As unpopular as it may sound, food addiction is real. It is very common among most of the population, and the idea that it only applies to children is not true. Even adults get addicted to food.
Food is not just a necessity for life. People get together to eat, have fun, socialize, and revel in the simple pleasures it provides. It is a source of comfort and a way of celebrating special events and rewarding loved ones.
However, the thrill and the desire to eat, for some people can grow into an uncontrollable and compulsive habit. They become obsessed with food and cannot stop eating certain types of meals. This is where food addiction sets in.
Before we look at ways of overcoming it, let’s learn more about what it means and how to know whether you are addicted to food or not.
Food addiction, in a nutshell, refers to a constant obsession with what to eat, when to eat, and how to obtain more food; overeating behaviors; hiding or hoarding foods, secretive behaviors, and inability to stop overeating or continued eating.
It can also be said to be a psychological and emotional addiction to specific foods and substances.
Although it doesn’t share similar characteristics to substance and drug addiction, food addiction activates the taste-reward and pleasurable regions of the brain.
People, therefore, continue eating even when there are no pangs of hunger biting. More often, the addiction is to processed foods such as sugary beverages, ice cream, foods high in fat, chips and fries, and burgers, to name a few.
Addiction to these foods results from individuals having no control over their eating behavior. Thus, they find themselves spending too much time around food and overeating, or anticipating the emotional effects of compulsive overeating.
They will, as a result, continue eating regardless of the negative consequences such as weight gain or damaged relationships. And like drug addicts, people who are addicted to food will have trouble stopping, even when they want to, or have tried several times to minimize the food intake.
Food addiction has many suspected causes. Research has shown that addiction has a genetic component, but other factors may also be associated with it.
There is a set of questionnaires developed by researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Science & Policy that helps in identifying people with food addiction.
Among the set of actions that characterize food addiction, according to the questionnaire include:
The set of questions presented, also asks about the impact of one’s relationship with food on their life.
The questions state that if you are consuming certain foods more often and in large quantities, and valuing them more than getting certain tasks done, then you might have a food addiction.
The same is also true if you avoid professional or social situations where certain foods are available because of fear of overeating.
If you can’t function properly at school or work because you are obsessing about food, then you have the addiction.
A person can also be said to have food addiction based on the impact of food on their emotions? Check out these and see if they apply to you.
If the answer to the above three questions is positive, then you are addicted to food.
Anyone who has binged on food knows the physical short-term effects of food addiction. These can be very uncomfortable and can include:
When you consistently eat far more than intended, you are likely to gain weight. It’s the long-term effects of food addiction and obesity that can be especially dangerous and costly. They include:
Three regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, caudate, and insula have been pinpointed as being implicated in this relationship.
It is not the lack of willpower that causes food addiction, but it is believed to be a result of dopamine signals that affect the biochemistry of the brain.
Other studies suggest that the addiction to food and negative emotional states such as depression and anxiety are related.
For example, adults and adolescents with binge eating behaviors have a high prevalence of major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse than individuals without an eating disorder.
Moreover, there is a relationship between having suicidal thoughts and binge eating. In the same study, findings showed that more than half of teenage bulimics and a third of those with binge eating disorder report suicidal ideation.
This suggests that binge eating, as people often do when they are addicted to food, may be related to extreme emotional distress.
Food addiction may be a term thrown about carelessly, but its effects are far-reaching. It is a serious condition that requires treatment for it to be gone.
It does not go away on its own unless someone makes a conscious decision to deal with it. Otherwise, it often worsens over time.
Its symptoms are similar to those of drug abuse the only difference being the substances are not the same. Also, the social consequences may be less severe.
Food addiction, apart from its capability to cause harm, can lead to chronic health conditions such as obesity as mentioned earlier.
Having a diet that mostly comes with whole, single-ingredient foods can help reduce the likelihood of developing a food addiction.
Transitioning from this unhealthy habit follows a few steps which include:
Whenever you are craving a particular meal, look at the above lists. Look at all the available healthier choices and the healthy restaurants you can easily access. Make this a habit. Don’t stray from your goals.
Food addiction is a menace, a problem that doesn’t fade on its own. One must treat it, but it all begins with you. Choose healthier food choices, seek help, love yourself, and always be mindful when eating. Because if not, it may worsen over time. Consider seeking support from a mental health professional.
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