Food Addiction

Food Addiction

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Food addiction is a chronic mental health disorder characterised by the compulsive urge to consume large amounts of unhealthy foods.

It’s common for those with food addiction to mainly eat junk food, including salty, sugary, high-fat foods and drinks.

Those with food addiction may compulsively overeat, even when they are not hungry, to gain comfort or pleasure.

Like drug addiction, eating certain foods can trigger ‘feel-good’ chemicals in a person’s brain, encouraging them to repeat this behaviour.

Here, we will discuss food addiction, its symptoms, and effective treatments that can help.

Behavioural addiction 

Food addiction is classified as a ‘behavioural’ or ‘process’ addiction.

Like any addictive behaviour, overeating can be a symptom of a much deeper psychological issue, including low self-worth, stress and other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.

Negative consequences 

Food addiction can lead to various long-term physical and mental health problems, including:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation

What are the causes of food addiction?

The cause of food addiction is not yet known.

Like alcohol and drug addiction, there are various reasons why a person might develop an addiction to food.

Addiction is primarily a complex disease; there is no single cause for addiction and no one thing that cures it.

However, there are specific factors that can put you at higher risk of developing a food addiction, including:

  • Low self-esteem
  • An obsessive personality
  • Anxiety
  • Getting criticised about your weight, body shape or size by others
  • Having a family history of eating disorders, depression or substance abuse
  • A history of sexual abuse

Additional risk factors

As well as the above, the following factors may also put you at higher risk of developing a food addiction. These include:

Psychological trauma

Trauma is one of the leading causes of addiction. 

Whether you are addicted to substances like alcohol or drugs, or a particular behaviour such as gambling or overeating, studies show those with trauma histories are more likely to become addicted.

One study showed that women PTSD sufferers were twice as likely to develop food addictions than those without this condition.

The same study posited that when people experience early childhood trauma, their relationship to food addiction is much stronger than if the trauma occurred later in life.

Brain changes

Most of us are guilty of eating junk food occasionally. However, the ‘high’ we receive from eating unhealthy foods can make us want to return for more.

For example, a mouth-watering burger and warm french fries washed down with a cold strawberry milkshake can be almost impossible to resist, particularly after a long day.

In addition, the feelings of comfort and pleasure gained by consuming junk foods are not a figment of your imagination; scientific studies show these sensations are genuine.

Foods rich in sugar and fat can actually change the reward centre in the brain in a similar way to drugs and alcohol. 

Furthermore, studies showed that sugar might have a more profound effect on the brain’s reward centre than cocaine and heroin.

Stress

You may not be surprised to learn that stress is a leading factor in overeating, something we are all guilty of doing at times.

Whether you’ve had a long day at the office or are going through a messy breakup, that creamy, crumbly cheesecake whispering your name at the bottom of the refrigerator can seem much more alluring than a salad bowl.

Most of us have engaged in comfort eating at some stage and for various reasons.

However, heartbreaks and bad days at the office aside, most people can take or leave these unhealthy foods. 

In contrast, a food addict eats to enhance positive feelings and alleviate negative or painful emotions.

Perhaps you “reward” yourself with a big slice of chocolate cake after a long day or tell yourself “you deserve” another round of chips because you finished a project on time. These are prevalent addictive thinking patterns.

What are the different types of food addiction?

There are several types of eating disorders linked to food addiction, including:

  • Binge eating disorder (BED) involves eating large amounts of food over a short period, usually until the person feels sick or unwell. People with this condition often struggle to control their food intake and may experience guilt or shame afterwards.
  • Emotional overeating involves turning to food for emotional comfort when feeling down. People often overeat to alleviate or reduce anxiety or sadness. Overeating may become a coping mechanism where an individual eats to manage painful feelings and emotions.
  • Bulimia nervosa involves an unhealthy cycle of binge eating and ‘purging’. A person with this condition is conscious of putting too much weight on and may make themselves sick or take laxatives to keep their weight under control. Sufferers often have low self-esteem and are highly conscious about their body weight.
  • Anorexia nervosa people with this disorder try to control their body weight by limiting their food intake and exercising excessively, sometimes both. It’s common for people with this condition to do all they can to keep their weight as low as possible. Other symptoms of anorexia nervosa include thin appearance, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, fainting, low blood pressure, thin hair that breaks easily, constipation and amenorrhea (a lack of menstruation).

