorexia are food addicts as well, but they go to great lengths to avoid eating. They are also caught up in obsessing about food.
Signs of Food Addiction
Food addicts may display the following signs that point to a problem with their relationship with food:
- Cravings for certain kinds of foods
- Eating in secret or hiding food
- Eating when you are not hungry
- Eating past the point of feeling full, or even to the point of feeling sick
- Feeling guilty about what you eat, how much you eat, or both
- Spending a large amount of time thinking about what you ate or what you plan to eat next
- Turning to food to relieve stress or to deal with unpleasant emotions
Causes of Addiction
Some people who are addicted to food do so because they associate certain foods with comfort. We grow up associating food with celebrations and special occasions of all kinds. Children may be given special treats as a reward for good behavior. Adults may choose special foods to treat themselves for various reasons.
A person who is feeling depressed or stressed may turn to foods containing high amounts of sugar, fat, or salt because of the effect these ingredients have on the brain. These foods act in the same way as endorphins, the body's "feel good" hormones, and the food addict gets a kind of high after eating them. After the effect has worn off, the person feels guilty and more depressed. To feel better, they turn to food, and the cycle repeats.
Effects of Food Addiction
Not all food addicts are overweight or obese. The addict may suffer from low self-esteem and/or depression, and typically unhappy with their body image. Some people with this kind of addiction issue are depressed to the extent that they consider or even attempt suicide as they find it impossible to overcome a compulsive eating disorder.
Complications and Long Term Effects of Food Addiction
A problem with food addiction can lead to numerous health consequences, including:
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Kidney disease
Help and Food Addiction Treatment
There are a couple of options available to quit overeating. A therapist can help the person stop turning to food to zone out or for comfort and therapy is typically the best bet for those seeking compulsive eating help. The addiction may be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as abuse, which needs to be addressed to help the client learn to have a more healthy relationship with food and discover how to stop compulsive overeating.
A support group, such as Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, can also be part of the treatment process. As most food addicts tend to suffer from low self-esteem and/or depression, a group like Emotions Anonymous might also be able to help. Sharing experiences and getting support from people who understand the addiction can be an effective part of treatment.
Beyond Quitting: Food Addiction Recovery and Rehabilitation
Quitting eating is obviously not a possibility for food addicts or anyone for that matter, so they need to learn how to have a better relationship with food. Medications can be prescribed for depression or anxiety, but patient and effective therapy is the key to compulsive over eating recovery.