Is Food Addiction a REAL condition? How could one deal with or even prevent it?
In today’s day and age, we live in a society that seems to become “addicted” to nearly everything. From social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to online games such as Candy Crush or offline “addictions” such as one’s car, cleaning, exercising…you name it. A simple hobby or source of enjoyment can go out of hand which some categorize as an “addiction.” The fact of the matter is, being addicted to something such as Facebook or Candy Crush can actually be a real thing, triggered by the reward and pleasure centers of our brain. Some believe that it’s a medical condition that one should seek medical attention for and others believe it’s a hoax or a cop out to other issues. Whether or not you believe it’s true, addiction is something that can affect you or your loved ones and can be very detrimental to personal relationships, overall life satisfaction and could even lead to more serious issues.
Some believe that addiction only occurs when it comes to the “traditional addictions” such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. However, food addiction, which many do not believe is an actual condition, has been on the rise, especially in the United States. According to Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA), “any addiction is a disease of the body, mind and spirit. It inhabits the ability to achieve self-control due to mental obsession and physical compulsion.” Whether that obsession is with food or another chosen “drug,” the brain reacts the same, causing the need for that given substance. “The social stigma of this whole concept is a major issue because I think people look at it as will power or won’t power and they don’t see it as a real disorder,” said Dr. Ira Sacker, eating disorder specialist. “I think that with alcoholism or other drug addictions, we look at it as we can take away the issue. With food, you can’t take that away. Food we have to deal with which is where issues could stem if not carefully controlled.”
People form food addictions mostly due to highly palatable foods, I.E. foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt. These foods stimulate the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps control the brain’s rewards and pleasure centers. When these areas of the brain are stimulated from eating those highly palatable foods, it causes one to want to continue ingesting those foods and replicate that pleasure. Sometimes the brain’s signals of fullness or satisfaction can be overridden by the reward signals which dismisses the body’s real needs. Addiction isn’t something that can easily be cured overnight. The mind plays a powerful role in making sure it can achieve that pleasure again. When it comes to food addiction, one’s tolerance of food and personal limits go up while satisfaction goes down, eventually causing the downward spiral.
According to FA, here are some signs to look for in yourself or someone whom you suspect might have a food addiction:
- Bulimia- binge eating followed by forced vomiting
- Drastic weight gain or health-threatening weight loss
- Compulsive exercise
- Mental obsession with food, weight or exercise
Here are some open-ended questions to ask:
- End up eating more than planned when your started eating certain foods?
- Keep eating certain foods even if you’re not hungry?
- Eat to the point of getting sick?
- When certain foods aren’t available, do you go out of your way to obtain them?
- Worry about not eating certain types of foods or worry about cutting down on certain types of foods obsessively?
Do these situations apply:
- You eat certain foods so often or in such large amounts that it restricts you from working, spending time with family or doing recreational activities
- You have problems functioning effectively at your job or school because of food and constant eating
Do you experience any of the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Physical symptoms such as tremors, twitches or getting physically ill
- You find the need to eat more and more food to reduce negative emotions or increase pleasure
- Eating the same amount of food doesn’t reduce negative emotions or increase pleasure the way it used to
- Eating foods causes guilt, self-loathing or depression
Another resource, though some categorize as controversial and still has much more research to evolve from is the Yale Food Addiction Scale, which is a questionnaire used to determine whether or not an individual fits the categorization of a food addict. Co-creater, Ashley Gearhardt also assembled a “Top Ten Most Addictive Foods” list–this list shouldn’t be that shocking but it’s good information to remember for your next meal:
- Ice Cream
- French Fries
- White Bread
A lot of times, people joke when it comes to indulging in food saying, “Oh I just couldn’t help myself” or “I’m totally addicted to (fill in the blank).” A figure of speech doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a food addict. More questions to ask yourself are: am I constantly thinking about food no matter what activity I’m doing? Do I have absolutely no will power even if I know I want to say no? Have I ever planned binges and eaten them in secret or purposely behind closed doors? If you answered yes to any of those questions or the above situations and experiences then you might want to think about seeing a specialist.
“Food addiction begins as some sort of disordered eating and then as it gets worse, it becomes an actual eating disorder and mental condition,” Dr. Sacker explains. “Most people only categorize and consider the two most known common disorders, those being Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa in which those who suffer purge and then vomit or practically starve themselves via their mental obsession. We most see this disorder in those who are crazed about being thin, but food addiction can also fit into that category and can lead to serious health problems such as suffering from being underweight or developing obesity.” When looking at the effects that food addiction could have on one’s health, it’s very important for the person to comprehend the possible dangers. The most common factor that affects a person with a food addiction is obesity. However, it’s not to say that all those that are obese have had a food addiction. If someone is not truly an addict, food addiction should not be blamed. Masking a bigger problem with a diagnosis one truly doesn’t have isn’t conducive towards recovery and the “blame” is placed on the addiction/condition rather than accepting personal responsibility. While some suffer from obesity via their food addiction, others with the same condition may not. Some could be genetically programmed to handle the extra calories, not causing weight gain and others could be considered a “normal weight,” but secretly binge from their addiction and follow the binges with overcompensation in other areas such as excessive exercise.
There are ways to deal and prevent a food addiction from forming and spiraling out of control. Portion control is a huge part of healthy eating and lifestyle changes. Portioning out the right amount of food that is healthy and beneficial for your body to intake, overall health can be achieved and restored. Owning a digital kitchen scale is one of the best ways to easily and efficiently portion out each of your meals to ensure accountability. It’s also helpful to have a digital scale model that is capable of reading other nutritional data such as the food’s calories, fat, cholesterol, fiber, protein and sodium values. By taking out the approximation from meals, one can ensure that they’re getting the nutrients their body needs, nothing severely overboard or under.
Some argue that treating food addiction is more complicated and even harder than treating alcohol addiction. That may sound ridiculous but for those who are addicted to alcohol, sobriety can ultimately be attainable given the person does not consume alcohol and abstains from temptation, such as going to a bar or somewhere they know alcohol will be present. Those who are addicted to food, stand to have a tougher time because unlike abstaining from consuming or being near alcohol, you still have to eat food.
Dealing with addiction of any kind can deeply hurt and can even destroy a family and personal relationships. It’s very important that once you or someone you know is diagnosed, you seek the right help and arm yourself with the essential tools and lifestyle modifications needed to get healthy again. There is hope. Loved ones, healthcare professionals and caregivers want to see you overcome the addiction and ultimately succeed. If you feel that you are at a point where reaching out for support is the only way you’ll overcome an addiction, don’t be afraid to ask for help or assistance.
Food Addiction/Eating Disorder treatment programs & resources:
- Food Addicts In Recovery Anonymous
- Food Addiction Institute
- Rader Programs
- Compulsive Over-Eaters Retreat
- Food Addicts Anonymous
- Shades of Hope
- ACORN Food Dependency Recovery Services
- Addiction.com (Online support/Phone support)
Disclaimer: The Escali Blog does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. more