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Guide to overcoming food addiction

Admin
March 21, 2022
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

We live in a world of hyper consumerism and the food industry is right on top. From Apps on our smartphones that will deliver food in 15 minutes or less, to a number of restaurants and food stalls on the street outside our homes, to shopping malls with huge food courts. We are surrounded by food. So, it’s not a surprise that along with obesity, eating disorders like Food Addiction are on the rise.

What is Food Addiction?

One of the most controversial subjects relating to eating disorders is Food Addiction. While many experts, especially psychologists and counselors treating addiction issues, believe food addiction exists, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not even list it as a condition.

Since there is no common consensus on food addiction, there is no universally recognized clinical definition for it. The International Review of Neurobiology defines Food addiction as hedonic eating behavior involving the consumption of highly palatable foods (i.e., foods high in salt, fat, and sugar) in quantities beyond homeostatic energy requirements.

According to one study, over 5% of the population may suffer from Food addiction and it occurs in nearly 7% of women and 3% of men. It is prevalent in 2% of under/normal weight people and 8% of overweight/obese people. Women between the ages of 45-64 years have an 8.4% prevalence rate, while those between the ages of 62-88 years have a 2.7% prevalence rate.

How can I tell if I have Food Addiction?

When it comes to food, who can tell, how much is too much food? What can be more for me, can be less for others and vice versa. Hence, we need to look not just at the type and the amount of food consumed, but also at how one feels physically and psychologically after consuming food. Researchers have pointed out that people with food addiction display certain behaviors like

·        Eating obsessively even when not hungry

·        Extreme urge for sweet and fatty food products

·        Inability to control the amount of food consumed

·        binge eating and disordered eating patterns

The symptoms of food addiction can begin as a physical symptom but they can soon transcend to emotional and social symptoms and problems. Some of the symptoms of Food addiction include:

·        being obsessed with certain foods (obtaining and consuming it)

·        constant binging or uncontrollable eating

·        repeated attempts to overcome overeating, followed by relapses

·        eating anytime, notwithstanding people, place or situation one is in

·        constant buying of food causing financial strain

·        avoiding family and friends to pursue eating

·        eating food for emotional release

·        eating to the point of physical pain

Post obsessive consumption of huge amounts of food, an individual may go through a surge of negative emotions like

·        shame

·        guilt

·        distress

·        low self-esteem

Food addiction may also activate physical responses, like

·        intensive food restriction

·        compulsive exercise

·        self-induced vomiting

All these symptoms and emotions can lead to many more eating disorders like binge eating, bulimia, etc.

How to give up Food Addiction?

If you find yourself browsing through the library for food addiction treatment books, or you are up on the internet all night looking for answers to questions like how to stop fast food addiction or how to stop eating junk food, then it’s probably time you sought professional help.

Like most addiction treatment, the focus will not be on just the substance the person is addicted to but also on the emotional, physical and psychological needs of the person. Food addiction treatment is not about “how to stop eating”, rather it’s about “why is eating replacing other personal/social things in life”.

Treatments that can be effective for Food Addiction include

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This form of psychotherapy helps to identify and reverse negative thought patterns, as well as aims at creating new coping mechanisms for food addiction triggers. CBT has helped in treating various eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder and bulimia.   

Drug Therapy: Sometimes the cause for Food Addiction may be depression or anxiety. Medications for these can help individuals deal with the emotions that cause food addiction triggers. However, drugs alone cannot help with recovery, therapy is equally essential.

Rehab programs – Residential rehab programs for food addiction offer treatment much in the lines of substance abuse recovery. With the absence of triggers from the outside environment, patients are detoxified from their choice of highly palatable foods, properly proportioned meals are served at the right time to discourage binge eating and counselling and in some cases, group sessions are offered. One can find their choice of de-addiction program at www.rehabs.in.    

Food Addiction 12-steps program – People with food addiction issues are looked down upon as gluttons and slobs. Hence, a nonjudgmental and safe space is crucial to recovery. There are many 12 step programs for food addicts like Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA), Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA), etc.  In combination with the principles of the 12-step program, one needs to follow a strict diet that excludes ingredients, like sugar, refined flour, and wheat. After attending a few sessions, food addicts can get a sponsor to help them develop a healthy dietary regimen.

Nutritional counseling and dietary planning: This approach can work well in combination with Cognitive behavioral therapy and/or drug therapy. The next step after therapy is making the right food choices and it is here that nutritional counseling can help. A nutritionist can help recovering food addicts choose foods that are healthy for them as well as teach portion control for foods that are rich in sugar and fats. The main objective here is to create healthy eating patterns and not encourage starvation or reduced food consumption to counter overeating.

Besides the above treatment methods, you can stop Food Addiction in its tracks by following a certain lifestyle.

Exercise regularly – Exercise releases endorphins in your body that keep you happy which in turn regulates appetite.  

Get enough sleep – Leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that control appetite malfunction when you don’t get enough sleep. If you sleep well, you won’t be hungry often.

Drink plenty of water – Often we confuse our thirst signals for hunger pangs. Drinking enough water can keep you full, helping you avoid unnecessary overeating.

Eat mindfully – Avoid watching T.V. or looking at the phone while eating food. This will help you understand your body’s signal when it’s full and you will avoid overeating.  

Go grocery shopping and keep a food journal – By stocking up on healthy foods, you are less likely to give into your food triggers. Keeping a food journal will help you be more aware of what you consume on a day to day basis, helping you make better choices.

Reduce stress – Anxiety and stress can cause one to reach out to food as a source of comfort. This can lead to disordered eating behaviors.  Meditation, music therapy, outdoor activities, spending time with loved ones can all help one reduce stress.

In closing, food is the source of life and food addiction can impact life. It can lead to obesity, weight-related health issues, diabetes, eating disorders and mental health problems. Hence, seeking help at the right time is crucial.  

Sources

Kalon. E., Hong., C.Tobin. C., Schulte. T. (2016, July) Chapter Four – Psychological and Neurobiological Correlates of Food Addiction

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0074774216301106

Gunnars. K. (2019, Nov) The Top 4 Treatment Options for Food Addiction

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/food-addiction-treatment-find-help#4.-Psychiatrists-and-drug-therapy

Hatanaka.M., Jayne Leonard. J. (2020, Feb) What to know about food addiction.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319670

Alexis. A,. Beake.J, (2021, June) Is food addiction real?  

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/is-food-addiction-real