If you or someone you know is struggling with a food addiction, you must speak to an experienced professional who can help.

Early treatment can help you avoid the health risks associated with food addiction.

Contact a Centres for Health and Healing specialist to learn about our food addiction treatment program.

How do you recognise that you have a food addiction?

The symptoms of food addiction vary and will depend on many factors, such as genetics, family history and other physical or mental health conditions. 

However, common symptoms of food addiction include the following:

  • Forcing yourself to eat until you feel physically unwell
  • Eating to avoid or numb negative emotions
  • Lying about how much or how frequently you eat
  • Obsessing about eating times or eating at odd times of the day
  • Drastic weight loss or weight gain
  • Avoiding eating with other people
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed about overeating
  • Wearing baggy clothing to hide your body
  • Needing to eat larger quantities of food over time to achieve a ‘high’ or desired effects (tolerance)
  • Spending much of your time getting hold of food, eating it, and recovering from overeating
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when reducing or stopping your overeating habits. The withdrawal symptoms of food addiction may include anger, stress, depression and intense cravings to overeat.
  • Continuing to overeat despite being aware of the negative consequences, including heart disease, social isolation, and weight gain.

What are the effects of food addiction?

Food addiction can lead to various physical and psychological problems if left untreated. The dangers of food addiction can be just as devastating and damaging as other forms of addiction.

The effects can be short-term or cause lasting damage to a person’s physical and mental health.

Short-term effects of food addiction

The short-term effects of food addiction include:

  • Sickness and nausea
  • Stomach complaints
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion and heartburn

Long-term effects of food addiction

As much as the short-term effects of food addiction can be unpleasant, the long-term effects can be profoundly damaging. They include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Social isolation, including the breakdown of relationships
  • The risk of developing specific eating disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cancer
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Problems with reproduction

How do you treat food addiction?

Food addiction can be treated using various treatment methods. However, if you are struggling with food addiction, you must seek professional help immediately.

Treatment for food addiction must be tailored to the individual’s circumstances, unique needs, preferences and recovery goals for people to have the best treatment outcomes. 

The most commonly used treatments for food addiction include the following:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). CBT has multiple uses and is often recommended for people with food addiction. CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps individuals to address and change any maladjusted thoughts and behaviours, allowing them to reframe their perceptions around diet and eating. This treatment teaches individuals healthy coping mechanisms and relapse prevention strategies, giving them the best chance at lasting recovery.
  • Group therapy. Those with food addiction may find sharing their experiences with others going through the same or similar issues beneficial. Commonly used for drug, sex and alcohol addiction, group therapy allows patients to receive feedback and guidance from others. Group therapy is usually facilitated by one or more trained professionals who treat several clients simultaneously. This type of treatment is commonly recommended for those with a binge eating disorder.
  • Other treatments. Those with food addiction may benefit from individual therapy and nutritional counselling. These treatments may help clients to better understand their eating patterns and emotional connection to food. Some people may be offered appetite-suppressing drugs as part of their treatment program.

Treatment for food addiction is complex and may require a multi-speciality treatment plan to help people recover. 

Studies show that food addiction can worsen the longer it’s left untreated, so you must seek treatment as early as possible.

Food addiction treatment at Centres for Health and Healing

Centres for Health and Healing offer a unique, personalised addiction recovery and rehab program for clients with food addiction in Ontario, Canada.

With our strategic approach, mixed therapeutic methods and staff with decades of knowledge and experience, Centres for Health and Healing provides the setting, resources and tools necessary for deep transformational healing and a full recovery from food addiction.

Addiction is a complex, multifaceted disease, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to recovery.

Therefore, our team adopts a trauma-informed approach to addiction and mental health recovery, treating the whole person, not just their addictive symptoms.

Our individualised treatment program provides a comprehensive, personalised approach to treating mental health and addiction issues, which involves various therapeutic methods and techniques to help you get the most out of your treatment.

This program includes the following:

Our aftercare and support program is designed to help you stay on track with your recovery after completing an addiction program at our treatment centre.

These supportive measures help reinforce the essential principles learned during treatment, including practising healthy coping skills and relapse prevention strategies, giving you the best chance at lasting recovery and long-term wellness.

If you’re having problems with food addiction or are concerned about a loved one, don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss treatment options.

Food addiction doesn’t define you; you can regain balance and control in your life with proper treatment and support.

We are here and ready to guide you every step of the way.

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