Food addiction: Definition

Abnormal obsession towards specific food is a newly materialising concept among many medics. It refers to a distinct condition which causes one to experience unusual and endless eagerness to consume certain foods. These are mainly foods rich in sugar, fats and salt – junk food that is. 

It is sometimes hard to distinguish whether An individual’s eating habits are reasonable or not, as people eat differently based on their DNA. However, we can say one is addicted to food if they show signs such as high cravings for foods, making excuses to have food, eating these foods excessively until they feel over satisfied, among many others like feeling guilt after eating. In most events, they tend to avoid nutritionist’s instructions and fail to observe eating rules. 

Food Addiction Definition

Situations of food addiction begin the same way addictions of other substances, such as hard drugs, heroin, cocaine or stimulants, start. It all begins in the brain. Sugar, fats and salty substances tend to increase the dopamine levels as a result of pleasure felt in the brain, thus triggering the dependence effect.  This explanation would qualify to be its primary cause as per now. More studies delving into the subject are still underway.

Similar to the rest of the mental disorders, dependence on food is a correctable situation/condition. Once you have been diagnosed with it, a proper medical plus therapeutic training will be prescribed to you. Do not confuse this condition with obesity; the two are different. A health specialist will assist you to understand your situation better, whether obese or otherwise.

Health Indicators of Food Addiction

As it would be expected, the abnormal obsession towards junk food comes along with its subjective indicators and phenomena, which specialists can us to confirm its existence in an individual. This illness affects the emotional, physical, spiritual and social aspects of its victim.

Below is a detailed description in each.

Physical Symptoms of Food Addiction

Controlling one’s’ intake rates of junk food sometimes proves to be difficult when faced with this condition.

Many of the obese persons you see around have most likely developed into those states because they are suffering from a food addiction disorder; obesity isn’t something they chose, it’s a symptom of an overlying issue.

Most of them have tried lots of weight loss/management measures, but these still prove to be ineffective for them.

Symptoms of Food Addiction

They have been in gyms for thorough exercises, to a nutritionist to find out the best diet they should consume, but they still find it hard to control their eating obsession – at least a solution which works permanently.

Some also resort in denying themselves food, a practice known as anorexia, which only results in other health complications. Others go the purging way which ultimately only leads to more physical injuries that may sometimes lead to a painful death.

Note that these symptoms may develop further into many complicated situations. 

Food Addiction: Emotional Symptoms

Are you a person who feels depressed, ashamed, desperate, sad or embarrassed by their weight? Do you utilise food as a reward to fulfil your desire for pleasure? Or have you ever noticed that you grow easily irritated after consuming wheat, sugar or flour?

Food Addiction: Emotional Symptoms

Well, chances are that you could be affected by a food addiction disorder. Addicts of this nature tend to get emotional, especially when eating their meals/substances they are dependent on, and the emotions can even grow stronger with time. If not looked into early enough, the subjects may feel even worse depression and desperation, to the point they eventually succumb to their worsening condition.

Social Symptoms of Food Addiction

Most of the patients in this mental illness category show lots of social symptoms which include:

  • Living a private life – You will not like people seeing/watching you around food
  • Most addicts would avoid public interactions out of low self-esteem – they always imagine people will be looking at how they have dressed – which, to them, is never satisfactory. These people will, therefore, avoid social gatherings.
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Eating in enclosed areas with no people looking at them

Spiritual Symptoms

These people feel like some things in this world should have been different. Most of them would pray that at least God may assist them in finding better ways to reduce their weight and in this, they feel sad and disappointed whenever their prayers are not answered. 

Most of them believe their connection to God/spiritual power is usually weak. Thus, most of them would rely on self-will, despite feelings of despair and self-obsession. These symptoms are prevalent with food addicts. If you notice yourself exhibiting these signs, try to seek medical attention as fast as possible.

Causes of Food Addiction

According to the currently available research reports, there is no particular cause of food dependence. However, some relevant aspects have pinpointed to be the main causatives. These include:

Causes of Food Addiction
  • Emotions and stress: Different persons have their distinct manners of managing their anxiety. To some people, they will walk into a restaurant, order a whole plate or two of fried chicken, sided with sweet drinks as a way of lowering their stress, while others will only do that just to experience the feeling of it. 

            People who, therefore, eat particular foods as a method of curbing their stress tend to form serious addictive thinking, to the point of obsession.

  • Brain chemistry: Any food or substance which triggers the reward center of the brain to feel “pleasure” is usually very addictive.  Besides drugs and other stimulant medicines, some foods rich in sugar, fats and oil tend to increase the pleasure reward the brain gets, the result of which is always an addiction.

