If you find it absolutely impossible to avoid overeating or to control yourself around certain foods, it might be more than a lack of self-discipline. As early as 1956, researchers determined that addiction to food was much the same as addiction to other substances. Food addiction is a very real mental health condition that, according to a study conducted by Yale University, may affect more than six percent of normal-weight adults and fourteen percent of over-weight adults. If you or someone you know suffers from food addiction, knowing the science may put you on the path to recovery.
Scientists believe that food addiction impacts the same areas of the brain that are stimulated by drug addiction. For people with an addiction to food, certain foods interfere with the brain’s preprogrammed brain chemistry, causing dopamine to be released when the food is eaten. It’s the release of dopamine sparked by certain foods that causes people to eat unhealthy foods or too much food when they are feeling stress, boredom, grief, or unhappiness. As people gain weight or feel shame about the way they eat, the unhappiness persists, growing worse and the need for the dopamine release increases, causing the addictive cycle to grow stronger much the same way drug addicts develop a tolerance to the drug.
But is it food addiction or just a tendency to steer yourself to particular junk foods or comfort foods when you feel stressed or unhappy? It might be food addiction if you frequently eat to the point of physical discomfort or pain. It’s happened to all of us, usually around the holidays when you just can’t resist one more helping of your favorite food. If it happens regularly, though, or is impacting your ability to enjoy meals with friends without pain, it might be an addiction instead of a bad habit. Overeating for those with a food addiction might also trigger guilt about the type of food or the amount of food they tend towards, resulting in hiding the food and evidence of the binge.
Unlike other addictions, total abstinence from food to recover from the addiction is obviously impossible. Just like any other addiction, it’s unlikely that those with food addiction can overcome it on his or her own. The key to overcoming food addiction, is the well-known edict, you have to first admit that you have an addiction to food. Qualified medical professionals or mental health professionals can help a person identify why he or she turns to food for a dopamine release and make a plan to change that behavior and cope with the cravings and difficulties that come with eliminating problem foods.
If you have questions about food addiction or advice for overcoming the difficult addiction, share your knowledge with fellow FitClub members below.