Like many other mental health conditions, food addiction is widely misunderstood. However, studies show that those with food addiction have similar psychological responses to substance abuse disorders. Those who suffer from food addiction will typically develop tolerances to food over time, much like drug addicts and alcoholics develop tolerances to their chemical substances of choice. Let’s explore this condition more profoundly.
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What is a Food Addiction?
People often diminish the severity of food addiction. It isn’t about being obsessed with chocolate or drinking coffee every day. Food addictions go past this. Someone with a food addiction struggles with a loss of control or inability to stop eating foods high in carbohydrates, fat, sugar, or artificial sweeteners.
Food addicts struggle with painful feelings of shame, embarrassment, and guilt regarding their food behaviors. It’s an uncontrollable impulse that negatively affects their lifestyle and even their health.
What Causes Food Addiction?
There are many causes of this condition, but mostly it comes from the type of foods we eat. Someone who consumes foods high in carbs, fat, salt, or sugars are continually triggering the brain’s pleasure areas. When we eat these highly processed foods, we activate the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These are the same triggers that happen when someone takes drugs, drinks alcohol, or engages in gambling behaviors.
These types of foods are high in unnatural substances that our bodies can’t process. As a result, our body has a surge of these feel-good chemicals. Eventually, to maintain this state of euphoria, our bodies experience food cravings, particularly for unhealthy foods. As your brain adjusts to these levels of feel-good chemicals, it will start requiring more and more quantities of foods to get the same reaction. Over time, without treatment, someone can struggle with addiction.
The Addiction Controversy
As a behavioral addiction, the concept of food addiction remains controversial. Those who think overeating isn’t an addiction mention the lack of withdrawal symptoms when someone tries to quit.
However, many disorders featured in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) are similar to food addiction. Including binge eating disorder, excessive eating, and bulimia nervosa. Even still, the controversy about food addiction remains, although many experts believe it is an addiction.
Signs of Food Addiction
Those who suffer from food addiction will typically develop tolerances to food over time, much like drug addicts and alcoholics develop tolerances to their chemical substances of choice. The amount of palatable foods a food addict eats will likely increase over time, seeing as a more significant amount of food will need to be consumed for the same amount of pleasure to be experienced.
Food addicts will typically continue eating despite fullness, leading to serious health complications such as obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease. However, food addicts can be of average weight – and frequently are. They may be genetically predisposed to metabolize food quickly or compensate for their excessive food intake with daily exercise hours.
Be mindful about the following signs of food addiction:
- Inability to control portions when eating certain foods
- Eating certain types of foods in private or secretly
- Going out of your way to obtain certain types of foods when they’re not available
- Continuing to eat even when you’re no longer hungry or full
- Eating to the point of developing a physical illness
- Your work performance, school performance, and personal relationships suffer because of your relationship with food and eating
- You start to spend less time with friends and family because of your eating habits
- Overeating often causes you to feel anxious, guilty, shameful, or depressed
- The amount of food you consume no longer triggers the same feelings of satisfaction
- Even when you’re struggling with physical or mental health issues, you can’t stop overeating
Eventually, someone with food addiction can experience chronic fatigue, restlessness, sleep disorders, digestive problems, or begin having suicidal ideations.
Consequences of Food Addictions
People believe that overeating won’t have the same repercussions as a substance abuse disorder would have. However, it can also lead to countless physical and psychological damages that can be life-threatening.
The most noticeable side effects of food addiction will be physical and can go for something as average as a headache or weight gain to something as dangerous as liver disease. These are some of the most common physical effects:
- Digestive problems
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Sleep disorders
Beyond the effects it can have on our bodies, food addiction can be debilitating to mental health. Over time, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions can flourish. These are the most common effects on your mental health:
- Low self-esteem
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal ideation
Eventually, it can also cause decreased performance at work or school, isolation from family and friends, and avoidance of social events or functions.
Help for Food Addiction
Food addiction is a prevalent disorder, though it is rarely openly discussed for widespread lack of understanding and empathy. If you or someone you love is suffering from food addiction, help is available. There are some group meetings available such as Overeaters Anonymous that can provide a unique sense of support.
Luckily, many inpatient drug rehabs offer dual diagnosis treatments for addiction, including eating disorders. For more information on our dual diagnosis program of addiction recovery, please contact one of our trained representatives today.