Many people consider themselves “sugar addicts,” “chocoholics,” or declare that they need a “sweet fix,” but does food addiction really exist?
I recently spoke to food addiction specialist Phil Werdell who explained that indeed, food addiction is now being more widely acknowledged. The American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has recently recognised food addiction as a brain disease with a similar scientific basis as alcoholism and other drug addictions. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) stated in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that many of those formally diagnosed with eating disorders also present with the main characteristics of a substance use disorder.
So, what exactly is food addiction and how do you know if you are addicted to food?
As a food addiction counselor and someone who is a recovered food addict herself, I describe food addiction as follows:
Food addiction is when you can’t control your compulsion to eat and continue eating too much despite negative consequences. You become preoccupied with food, weight and body image and find you just can’t stop eating. Food addiction is a biochemical imbalance of the brain and body that creates a craving for refined foods which can’t be consumed without developing strong physical cravings and mental obsessions about food. At later stages of food addiction, you can also become addicted to volume, meaning that you can eat too much of anything, even healthy and unrefined foods like fruit and vegetables. The addiction becomes more about eating, no matter what the food.
It’s common for people to develop eating disorders to try and control their underlying food addiction. The obsession with food means they can’t stop eating and become concerned about their weight gain. They begin using disordered ways of dealing with the problem, such as fasting, purging through vomiting, using laxatives, or over-exercising.
In many cases, the person addicted to food gives up any attempts to control themselves, leading to rapid obesity.
Food addiction involves a great deal of shame which prevents sufferers from seeking help. Ashamed of not being able to control their food consumption, a food addict will often eat moderately in front of others and then binge in secret. After a binge, they feel a sense of guilt, remorse, and self-contempt, with a firm resolution to never binge again. But the combination of the physical craving and the mental obsession always sets off a new cycle of binge eating leading to even greater despair, shame, and isolation.
Food addiction is chronic, progressive, and ultimately fatal. It’s chronic because the condition never goes away, progressive because the symptoms always get worse over time, and fatal because the addictive eater will die an early death, usually as a result of obesity-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, or as a result of deteriorating mental health.
Food addiction is just like any other addiction.
It’s a chronic disease of the brain, which affects its functioning of the reward, motivation, and memory circuits. This dysfunction leads to biological, psychological, social, and spiritual problems in your life as you keep using a substance or behaviour to get pleasure or to avoid pain. Addiction is a disease that comes from several factors. Genes, learned behaviour, the environment, and personal exposure to stress all play a role in its development. It’s one brain illness with many outlets, so if you’re addicted to one thing, it’s likely that you’re also addicted to another thing.
Here are 5 Signs that You May Be Addicted to Food:
- You are unable to abstain from certain foods or from overeating.
- You are unable to control your behaviour around food and overeating.
- You have physical cravings and obsession about food.
- You tend to deny the negative consequences of your eating habits to yourself and others.
- Your emotions are affected by your food behaviour or you eat for emotional reasons.
If you would like more information on food addiction and are seeking help, please get in touch or find me on the Wellness Universe.