What is Food Addiction?

by Kay Sheppard, LMHC, CEDS  

Food addiction is characterized by obsession with food, obsession with weight and loss of control over the amount of food eaten. It involves the compulsive pursuit of a mood change by engaging repeatedly in episodes of binge eating despite adverse consequences.

The term “food addiction” implies there is a physiological, biochemical condition of the body that creates craving for refined carbohydrates. This craving and its underlying biochemistry is comparable to the alcoholic’s craving for alcohol. The need to abstain from the addictive substances is common to both alcoholics and food addicts. That translates into real life as, “I am not able to sit in a chair and refrain from running to the kitchen to finish the Twinkies! And while I am there, I may as well finish the Oreos too!”

The food addict’s preoccupation with food is demonstrated by recurring thoughts about getting, preparing, and ingesting food substances — usually sticky, pasty, greasy ones. Because the food addict is obsessed with food and eats so much, the typical consequence is weight gain. Sometimes tremendous weight gains are endured. Then, the addicted person becomes worried about size and shape. Body image suffers. Self-image suffers, too.

Does the food addict choose to be this way? Of course not. The individual has inherited this addiction along with his big blue eyes and blonde hair. Researches have identified the same defective gene in a high percentage of individuals who are addicted to alcohol, food, cocaine, and nicotine.

Recovering from Food Addiction
Recovery for the food addict is built upon making appropriate food choices on a daily basis. Since food addicts have to eat every day, there is an ongoing need to check the content of the food eaten with the goal to use only food that is free of substances that will trigger the disease. The result of good food choices is a body free of all substances that will trigger an addictive response.

Abstinence is planning what to eat and eating what is planned. This is the foundation of recovery upon which a successful life is built.

Abstinence is achieved by the elimination of compulsive eating, volume eating, under eating, addictive eating, and all of the substances that will trigger an addictive response. These include highly refined carbohydrate foods, high fat foods, and personal trigger foods.

Let’s take a look at the addictive substances in a general way.
* All addictive substances have gone through the refinement process.
* All addictive substances are quickly absorbed.
* All addictive substances alter brain chemistry.
* All addictive substances change mood.

Refined, processed foods trigger the addictive response in people who are genetically predisposed to the disease of addiction. If you don’t think carbohydrates are mood altering, think back to a big, heavy Thanksgiving dinner. You may have felt sleepy or lethargic afterward. Possibly you experienced depressed mood or irritability.

Signs of Food Addiction
Some of the signs and symptoms of food addiction include cravings, disturbed body image, binge eating and secret eating, as well as shame and fear about food. Some food addicts steal food or money to buy food. Others experience discomfort in no-food situations.

Addicts often cover up feelings when food, eating, or weight is discussed, sometimes shifting the subject to another topic. There is a direct relationship between the illness and secretiveness. Addiction thrives in deceit and isolation.

When the food addict loses control over food, she also loses control over life. Life is a downward spiral in the addictive process. When one is powerless over food, life becomes unmanageable. Desperately, the addict tries dieting, fasting, exercise, and maybe even purging.

The food addict becomes involved in self-deception and the deception of others, rationalizing irrational behavior and making excuses for the mountains of food consumed. “If you had a life like mine, you would binge too,” says the food addict, who truly does not understand at all why he is bingeing.

The addict becomes lethargic, irritable, and depressed when all efforts to control food fail. Weight loss programs cannot provide the answer to the problem of addiction. When the exercise addict breaks a leg, she realizes that her food is out of control and she can no longer kid herself. Promises and resolutions fail. Without accurate information about addiction, addicts are destined to fail and suffer continuous blows to self-esteem.

Could I Be a Food Addict?
Your answers to the following questions may help you identify whether you have a food addiction problem:

1. Has anyone ever told you that you have a problem with food?
2. Do you think food is a problem for you?
3. Do you eat large amounts of high-calorie food in short amounts of time?
4. Do you eat over feelings?
5. Can you stop eating whenever you wish?
6. Has your eating or weight ever interfered with your jobs, relationships, or finances?
7. How often do you get weighed?
8. Do you ever judge yourself by the number on your scale?
9. Do you often eat more than you planned to eat?
10. Have you hidden food or eaten in secret?
11. Have you become angry when someone eats food you have put aside for yourself?
12. Have you ever been anxious about your size, shape, or weight?
13. How many weight loss programs have you tried?
14. List all of the ways you have attempted to lose weight.
15. Do you manipulate ways to be alone so that you can eat privately?
16. Do your friends and companions over-eat or binge eat?
17. How often do you over-eat?

If your answers to these questions concern you, seek guidance. The path to recovery involves recognition, admission, and acceptance. Identification of the problem — realizing that something is wrong — leads to recovery. Help can be found in private therapy and in self-help programs.