            Research explains that whenever one consumes tasty foods, a signal is usually sent to the brain’s reward center and “feel-good” chemicals get released all over the body. The impact of this will be that a dire need for more consumption of these foods will rise, and eventually, one becomes addicted.

  • Genetics: This factor is another highly suspected one to be the leading causes of food dependence. According to a 2002 research work, women who had a background of alcoholism tended to be at higher risk of being obese; in fact they had a 49% higher chance of it than those whose family had no such history. 

            However, this does not conclude that if a lady comes from such families, she will definitely acquire the illness. More research is underway to fully establish the connection between alcoholism and food dependence.

  • Trauma: Studies related to PTSD among women revealed that most of the women who showed symptoms of it had a higher likelihood of being obese, about twice as much as those who didn’t. It was noticed that women who showed signs of PTSD ate a lot and continuously. The traumas here were sexual harassments, social isolation, and emotional abuse, among many others.

            Children from such mothers tended to have high risk towards food addiction. More facts on this are still under research, though.

Depression and Food Addiction

The relationship between these two terms is very close as one always depends or results because of the other. 

Depression, in simplest terms, refers to an impairment in the mind which causes one to feel like they have too much going on in their lives that they can’t bear. They always feel like they carry all the problems of the world and what comes with this is a deep feeling of sadness, loneliness, desperation and general exhaustion of the entire body.

Depression and Food Addiction

The abnormality about these symptoms is that they are very chronic and if not realised and corrected early enough, it may develop to severe conditions which may eventually lead to death.

Research reveals that there is a big tie between depression and food dependence regarding influences. Just as explained earlier, food addiction is a mental disorder causing drastic, yet severe, changes in one’s eating habits from the ordinary to that of full obsession – they always feel like eating particular foods all the time. 

According to the studies, a good number of persons suffering from food obsession tend to experience depressive moments in their lives. Remember, these people like to have a private life entailing eating alone in secluded areas and avoid the public for reasons of low self-esteem, especially due to them being overweight. Depression comes in as they always feel lonely and neglected. They do not find moments to share their emotional troubles with persons around them to find solutions.

Most food addicts who suffer depression will, therefore, fall for some foods based on influencing factors such as genes, trauma, brain chemistry and emotions as a way of managing their painful feelings. They can overeat to the point of having difficulty in their breathing, and they won’t stop. The result of it may be obesity. Sometimes it may seem to be a normal stress relieving activity for an individual, but upon further analysis, this is never the case.

Depression is a very severe mental illness which, if not diagnosed and treated early enough, might cause severe results, such as suicide.

Food Addiction Statistics

The statistical aspects of food addiction disorder listed below give a more clear picture and insight into it.

Food Addiction Statistics

As a patient, you will have an idea on what your condition is and for those who aren’t affected, you can know the risk level you are in as far as acquiring the syndrome is concerned. 

  • Lots of scientific research indicates that persons addicted to alcohol and drugs suffer greater chances of acquiring this syndrome. One should, therefore, avoid them as much as possible. 
  • It is possible, however, that some people will naturally develop this condition because of their DNA. This fact is according to scientific research on humans’ genetic factors, brain imaging, as well as biochemical evaluation of their food processing systems carried out in their bodies.
  • David Kessler, a professor at the UCSF, as well as former commissioner to the FDA, concluded through research that more than 70 million food addicts in the United States are adults.
  • Studies on animals revealed that it is a pleasure section of the brain that gets triggered after eating, thanks to the rising levels of dopamine chemicals, causing the brain to want the feeling more and more. The result of this is always addiction towards a particular food substance. 
  • Food dependence occurs in most people, except the levels differ. Around 50% of obese persons in the world are usually addicted, 30% of the overweight are addicted, and 20% of those who are regarded as having a healthy weight are addicted to a particular food, blends of grains, or bulk of diet in totality.
  • Death statistics in the United States for obese adults stands at an estimate of 400,000 every year. The cause of their obesity is related explicitly to food obsession.
  • Whenever there is ailment in a country, several losses occur; these include hospital bills for the obese patients, days of work, disabilities and even death. According to the USA statistics in the year 2000, the total amounted to over $117 billion.
  • Women suffer a higher risk of acquiring this syndrome, as they are more likely to be affected by depression. Research shows the risk rate among men and girls stands at a ratio of 5:9 correspondingly.

Food Addiction Treatment

Living a life crippled by the chains of food obsession can be very inconveniencing and is one no one would wish to even remember. According to many research statistics, food addiction is a real condition affecting lots of people across the entire world and does not choose between age, gender or the state of an individual’s health.

Food Addiction Treatment

Despite not having a particular cause people would fight, the illness has well established and effective treatment methods which help save the situation. So if your social, physical and even emotional life aspects get handcuffed by this chronic illness, pay keen attention to the following discussion.

