How Can You Spot Food Addiction?
Many of us eat to sustain our vital functions. Sometimes we do it leisurely. Sometimes, we eat a little more than required: maybe an extra scoop of ice cream, cheat-day crisps, or a midnight snack. Some people, however, don’t have a choice in the matter. They have to eat. So much so that for them, it feels like it’s uncontrollable. Could they have food addiction? Read on to learn how to spot a food addiction.
What is food addiction?
Food addiction is a type of behavioural addiction. It’s difficult to diagnose and it continues to be divisive in the medical field because food consumption is as essential as it is recreational. Eating every day is normal. Craving food is normal. All of us have had experiences of eating more than what our bodies require.
The article “Food Addiction: Fact or Fiction?” published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2009 states:
Although pervasive, the concept of food addiction is also controversial…Few studies have attempted to determine the “addictive” properties of foods using rigorous scientific criteria. One of the problems, of course, is that everyone eats. How can a label of “addictive” be applied to that which supports life itself?
To understand food addiction, we need to hearken back to the definition of addiction. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines it as:
A primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry…This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviours. Addiction is characterised by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioural control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.
The difference between binge-eating and food addiction is key to defining the latter. While bingeing can be a symptom of food addiction, there are also many other reasons for bingeing—such as something as simple as a festive holiday supper or that first meal after a long fast. It becomes food addiction when it is maladaptive—a cycle wherein you eat to make yourself feel better, but you only end up feeling worse after. So, you seek out more food to replicate that feeling, again and again. Looking out for things like this are essential in spotting a food addiction.
What causes food addiction?
Believe it or not, the reason is actually much more physiological than you would expect. The article “What Is the Evidence for ‘Food Addiction?’ A Systematic Review, published in the Nutrients journal in 2018, states that the addiction can be caused by certain types of food, such as those with added sweeteners and refined ingredients, since—much like unsavoury substances—these trigger the reward areas of the brain and release pleasure hormones and chemicals.
However, there may also be some underlying psychological or mental factors that may prompt the addiction as a coping mechanism in the first place.
What are the signs of food addiction?
1. Eating more than intended. You’ve stopped feeling peckish and your cravings have been sated, but you’re still noshing away. It’s not your stomach asking for more food. It’s your brain needing that shot of dopamine.
2. You feel dreadful afterwards. The food gives you a jolt of happiness, but it’s fleeting and you’re back to feeling rotten—about yourself, about your eating habits. This lousy mood makes you crave more food just for that brief burst of bliss.
3. You can’t commit to change by yourself. You know you have a problem, but you just can’t seem to do anything about it. You’ve just lost all the will power to combat your extraneous eating.
4. Hiding your habits. You make excuses for your compulsions. You hide your munching from people. You find ways to rationalise your overeating. It may even come to the point that you’re hiding your meals to avoid confrontation from others.
5. Food addiction may also manifest physically with sleep disorders, malnutrition, obesity, chronic pain, and more.
It’s very important to remember that the signs of food addiction are essentially the same as any other addiction. It might be more difficult to determine because eating, unlike smoking or drinking, holds a regular and indispensable part of our physiological and emotional wellness.
Foodie versus foodaholic
A cinephile will likely watch films more than the average person. An audiophile will probably spend a little more on vinyl records or concerts. Like we previously mentioned, some people just love food—so much that they’ll eat more than what’s standard.
A foodie is someone who loves food, but foodies are also gourmands. They don’t eat to fill a void or just for the sake of it. For foodies, food is an appreciation. They value the process, the ingredients, the flavours, the history, and how all of those qualities come together
Foodaholics, or those who are addicted to food, just eat irrationally. While they may have certain preferences for food (like the sugary, salty stuff that is designed to get you hooked), they’re not particularly concerned with how it was put together or who made it. They just want to eat it. It’s important to understand the difference so you can spot a food addiction.
How do you stop food addiction?
While some people might dismiss food addiction as a minor affliction, there are very dire consequences to compulsive overeating, such as obesity and other physical dysfunctions related to it. Food addiction has also been linked to dangerous eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, as well as other mental issues, such as depression, social anxiety, and antisocial behaviour.
