To Your Health
Are You a Food Addict?
There is a big difference between real hunger and food obsession
-Jeannie Gedeon, MPH, RD
Food addiction is a preoccupation or obsession with food. This is a disorder in which food is used inappropriately; it can damage self-esteem and even relationships, and it can result in serious medical consequences.
Food addicts think constantly about food, weight, body image, and what to eat next. They remember and anticipate pleasure from the ingestion of food and are unable to stop using food to create a sense of pleasure and comfort.
Types of food addiction include anorexia and bulimia nervosa, compulsive overeating and other disordered eating. So, what behaviors constitute food addiction?
• eating when not physically hungry
• losing control over the amount of food eaten
• hiding food, isolating to eat or secretly eating
• feeling disgust, guilt, shame or remorse after overeating
• eating compulsively, against intellectual judgment of the negative consequences (such as unwanted weight gain)
• have strong physical cravings or a “need to eat,” that negates the power to make rational decisions about eating.
Food addiction can be as habit-forming as alcohol and other substances, and just as hard to recover from. People who are addicted to food share many characteristics with alcoholics and addicts: They develop physical and emotional cravings to food, as well as experience both physical and emotional withdrawal when attempting to cut down on foods that trigger cravings. While food, alcohol and drugs may be used as coping mechanisms to calm anxiety, depression and other negative emotions, it’s fairly obvious that a person can’t just go “cold turkey” with food: Rather, one has to learn how to manage and normalize her eating.
Because each person is unique, successful treatment of food addiction is designed to meet specific needs, optimally with the support of a nutritionist, medical doctor and psychotherapist. Goals to work on include restoring healthy body weight and eating patterns, as well as identifying and strategizing for emotional triggers.
If food addiction is causing problems in your life, it’s important to seek help; this disorder is highly treatable. Make an appointment with a registered dietitian (R.D. credential is important) who specializes in eating disorders. Combining nutrition therapy with psychotherapy is the most comprehensive way to deal with a food addiction. You can find a psychotherapist or nutrition therapist who specializes in eating disorders at: Eating Disorder Referral and information Center, and the National Eating Disorders Association.