There is increasing evidence that some people ‘get high’ on overeating. Yes, you read that right! Numerous studies have confirmed that food has the same effect on the pleasure centers of food addicts as crack would on a drug addict’s. It’s particularly true for highly palatable foods that are rich in sugar, fat or salt. The stimulation of the pleasure center leads to the release of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, activating the reward pathway and ultimately leading to a compulsive seeking of that behavior.
At some point, they may develop tolerance to food; they’ll need to eat more and more to achieve the same level of satisfaction. Many food addicts struggle with obesity although some of them are able to maintain a normal weight. This may be due to increased physical activity or in other cases, their body is just capable of handling calories better.
How common is food addiction?
There is a dearth of quality statistics on the prevalence of food addiction. This is mainly due to the lack of standard diagnostic criteria. Asides the fact that food addiction leads to some brain changes similar to those found in other addictions, there is little that distinguishes food addiction from eating disorder such as binge eating, compulsive overeating, bulimia nervosa, and other unhealthy relationships with food.
How do you know you have food addiction?
General hallmarks of addiction such as compulsion, tolerance, and withdrawal can also be observed in food addicts. To make food addiction easier to diagnose, Researchers at the Yale University’s Center for Food Science and Policy developed the food addiction questionnaire. Some of the questions that are contained therein include:
- Do you end up eating more than planned when you start eating certain foods?
- Do you keep eating certain foods even if you’re no longer hungry?
- Do you eat to the point of feeling ill?
- Do you worry when certain foods are not available or go out of your way to obtain them?
- Do you worry about not eating certain types of foods or worry about cutting down on certain types of foods?
- Do you prioritize eating certain foods over your work, family, or recreational activities?
- Do you avoid social situations because you do not want to feel embarrassed by your eating habits?
- Do you have problems at work or school because of your eating habit?
- Do you suffer symptoms such as depression, anxiety, agitation, etc. when you try to cut down your intake of certain foods?
- Do you need to eat more food when you’re feeling sad or angry?
If the answer to all or most of these questions is yes, you might have a food addiction. When left untreated, food addiction could lead to complication such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes. It could also have a negative effect on your body image, self-esteem, and mental health in general.
What are the treatment options for food addiction?
Recovering from food addiction may be slightly tougher than other addictions because it’s impossible to completely abstain from food. But like other addictions, it starts with a willingness to quit on the part of the addict.
People with food addiction are often advised to make a list of all the trigger foods and replace them with healthy alternatives. But it’s not always that simple. You may have to enlist the help of a psychologist, nutritionist, or doctor who knows about food addiction.
Furthermore, there are many support groups with fantastic programs for people who are addicted to food. Some of them include Overeaters Anonymous, Food Addicts Anonymous, GreySheeters Anonymous, etc.