Food addiction is more than a love for different cuisine or a specific item. When you’re addicted to food, you spend many hours obsessing over what you’ll eat, when you’ll eat and how you plan on getting more food. Food addicts require large amounts of food to feel satisfied and continue to eat in spite of weight gain or health consequences. Approximately 37% of obese adults and 6% with a normal weight have been diagnosed with a food addiction. Keep reading to learn how to identify this health issue and how to overcome food addiction.
Common Causes of Food Addiction
Many underlying factors can cause an addiction to food. It may start as a love for certain foods, but other factors cause individuals to turn to food for relief.
The D2 dopamine receptor gene (DRD2) predisposes individuals to food addiction and obesity due to insufficient dopamine activity. This same gene is linked to alcoholism and other addictive behaviors, including substance abuse and gambling. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical in the brain. Eating certain foods releases this same chemical, which causes some people to reach for food for comfort.
In the grocery store, we can locate the healthiest foods in the exterior perimeter, including fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat. Most junk foods, including sugar cereal, soft drinks, cookies and candy, are located in the center aisles, and many are targeted at children. Processed food is chemically addicting because, when eaten, it releases dopamine in the brain. Hunger and cravings also set in faster when we eat these foods, which creates a food addiction early in life.
Emotional eating is the most common reason for food addiction. Many people turn to food for comfort. Cortisol is released when we’re under stress and depression, which increases appetite and a desire to eat. Emotional eating is where the term comfort food comes from.
Negative Consequences of Food Addiction
Just like any addiction, food addiction has negative consequences. Food addicts tend to ignore these negative implications and struggle with an inability to stop eating unhealthy foods. Some negative consequences include the following.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 41% of Americans are considered obese. An individual’s eating habits, activity level and sleep patterns are the main factors that lead to obesity. Food addiction usually causes an individual to overeat, which also contributes to higher rates of obesity.
Overeating, especially unhealthy foods, can lead to heart disease, a higher risk of stroke, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and premature death. Many of these diseases are preventable with proper weight management and good nutrition. When food addiction leads to overeating, it also may cause acid reflux, brain fog and nausea.
Eating excessive amounts of food can lead to feelings of guilt and self-loathing. When it also causes obesity or health issues, food addiction may lead to low self-esteem. Individuals then turn to food to feel better, which continues the cycle.
Strategies on How to Overcome Food Addiction
Depending on how long you’ve turned to food for comfort, it can be difficult to overcome food addiction. Like any addiction, food addiction can be difficult to recover from. Once you’ve admitted to yourself, “I’m addicted to food,” you can take some steps to break the cycle of emotional eating and bingeing.
Pay attention to your moods and emotions when you eat. Do you eat more when you’re happy, sad or anxious? If so, find other ways to self-soothe, including exercise, meditation or learning a new hobby. Accept your emotions and work through them instead of turning to food for relief.
Keep a journal of your triggers. Write down every time you feel compelled to eat. Include details on what was happening at the time, and note what was going on in your head and how it made you feel. Identify any physical responses or urges. Identifying what’s happening can help you stop the pattern.
Create a personal exercise and eating plan and stick to it. Set goals and reward yourself with each milestone. Focus on being strong and healthy and viewing food as a tool to get there.
Seeking Professional Help
The steps for overcoming food addiction are often the same as recovering from alcohol or drug addiction. Therapy helps you identify why you overeat and helps you work through any personal issues you have with food. It also identifies any underlying cause, like depression or mental health issues, that could cause you to seek comfort in food.
Different Types of Treatment Options for Food Addiction
Several treatments are available for food addiction. Having guidance through addiction can improve your chances of successful recovery.
The goal of food addiction therapy is to help an individual reduce their overeating habits, provide diet and weight loss information and address any other mental health or physical issues. Therapy includes individual and group counseling in an inpatient or outpatient treatment center.
There are free 12-step programs available throughout the country to help with food addiction. You’ll attend meetings with others going through similar circumstances and may even get a sponsor to help you stick to a diet. There are several 12-step groups for those battling food addiction, including Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA) and Greysheeters Anonymous (GSA)
Vyvanse is a stimulant used to treat bingeing, food addiction and ADHD. It works by controlling the appetite and reducing the urge to eat. Individuals usually start with 30 milligrams once a day and may take as much as 70 milligrams per day depending on the severity of the condition.
Identifying the problem is the first step to overcoming food addiction. If you or your loved one has a bad relationship with food and wants to know how to beat food addiction, it may be time to get help. Contact our caring counselors at FHE Health 24/7 to discuss your options for treatment and to get started today.