Recent advances in science have researchers and treatment professionals now believing that food addiction is a legitimate problem that often results in the need for professional help. People who are addicted to food feel significant rewards and pleasure when they eat and these brain reacts in a similar manner as it would if a drug such as heroin or cocaine were used. Highly palatable foods such as sugar, fat or salt are the most common to cause food addiction but an individual could essentially become addicted to just about any flavor or taste.
Much like drug addiction, food addiction is marked by a behavioral or compulsive desire to get a certain substance—in this case it may be sweet snacks, fatty foods or salty flavors. The pleasure experience associated with eating such foods increased dopamine transmission to the brain’s reward pathway causing the addict to feel a burning desire and physical need to eat the food again and again.
How Food Addiction Develops
Food addiction doesn’t develop overnight. It’s typically a learned behavior that is often the result of having grown up in a household in which certain highly palatable foods were readily available and offered. People who develop an addiction to food will develop a tolerance to the food and may need to eat more and more of the food in order to feel the sense of satisfaction that smaller amounts of the same food once provided.
Most people who are addicted to food will continue to eat despite the known consequences that come from eating. A food addict will eat even though they are overweight, they will eat despite the relationship problems their eating causes and they will continue to eat their food of choice even if it causes problems with their health.
Signs & Symptoms of Food Addiction
There are some common signs & symptoms that signify an addiction to food. Anyone who is overweight or has suffered adverse reactions to their eating habits should consider whether or not they may be showing any of the following signs of food addiction:
- Eating more than was planned
- Eating foods even when not hungry
- Eating until so full that you feel sick
- Worrying about not eating certain foods
- Going out of the way to get certain foods
- Eating despite weight gain or other health problems such as high cholesterol
When to Seek Help
When food addiction is causing problems in your life such as weight gain or failed relationships, it’s time to seek help. If you have tried to stop eating certain foods or have told yourself that you will not eat so much at a single sitting and then overeat or continue to eat the unhealthy food, there could be a legitimate need for professional treatment. Some people will also notice withdrawal symptoms if they don’t have certain foods such as if they don’t have sugar or sweets having a headache or anxiety. Withdrawal from food is another sign that it’s time to seek professional help.