Food addiction is one of the mental illnesses which are treatable via a combination of both therapy and hospital medicines. The two work hand-in-hand to assist the patient in acquiring or regaining their ability to mind and manage their behavioural characteristics towards foods, cravings, and dependence. Therapy, in particular, will help with the withdrawal systems and issues guidance to patients to avoid relapse.

Medicines and Food Addiction

These mainly refer to both over the counter and prescription drugs. Research indicates that they both significantly reduce the symptoms experienced relating to binge and food addiction disorders.

You will find most of them in the rehab or recovery centers. The most common ones among them include:

Food Addiction Treatment
  • Topamax (Topiramate): Due to its anticonvulsant effects, Topamax is a particular drug prescribed to persons with seizures. It works perfectly in reducing effects caused due to binge conditions. It’s after use symptoms include dizziness as well as kidney stones.
  • Antidepressants (SSRIs):  The SSRI refers to the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor which is a potent antidepressant and assists in reducing the frequency of binge eating incidents. 

            The active ingredients of the drug are hypothesised to work in such a manner of improving one’s mood, thus eliminating feelings relating to or causing binge eating. The utilisation of this medicine comes with after use effects, which includes nausea, nervousness, tiredness and sexual dysfunction.

  • Vyvanse: It is sometimes referred to as lisdexamfetamine dimesylate. It is one of the most well-known and appreciated stimulant medications prescribed towards the treatment of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly referred to as ADHD. 

            It is mainly useful in reducing one’s appetite level. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved it as one of the recommendable treatment options for both moderate and severe binge eating disorders. 

            Being a stimulant, it can be highly addictive if its use is not well supervised by a health specialist. Otherwise, the main drawback point about it is side effects. Users will always experience signs of dry mouth, insomnia, and also headaches.

Therapies for Food Addiction

Therapeutic procedures are one of the most recommended treatments for persons affected by food obsession syndrome. The different therapies available throughout the recovery process help in the fulfilment of the following

  • Loss of weight through safe methods
  • Elimination of psychological problems relating to addiction
  • The full alteration from abnormal eating habits

Below are appropriate therapies effective for the correction of the food obsession condition.

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): This therapeutic procedure works for most mental disorders. It involves training patients on the very best ways to avoid and overcome bad behaviours and feelings towards food.

            Its principal effectiveness is witnessed in installing a sense of food moderation but not avoidance. Some of the skills patients acquire from it includes coping skills, relapse avoidance techniques, as well as the identification of main triggers towards addictive behaviour.

  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT): This is another highly effective therapy towards the treatment or correction of the food addiction situation.  Its original design was meant to treat Borderline Personality Disorder but later showed effectiveness in treating other mental health problems as well. 

            The entire training involves teachings on how best to tolerate/manage stress, control their feelings, and also advance their relationships — all of these work towards reducing possibilities of one turning to food as a way of relieving their stress. 

  • Nutritional counselling: Since people need food for their daily survival, it is hard to skip even the important meals which keep the body running. However, for persons suffering from this syndrome, assistance from nutritional counsellors, as well as dieticians, can be of great benefit as it instills healthy eating conducts.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IP): Often, in some people, relationship problems inflict a lot of stress in their daily lives. These individuals might choose binge eating as their main coping method for the mental strain caused by these relationships.

            IP will, however, teach them otherwise. They will be taught how to communicate appropriately while enhancing their support systems — these help in reducing the frequency of binge occurrences.

Therapies for Food Addiction

The treatment of this ailment occurs in well-designed rehab facilities which offer all services required towards ones’ recovery process. 

Rehabilitation centers usually offer both inpatient, sometimes referred to as residential patients, as well as outpatient programs. The programs involved in them are similar; however, which one a person is enrolled in depends on their particular condition and home situation.

Outpatients only attend part-time training, and their condition is always mild to moderate. Inpatients, on the other hand, are advised to enroll for the in-house program, which involves staying in the facility 24/7 for a decided period. 


As much as it might not seem dangerous when it begins, food addiction is one of the more severe illnesses that one should avoid at all costs. It destroys a person’s life to the extent that they cannot behave well in their workplaces, home and even in social places.

Its symptoms are even worse and come with a lot of inconveniences. Most affected persons will gain weight and develop poor eating behaviours, such as binging. They would eat beyond their satisfaction again and again. These people would also avoid going out in public and eye contact while conversing. The signs and symptoms may even worsen to cause other severe conductions, such as depression – a dangerous condition that may lead to the commitment of suicide.

Since no specific causative towards this syndrome has been discovered yet, though critical research programs are working on it, whatever is currently available are factors under suspicion of being the leading cause. These include brain structure, genes, and historical background facts.

So far, the best treatment methods for this condition involve both medical and therapeutic procedures. Remember, early diagnosis is essential.

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