What is food addiction and can you fight it?

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What is common between food and drug addiction, how do people become addicted to food, is compulsive overeating necessarily associated with obesity, and why food addiction is more difficult to deal with than alcohol addiction, said Maria Bass, a psychologist at the IMC International Medical Center for Addiction

How can you become addicted to food when we all need food?

Indeed, food is one of the basic human needs. Recently, however, more and more experts use the term “food addiction”, reinforcing it with data from studies of the effect of binge eating disorder on the pleasure centers in the brain. Binge eating is a type of behavioral addiction. Behavioral, or non-chemical addiction is an obsessive desire for a certain action associated with pleasure that a person is unable to control. Food, gambling, sex, work, the Internet are often objects of non-chemical addiction.

Experiments in animals and humans show that the brain centers responsible for pleasure and reward – those that are activated when taking, for example, cocaine or heroin – can respond in the same way to certain types of food. Most often these are foods high in sugar, fat or salt.

Like drugs, such foods stimulate a number of chemical reactions in the brain – for example, the production of dopamine. As soon as a person experiences pleasure in what he has eaten, in fact, due to the influx of dopamine into the neural pathways of the reward system, he immediately feels the need to eat something else. (The reward system is a set of structures of the nervous system involved in the regulation and control of behavior through positive responses to actions). Signals from the reward system when eating these foods can interrupt other signals about satiety and satisfaction. As a result, the person continues to eat even when he is not hungry.

Signs of food addiction

People with food addiction lose control over their behavior. At some point, most of their time begins to be consumed by food: grocery shopping, compulsive overeating, anticipation and anticipation of the pleasure associated with eating. It is also very similar to any other type of addiction: drugs, alcohol. As with any other type of addiction, such people tend to be tolerant. A person eats more and more, but each time the food brings less satisfaction.

Addicted to food, a person will continue to eat, despite the negative consequences. And, like those who are addicted to drugs or gambling, it will be difficult for a person with a food addiction to stop – even if they want it badly and have tried many times to stop.

Food addiction can be a significant factor in the development of obesity. But people of normal weight can also suffer from food addiction. The body may simply be genetically programmed so that it can better cope with excess calories. Or, people can increase their physical activity to compensate for overeating.

How to identify food addiction

It is very difficult to determine that a loved one has food addiction. The fact is that for a long time the disease may not manifest itself in any way outwardly, and others notice that something is wrong with the person, as a rule, when his diet is already completely out of control.

Researchers at Yale University have developed a questionnaire to identify people with food addiction. Here are some questions that can help determine if you have food addiction. Do you agree with the following statements:

  • If I start eating certain foods, I end up eating a lot more than I planned.
  • I can continue to eat certain foods even when I’m not hungry.
  • I continue to eat until I feel bad.
  • The thought of cutting out certain foods or cutting down on their consumption makes me uneasy.

How to help a person with food addiction?

In some ways, recovering from food addiction can be more difficult than recovering from other types of addictions. A person who is addicted to alcohol, as a result of treatment, comes to complete abstinence from alcohol. But this approach is impossible with food addiction, because a person needs to eat.

You can start by trying to keep a food diary. It can be a regular notebook, or one of the many nutritional mobile apps. It is important to write down everything that was eaten and drunk during the day. This will allow you not only to be more conscious about your meals, but also to identify which foods trigger the mechanism that leads to overeating. For everyone, these “triggers” will be individual, but as a rule, these are flour, sweet, as well as dishes with a lot of salt and spices. Be sure to establish a diet – eat regularly at the same time and in small portions.

However, if no improvement is noted, the problem cannot be ignored. Eating disorders often accompany food addiction, such as anorexia (a neuropsychiatric disorder with an obsessive desire to lose weight) and bulimia (a disorder characterized by uncontrolled food intake followed by a compulsive need to get rid of food), which can cause serious problems. with health and even be fatal. Treating food addiction is much like treating any other addiction. Psychologists and doctors specializing in food addiction, as well as nutritionists, can help break out of this vicious circle. The course includes social and psychological rehabilitation, which is desirable to take place at a rehabilitation center, away from sources of stress.

Category: Addiction, Online counseling, Online therapy


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I’ve hurt myself while trying to help myself more than you can imagine, that’s why I want to scientifically analyze every popular self-help technique and ‘method’ there is.