It is then imperative to put a stopper on food addiction. Here are some ways to treat it:
Many who are struggling with food addiction come from a place of psychological or emotional pain. Food, thus, becomes a coping mechanism for them. Cognitive behavioural therapy has been proven successful for other eating disorders, like bulimia.
2. 12-step programmes
These step-by-step programmes have been used numerous times to treat different kinds of addiction. Twelve-step programmes usually require a strong desire on the addict’s part to change as well as even stronger motivation from family and friends. These types of programmes usually involve the addict attending meetings and seminars with people going through or who have gone through the same issues.
3. A supportive and sustainable programme
It may sound simple, but a proper diet, exercise regimen, and solid headspace can work wonders—both psychologically and emotionally. Like eating, exercise also releases happy hormones like endorphins and dopamine albeit in a much healthier and sustainable process. There are programmes like BodySlims, which target all aspects of your well-being to lead you towards a better version of yourself.
Here, we understand that physical fitness is as much about the mind as it is about the body. Our programmes have been designed not just to get you to eat better and work out harder, but also to find mental peace. Every day, we send out messages of encouragement from our founder Gerard Moran, as well as weekly seminars on the importance of wellness.
BodySlims also encourages a sense of community among its members to remind everyone that you’re not alone in your journey!
How long does it take to curb food addiction?
Like other addictions, perhaps the longest and most difficult step is the first one: acknowledging the problem. Admitting that you are addicted to food, desiring to treat it, asking for help, and committing to a programme are perhaps the biggest hurdles any addict has to face. Moreover, these issues have to be conquered every single day with determination.
Once you’re sufficiently prepared to get help, the rate of treatments can vary. In BodySlims, our programmes last 10 weeks. A short time, if you ask us, in exchange for a lifetime of good health habits!
Can food addiction be cured?
With determination and will, nothing is really impossible. In BodySlims, we help you regain control of your body. You don’t even have to worry about losing motivation because we will be there with you every step of the way until you get healthy. We’ll get through the slumps and successes together. Our results go beyond 10 weeks. Being fit and well is a lifestyle that you take with you forever.
Some of our clients include people who struggled with junk food addiction, people who had commitment issues sticking to other fitness schemes, and people who just couldn’t manage their bodies. But all of them came out of our programme with a renewed sense of hope and purpose.
Here are some of our success stories:
“The first week was tough, I’m not going to lie. You will feel pain, exhaustion and of course the inevitable ‘what am I doing this for?’. The only answer I can give you there is, that you are doing this for YOURSELF, 100% every day and believe me as the days went by and the walks became more enjoyable , faster and milestones hit, the pounds started to fall off me and now 2 courses in I have lost a total of 62lbs. GOOD , GREAT and BRILLIANT all rolled into one. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I could lose all this weight, by walking an hour every day and eating healthy, in just 6 months.
“BodySlims gave me my life back. I’m now back to prediabetes and all other medications are gone. This programme is not only for weight loss but more importantly the mental attitude and mental well-being you get from BodySlims is second to none.”
Derek Bowden, lost 62 pounds
“I eat when I’m happy, I eat when I’m sad, I eat when I’m bored and I eat when I’m mad. I may be teetotal but I am a total junk foodaholic. I grew up skinny but spent my 20s battling my weight, a battle it always won.
“How is BodySlims different? Gerard has given me the tools to enable me to thrive, to allow me to dare to dream ‘Why not me?’ It is me that controls my emotions, my eating and my daily low impact exercise BUT it is his voice I hear in my head through his excellent sessions... There is always support and encouragement and the programme actively promotes a community vibe between the participants.”
Paula Rave, lost 63 pounds
“The big draw for me was the idea that the programme would sort out my head as I knew what I needed to do (eat less and move more) but I also knew I needed the guidance of a good programme to get me there.”
Siobhan Hickey, lost 49 pounds
Addiction can be a difficult ordeal, but it is not a life sentence. You can thrive and it’s never too late to change. Like Gerard, who was at death’s door in his twenties when he suffered from chronic alcoholism, you too can rise from the ashes and make the change you need in your life.Enrol in BodySlims and we’ll show you how to enjoy life—and food—all over again. Make sure to check out Our Programmes to be up-to-date for our next intake! And if you've just missed the latest intake, you can download our free Mediterranean recipe book here.