Food addiction is a relatively new term, but there is now scientific evidence that shows that a person can be truly addicted to food, and that some foods have similar effects on neurochemicals in the brain as addictive drugs.
The term “addiction” is thrown around casually, but food addiction is a serious eating disorder, much like bulimia and compulsive overeating.
Experiments in animals and humans prove that for some people, the same reward and pleasure centres of the brain that are stimulated by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also triggered by food.
This trigger is caused by palatable foods that are rich in sugar, fat and salt.
Highly palatable foods prompt feel-good chemicals in the brain such as dopamine. This causes downright addiction, and addictive drugs have the same effect on our brains. Increased dopamine transmission in the brain creates pleasure which makes the person feel the need to eat again.
The reward signals make the person ignore signs of appetite satiety, which is why they keep eating without being hungry.
Food addiction plays an important role in determining obesity, but normal-weight people may also struggle with food addiction. Genetics and metabolism may be the reason why they can handle the calorie overload better than people who are more vulnerable to weight gain.
Food addicts continue binge-eating despite weight gain and other consequences. They have trouble controlling this behavior even after many efforts to curb the addiction.
How to know if you’re struggling with a food addiction
• Give in to a craving and find yourself eating much more than you intended to?
• Continue eating even if you’re no longer hungry?
• Eat till you feel queasy?
• Feel guilty after eating certain foods, yet eat them again soon after?
• Go out of your way to obtain junk foods when they aren’t readily available to you?
• Often hide your unhealthy eating habits from friends and family?
• Spend time eating large amounts of food instead of working, spending time with your friends and family, or doing recreational activities?
• Avoid professional or social situations for fear of overeating?
• Come up with excuses about why you should eat something that you know is unhealthy for you?
• End up feelings of depression, agitation, anxiety, self-loathing, or guilt?
Treatment for a food addiction
There is still no specific treatment for food addiction. It is harder to crack than other addictions because a person struggling with food addiction cannot abstain from eating. Consulting a nutritionist and psychologist may help break the habit of compulsive eating.