Generally, people will become addicted to foods rich in sugar, fat, and salt. When these foods are eaten, they experience both pleasure and a sense of satisfaction, causing them to chase this feeling. While you may think that food addiction is not as serious as a substance use addiction, it can cause a lot of damage to your physical and mental health as well as your relationships.
What Is food addiction?
Food addictions develop gradually, so you may start by overeating every now and then, but with time you feel you need more frequent meals or larger meals to get the same pleasure. Some people will graze continuously throughout the day and can eat between 5,000 and 15,000 calories per day. When you are addicted to food you cannot control your consumption, even if it is having negative effects on your health or relationships.
Causes of food addiction
Anyone can develop a food addiction, there is no one cause. However, several factors increase your risk of developing one:
- Emotional or sexual abuse, trauma, grief or loss
- Co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression
- Genetics – according to studies, there are genes that increase a person’s likelihood of developing any addiction, including a food addiction.
- Being overweight as a child
- Family history of addiction – being exposed to addictive behaviours increases the likelihood of you developing a food addiction
- Personal factors such as perfectionism, low self-esteem, and impulsiveness
- Loneliness and isolation
Signs of food addiction
Recognising the signs of an eating addiction could help you acknowledge that you or a loved one is struggling and needs support. Many people with addictions will try to hide their symptoms, so it may not always be easy to see signs. You may think you will be able to recognise that someone has a food addiction due to their weight, but not everyone with a food addiction is overweight, and not all people who are overweight have a food addiction. We will note some common signs to look out for in yourself or loved ones:
- Eating more than intended
- Continuing to eat when no longer hungry
- Eating until feeling sick
- Going out of way to get certain types of food when they are not available
- Prioritising food over responsibilities and hobbies
- Inability to stop eating
- Secretiveness such as lying about food and eating in secret
- Decreased performance at work or school
- Withdrawing from loved ones
- Eating quickly
- Spending large amounts of money on food
- Spending an excessive amount of time eating or thinking about it
- Worrying about cutting down or not eating certain foods
- Psychological withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut down such as agitation and anxiety
- Mood swings
- Depression and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts
- Lack of enjoyment in activities that were once enjoyed
- Craving food when do not need it for nutrition
- Developing tolerance – needing to eat more food to get the same effect
- Difficulty concentrating
- Digestive problems
- Gaining weight quickly
Effects of Food Addiction
Food addiction is a complex illness that can have serious complications if it is left untreated. While food addiction will affect everyone differently, we will note some common physical and psychological effects.
- Digestive problems
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Sleep disorders
- Increased risk of kidney and liver disease
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of type two diabetes
- Increased risk of certain cancers
- Low self-esteem
- Self-loathing and guilt
- Emotional detachment
Food addiction can create a vicious cycle. You use food to deal with emotional discomfort, but with time, your food addiction causes your mental health to become worse. This causes you to eat more, and the problem continues.
Food addiction vs eating disorders
Although the terminology can sometimes be confusing, food addiction is a type of eating disorder. Eating disorders are mental health conditions that cause problematic eating patterns that can have negative consequences on your physical and mental health. They include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. It is unlikely that people with anorexia nervosa have a food addiction as they tend to limit the amount of food they eat. However, people with bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorders may also have food addictions.
Helping a loved one who has a food addiction
It can be difficult to watch a loved one struggling with food addiction. You may become frustrated or upset with their addiction, but it is important to speak with your loved one in a supportive way. Let your loved one know that you have recognised that they have a problem and share your concerns about the effects of their addiction for them and you. Make sure that you are not judging them when you speak with them and that they are aware that you are there to support them. Think about the best time and place to speak and decide this together. Avoid any conflict if your loved one is in denial, leaving space for them to speak with you in the future if they want.
Understanding food addiction is important if you want to support a loved one. The more you can understand about it and how it is affecting your loved one, the better you will understand what they are going through. It is great that you are here reading about food addictions and learning more. You can also research treatment options or tips that could help your loved one.
It is important to look after yourself when a loved one has a food addiction. Make sure that their addiction is not taking over your whole life. You need to keep time for yourself and your own mental health in order to be supportive. Speak with friends and family if you are struggling so that you do not feel alone.
Treatment for food addiction
Getting treatment for food addiction can be difficult as you may feel some amount of shame surrounding your addiction. If you have read to this point, this is a great step. You feel that you or a loved one has a food addiction, and you are taking the step to find out more and potentially think about treatment. This step is one of the hardest parts of recovery, so well done!
Some people argue that recovering from food addiction is harder than any other type of addiction because you cannot completely abstain from the focus of your addiction. While people who are addicted to substances can stop taking the substance to which they are addicted, everyone needs to eat.
However, there is a 12-step programme similar to those helping people recover from alcohol or drug addiction. This normally includes strict diets that require you to abstain from problem foods such as sugar, refined flour, and wheat.
Other treatment options include therapy. Food addictions normally stem from emotional problems. Once you manage to cut down on eating, the next step to recovery is fully dealing with the reasons why you developed a food addiction. Talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, can help you deal with the reasons you developed an addiction. They can help you identify unhealthy thoughts and behaviours and replace them with new healthy thoughts so your relationship with food can change. If you can find different ways to manage emotional problems, you are less likely to use food to cope.
If you are not responding to these types of treatment, you may be prescribed certain anti-obesity medications. If you were overweight as a child, this leads to treatment resistance the longer your food addiction lasts. Anti-obesity medications in combination with therapy and support groups may help you to achieve long-term recovery.
Treatment at Linwood House
At Linwood House, we understand that seeking support for addiction can be very difficult. You may feel that it is impossible for you to recover, but we are here to help. We offer food addiction treatment proven to meet your needs. We will assess your condition to work out a treatment that suits you best. Our inpatient treatment programme, where you will have a strict diet and schedule, will give you the best chance of long-term recovery.
Whatever your needs, we are here for you. Please get in touch if you are ready to seek treatment or would like further information. We are ready to help you take the first step towards your best life.