Challenges of Treating Food Addiction
What is Food Addiction?Food addiction is a type of behavioural or process addiction best understood as a compulsive over-consumption of food despite negative consequences. In a way that is akin to drug or alcohol abuse, when a person binges on processed foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt, it triggers the brain’s reward system, releasing excess dopamine. With repeated over consumption, a person can become addicted to these types of foods because they release far more dopamine than when eating, say, broccoli. Just as a heroin addict will seek out heroin, food addicts will seek out food that is high in fat, sugar and salt – even when the consumption of these foods begins negatively affecting their lives.
Is Food Addiction the same as Sugar Addiction?Although often interchanged, food and sugar addiction are not the same thing – rather you could say that they are closely related. Sugar is a naturally occurring substance found in fruit and most vegetables. But this natural sugar is not addictive. Processed sugar on the other hand, such as white sugar and brown sugar that you buy from the supermarket, can be. Unfortunately, processed sugar is found in more food than most people think including salad dressings, bread, store-bought tomato sauce and more. And sugar has been found to be quite addictive in the same way described above – by releasing large amounts of dopamine into the brain. However, when sugar is combined with fat and salt – it produces the most addictive types of food, and it is these foods containing all three ingredients that most food addicts will eat in large quantities.
Signs of a Food AddictSome of the most common symptoms or signs of food addiction are as follows:
- Frequent cravings for particular foods
- Eating more than intended
- Feeling guilty after eating certain foods or quantities
- Inability to say ‘no ‘ when certain food is on offer
- Often eating to the point of feeling excessively full
- Eating in secret/hiding eating habits from others
- Repeatedly trying to quit eating certain foods with no success
- Eating as a way to cheer yourself up or alter your mood
- Excessive eating despite negative health effects