Recent studies conclusively show the same reward and pleasure centers in the human brain that are affected by heroin, cocaine, and other illicit chemical substances can also be triggered by sugars, fat, carbohydrates, and salt. Highly palatable foods trigger brain chemicals such as dopamine that cause an individual to immediately feel good. Once one experiences a dopamine trigger and the resulting increase in pleasure, neurological reward pathways will send immediate messages to eat again. Such signals are sent out, they may override other signals indicating satisfaction or fullness. Individuals may overeat as a result, causing correlating issues such as weight gain. Another sign of food addiction is a steady increase in tolerance. One may eat greater and greater amounts of food with less and less of a pleasurable response. In this sense, food addiction is very similar to substance abuse and addiction. Soon a food addict will eat larger amounts than necessary regardless of any negative consequences they may undergo, such as significant weight gain or problems within interpersonal relationships. Those who suffer from food addiction will also have significant problems stopping on their own – oftentimes unable to control urges and eating large amounts despite the fact they have committed to stopping.
Characteristics of Food Addiction
Listed below are several characteristics that apply to food addicts. If you believe you may be struggling with food addiction but are unsure, apply the characteristics below to yourself – if they match up, it may be time to seek treatment.
- You end up eating more than planned when you are eating certain foods – you seem to lose control
- You eat beyond feelings of satiation and fullness
- You sometimes eat to the point of feeling ill
- You unsuccessfully try to eliminate or control your consumption of certain types of food
- You go out of your way to get ahold of certain foods
- You avoid certain social situations because you know the likelihood that certain types of food will be present
- You have problems functioning because you are so consumed with compulsive thoughts of food and eating
If you are suffering from food addiction, you may also frequently experience feelings of anxiety, agitation, depression, guilt, and self-loathing. Food addiction is a serious and diagnosable disorder, and must be treated similarly to any other addiction. However, complete abstinence is not an option, seeing as people must eat in order to stay alive. There are several treatment options available to food addicts, two of which have proven exceedingly successful. Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous revolves around a traditional 12-step program, while Food Addicts Anonymous practices principles and diets that revolve around abstinence from certain types of food. Behavioral and cognitive therapies are also crucial components of comprehensive treatment, and long-term recovery is completely attainable with the right treatment plan for your specific needs in mind.