The Development and Signs of a Food Addiction

In some way, all of us can say we are “addicted” to food. If you think about it, what happens when you aren’t able to eat anything for an extended period of time? You not only start to crave food, but physically your body tells you that you’re hungry with signals like your stomach hurting or growling, feelings of dizziness, and even shaking.

Emotionally, and I know this to be true for myself, some become much more irritable or tired. With these signals, eating becomes your biggest priority so that you can fuel your body, as it does need food to survive. Now think about this happening not only when you’re hungry, but when you’re completely satisfied, your mind and your body tell you constantly that you need more. This is what people that struggle with a food addiction experience on a daily basis, even if they have had plenty to eat. 

Food is necessary to survive, and unlike other addictive behaviors, it is completely normal to eat repeatedly every day and to look forward to eating for pleasure. But, several characteristics separate normal or occasional binge eating from food addiction. 

Food, drugs, and other addictive substances and behaviors are all associated with pleasure. When advertising or the people around us tell us that food, drugs, or activity will make us feel good, it sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are more likely to seek it out, and we are more likely to experience pleasure when we indulge.

Food addictions are maladaptive, so even though overeating is supposed to make one feel better, it often ends up making one feel worse and in the end, causes one more to feel worse about. It isn’t only just about feeling worse, though, because food addiction can threaten your health, causing obesity and malnutrition. Here are some of the effects that food addiction can have if it goes untreated. 

  • Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues
  • Feeling uncomfortable in settings that involve food
  • Neglecting other aspects of your life, including friends and family, because of the addiction
  • Food and obesity-related health issues such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death

Additionally, the overeating food addiction experience is consistent and persistent. A person addicted to food eats too much food (and often the wrong kinds of foods). Although from time to time we all eat a little too much, it is much different. People with a food addiction often overeat every day, and when they eat, it is often not always because they are hungry, but as their main way of coping with stress. And just like when we experience dizziness when hungry, when they don’t eat enough, they experience anxiety or other painful emotions.

How exactly does one know if they have a food addiction though? Here are some signs that you might need help to deal with food addiction. 

  • Eating in secret because of shame or embarrassment
  • Eating foods you do not want to eat
  • Eating to the point of discomfort
  • Using food as a primary source of comfort for emotional pain
  • Adopting unhealthy eating strategies, such as crash diets or starving yourself, to compensate for binge eating
  • Feeling very unhappy with your body, health, or eating habits but being unable to change
  • Suffering serious health issues related to your eating
  • Difficulty enjoying previously beloved activities because weight and health-related issues make those hobbies uncomfortable

Managing food addiction requires more than just changing the way you eat. People with compulsive or impulsive eating need help to understand the role food plays in their lives. Therapy, support groups, and lifestyle changes may ease the emotions that trigger compulsive eating. 

At Body Positive Works, We believe that there is no separation between mind and body. As such, we take an integrative and holistic approach to treatment and recovery for individuals, and their families, struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating. 

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