Mental HealthAddictionsCan You Be ‘Addicted’ to Food? - Here is how

Can You Be ‘Addicted’ to Food? – Here is how

Many individuals struggle with establishing a connection to food.. Is it possible to label it as an “addiction”?

It’s quite common to have emotions when it comes to food and eating.

Perhaps you feel as though you lack control around food or maybe thoughts of it occupy your mind constantly. There may even be foods that you consider unsafe to keep at home because you fear consuming them all.

Your personal experience with food can sometimes feel like an obsession almost resembling a “food addiction.”

Traditionally the term “addiction” within the community is reserved for substances like alcohol and drugs or specific behaviors such as gambling addiction.

Nevertheless numerous researchers acknowledge that certain elements of food possess qualities that resemble substances. Additionally some individuals might develop an addiction related to the act of eating.

For those who’re concerned about their relationship with food the technical distinctions may hold less significance, than finding practical solutions. Treatment options may involve engaging in talk therapy and receiving counseling.

What is ‘food addiction’?

Food addiction is not officially recognized as a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM 5). Within the community there is ongoing discussion regarding how to define what individuals commonly refer to as food addiction.

Although food does not fall under the category of substance related and addictive disorders in the DSM 5 there is acknowledgment of feeding and eating disorders. The DSM 5, published in 2013 formally recognized binge eating disorder as a condition for the first time.

If you suspect that you might be grappling with food addiction it’s possible that your symptoms could align with an eating disorder that involves elements such as bingeing or feeling a loss of control, around food. These may include;

  • Binge eating disorder
  • Bulimia nervosa

According to a review conducted in 2014 food addiction was found in 57.6% of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder compared to 16.2% of those without a diagnosed eating disorder.

Symptoms

To establish a relationship with food it can be beneficial to identify behaviors that may resemble an unhealthy attachment to food.

Individuals who are concerned about the possibility of having a relationship with food may exhibit the following behaviors or symptoms:

  • Feeling a lack of control when it comes to food or eating.
  • Engaging in binge eating, where they consume large quantities of food and feel a sense of loss of control.
  • Experiencing cravings for types of food.
  • Consuming foods despite wanting to avoid their negative effects.
  • Eating when not feeling hungry.
  • Constantly thinking about food.
  • Experiencing guilt or shame associated with eating.
  • Going through periods of withdrawal related to food.
  • Developing a tolerance for foods.

It is important to note that some individuals may differentiate between an inclination towards eating often referred to as “eating addiction ” and intense cravings for a particular type of food.

It is worth mentioning that people across all body sizes can struggle with feelings of loss of control around food. However societal influences such, as diet culture and fatphobia tend to amplify feelings of shame surrounding food in individuals who have bodies.

Is ‘food addiction’ a real thing?

Some researchers, as mentioned in a commentary from 2017 have drawn a connection between food substances and addictive behaviors suggesting that they may have addictive qualities.

Based on a review conducted in 2021 it is widely agreed upon within the community that there is such a thing as addictive like eating. However there are differing opinions among researchers regarding the foods potential for addiction.

Food serves as both nourishment and reward for our bodies sustenance. While there is debate on this matter substantial research suggests that certain foods, like sugar possess properties similar to those of addictive substances.

A review from 2019 highlights three perspectives held by researchers:

  • Some argue that certain foods contain ingredients with addictive potential and therefore classify food addiction as a subtype of substance use disorder.
  • Others view food addiction as an addiction.
  • There are those who believe that labeling food addiction, as a disorder might not be necessary since it could be indicative of disordered eating patterns.

What to do if you think you have a food addiction

It’s crucial to establish an balanced connection with food in order to prioritize your overall well being, both physically and mentally. If you’re looking to transform your relationship, with food there are approaches you can take to begin this journey.

Talk with a doctor

A primary care physician is usually the person you reach out to when seeking medical advice. They can help connect you with a health specialist who will collaborate with you to explore the underlying factors contributing to your eating patterns and your overall relationship, with food.

Consider treatment

Your healthcare provider may suggest approaches to develop a healthier relationship with food. Some options they might propose include:

  • Engaging in talk therapy sessions
  • Receiving guidance and counseling
  • Considering medication if necessary
  • Regular medical check ups to monitor your physical well being

You may want to consider reaching out to one or more of the following professionals:

  • A specialist in eating disorders
  • An expert in body image concerns
  • A registered dietitian who follows principles

A therapist or dietitian could explore the possibility that you are dealing with an eating disorder or another underlying condition. This exploration can help provide context for your experiences.

For instance changes in eating habits can sometimes be linked to health conditions such as depression or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

There are effective treatment options available, for managing eating disorders.

Recovery often involves support from your network, including family and friends.

Try to eat enough and avoid restriction

Having an eating routine can reduce the chances of overeating. Its recommended to have meals and snacks throughout the day to avoid excessive hunger.

Based on a study conducted in 2014 it was found that food addiction is linked to dieting and subsequent weight regain potentially leading to higher body weight.

While it might be beneficial to limit your exposure to foods that trigger emotions or cravings until you learn how to handle them it’s advisable to seek guidance from a professional who can assist you in achieving a balanced approach, towards all types of food.

Reach out for support

Finding support from individuals who have experienced challenges can be incredibly valuable. Consider exploring peer support programs or joining support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous. These communities provide a sense of belonging and understanding that can be immensely helpful, in your journey.

Next steps

Food plays a role in our lives bringing us both nourishment and enjoyment. However it can sometimes be frustrating when we feel like we have lost control over our eating habits.

While there is debate among experts regarding the concept of food addiction many individuals believe they have developed an addiction to certain types of food.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to feel trapped in this addiction. It is possible to find peace and regain a relationship with food.

Regardless of your body size it’s crucial to recognize that you deserve to heal nourish your body adequately and cultivate a connection with food.

If you’re struggling with your relationship, with food consulting a doctor can help you find a health professional or a registered dietitian who can assist in identifying the underlying causes and guide you towards finding balance.

Sources

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
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  4. Gearhardt AN, et al. (2021). The concept of “food addiction” helps inform the understanding of overeating and obesity: Debate consensus. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/113/2/274/6059775?login=true
  5. Hebebrand J, et al. (2014). “Eating addiction”, rather than “food addiction”, better captures addictive-like eating behavior. ScienceDirect. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763414002140?via%3Dihub
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Carla Nasca, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral fellow of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in the laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at the Rockefeller University, New York. Dr. Nasca received her B.A. in Molecular Biology and her M.S. in Electrophysiology from the University of Palermo in Italy. She earned her Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Pharmacology from the University Sapienza in Rome, Italy, before moving to The Rockefeller University under the mentorship of Dr. Bruce McEwen.

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