Do you eat your meal and find that shortly afterwards, you want to eat more? Do you find yourself craving more and more fat, carbohydrates and sugar? Do you spend time preoccupied with food? Do you eat food to the point that it makes you feel ill? Are you gaining weight and continue to make poor choices with food despite the consequences? Is your food intake damaging your relationships and/or self-esteem? You are not alone.
Food has become the most commonly used “drug” in our society. Many of us would consider ourselves “foodies” and enjoy eating good food and trying new foods. However, food can become a problem in our lives, rather than just provide nourishment and sustenance. Because we have to eat, people often do not realize when food has crossed over to an addiction. Our society has normalized eating large portions of unhealthy foods. Social events are often focused around unhealthy foods and alcohol. We are bombarded with fast food commercials that tempt us every commercial break. Fast food companies combine high fat, high carbohydrate and high sodium to make foods even more addictive. Brain research has shown time and time again that sugar is more addictive than cocaine to the brain.
COVID has further compounded our society’s addiction to food as it has been a time of sadness, anxiety, depression and weight gain. The average weight gain over COVID is currently 29 pounds. People sought out ways to feel better while they were quarantined at home. People felt isolated and overwhelmed trying to work and homeschool their children. Many people lost their jobs and/or their businesses, which resulted in financial devastation. Many people self-medicated with food. Eating foods that are high in fats, carbohydrates and salt makes your brain produce those “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine. This results in our desire to have “more and more”. According to WebMD, “The reward signals from highly palatable foods may override other signals of fullness and satisfaction. As a result, people keep eating, even when they’re not hungry” (1.)
How do you tell if your love of food has turned in to an addiction?
Healthline identifies 8 common symptoms of food addiction (2.).
- Getting cravings despite feeling full.
- Eating much more than intended.
- Eating until feeling excessively stuffed.
- Feeling guilty afterwards, but doing it again soon.
- Making up excuses.
- Repeated failures at setting rules.
- Hiding eating from others.
- Unable to quite despite physical problems.
Luckily, as with any addiction, food addiction can be overcome. However, it can often times be more challenging to overcome than drugs or alcohol. Unlike addiction to alcohol and drugs, you HAVE to eat to survive. You do not have to use alcohol or drugs to survive. With any addiction, learning positive coping strategies and learning how to recover quickly from relapses is critical. Eating “clean” and trying to reduce intake of high carbohydrate/high fat/high salt foods can help reduce cravings. Taking good care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercise and using stress management skills are all critical in overcoming any addiction. Learning about mindful eating habits and avoiding trigger foods and situations can also be helpful.
As with any addiction, there are 12-step groups that can be helpful. These include 12-step programs like Overeaters Anonymous (OA), GreySheeters Anonymous (GSA), Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA), and Food addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA). There are also counselors that specialize in treating food addiction.
Food addiction is a complex problem that often requires a multi-faceted approach for recovery. However, food addiction can be overcome with persistence, commitment and assistance. You are not alone.