We hear about alcohol and drug addiction all the time, but what about food addiction? Food is a biological need, whereas drugs and alcohol are characteristically toxic and addictive. So why would someone become addicted to something as innocuous as food? Recently, however, doctors and scientists alike have been catching onto a new problem that’s reared its head during the past few decades in the industrialized nations (where food is aplenty and thus food addiction is fostered)
According to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, food addiction is simply an obsessive preoccupation with food. It doesn’t mean that a food addict can’t get enough of food – it could be that they are so concerned with food, that they avoid it at all costs. For example, those suffering from anorexia nervosa are severely afraid of gaining weight and often exercise excessively and eat as little as possible. On the other hand, there is the more conventional food addict: the compulsive overeater. As well, there is the overeater who also is bulimic, i.e. he or she hides their eating habits from others and most likely will go on eating binges and induce vomiting so as not to gain weight.
Food addiction is a very real medical condition but are you a food addict just because you crave ice cream or fast food at times? It’s normal to have an appetite and a taste for certain foods, but there is a line that some cross into plain food addiction. Is your appetite insatiable? Do you crave foods even when you’re not hungry? Almost all who are obese probably are coping with a powerful food addiction that haunts them on a daily basis.
Refined sugars, fats, and flour are the primary culprits of food addiction as these ingredients are a sure-fired way to get some people physiologically over dependent on what they eat. And for food addicts, it can be painful to remove those addictive foods (the ones that trigger their cravings) from their diets, as they will experience withdrawal symptoms like depression, cramps, and tremors.
But what about you – are you a food addict? It’s normal to appreciate food and to use it not just for necessary energy to keep you on the go, but for fun and socializing. However, if you are anxious or engrossed about food, constantly wondering when your next meal will be or what your next meal will do to your body weight, then you could have an eating disorder.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you determine if you are a food addict. If you answer yes to more than a handful of them, it’s advisable that you see a doctor about your issues with food.
WebMD and Dr. Cynthia Haines suggest you answer the following questions:
- Do I lack self control when I eat? Does my mind tell me to stop eating but my body disagrees?
- Am I ashamed about my eating habits? Do I hide food and eat it behind closed doors?
- Do I feel guilty after I eat?
- Do I eat when I’m simply upset about something but not hungry?
- Do I eat even though I know it will only lead to negative consequences later?
- Do I eat differently in public than I do in private?
- When I eat, do I feel pleasure and comfort that I can’t really seem to achieve through other means?
- Is my weight adversely affecting my quality of life?
Beyond being introspective, you can also analyze some physical manifestations of your food addiction. You may suffer from insomnia, moodiness, depression, self-hatred, and headaches if you have a problem with your food and your weight.
If this article is alarming you, don’t get flustered! Food addiction is an increasingly common disorder and as a result, there is a lot of treatment out there to get you on the track to a healthier lifestyle.
Firstly, there are a few basic things you can do in the comfort of your own home to take back control over your eating habits. Again, Dr. Haines has a few good ideas. If you can learn to recognize what environments and situations set off your cravings, you can then learn to avoid them. As well, it’s important to incorporate some kind of exercise or physical activity into your daily routine. Not only will you burn calories and quicken your metabolism by doing this, but exercise is a healthy distraction from your unhealthy preoccupation with food. Other distractions may include meditation or reading or playing the piano – find a hobby that keeps your mind busy and off of food. As well, by drinking water every day (about 64 ounces) you can make a big difference in your weight and lessen your food cravings too.
But especially if you are battling severe weight problems, you will need a helping hand or two to free you from your food addiction. There are inpatient treatment programs for those who feel completely helpless with their addiction. Just as you would stay in a hospital and safely withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, you can do the same with the foods that you crave the most. However, there are also outpatient counseling services and even some medications (though you ought to sift through them carefully) that you can use to fight your addiction.
What don’t work are starvation diets. Often those who are sick of their food addiction will take an “all or nothing” approach and successfully shed those pounds, but in an unhealthy way; in these cases, the weight loss is only temporary. The key is to understand that you are dealing with a very real, physiological need for certain foods that may be harmful to you. You may very well need to address emotional issues before you can even begin to tackle your issues with food! Individual or group therapy and even getting in touch with your spiritual side can gradually help you to say goodbye to your food addiction.
Unfortunately, because food addicts have only been taken seriously in the past few years, they are often misunderstood and not put into the same category as alcoholics or drug abusers. But any substance, including food, can be abused and the treatment options are pretty much the same – in spirit – for all substance abuse! So as long as you recognize you have a food addiction, you can take the steps to eating healthy again.