Most people tend to overeat from time to time – say, at a dinner out at a restaurant or on special occasions it might be easy to justify continuing to eat even after you feel full. A food addiction, also known as binge eating or compulsive overeating, is far more severe. A binge eater regularly overeats and his or her desire to eat is compulsive and uncontrollable. When you eat, areas of the brain’s pleasure center are activated, causing the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine. This good feeling may override sensations of fullness, causing the individual to feel the need to continue eating long after they know they have had enough. In the binge eater’s reality, food becomes a tool for coping with negative feelings, such as depression or anxiety.
Physical Symptoms of Food Addiction
Due to the nature of food addiction, many food addicts are obese. They may have tried multiple methods of weight control, including surgery, diets, or pills, and yet nothing seems to help. Their physical weight must be controlled through extreme measures, such as using laxatives or diuretics, excessive exercise, or even vomiting to get rid of food they’ve already consumed. The latter is part of a condition called bulimia. Over time or with the addition of other life stressors, these symptoms may become more severe. In extreme cases, they can even lead to early death.
Emotional Symptoms of Food Addiction
In most cases, food addiction is related to negative feelings. Stress, tension, anxiety, or low moods may be temporarily relieved by eating. Eating may also serve as a reward when the individual has done something good. While binging, the individual may feel numb or as though he or she can never experience satisfaction. Following a binging episode, the individual is likely to feel shame, disgust, embarrassment, or even depression at the thought of his or her own behavior. Food addiction is also associated with intense shifts in emotion connected to more addictive food substances, such as sugar, flour, or wheat.
Signs of a Food Addiction
A current questionnaire, designed by researchers at Yale University (http://www.yale.edu/) may help individuals determine whether or not they have a food addiction. Ask yourself if the following actions describe your behavior:
- Do you start eating and find yourself unable to control how much you eat or when you stop?
- Do you keep eating certain foods even when you’re not hungry anymore?
- Do you eat until you feel sick?
- Do you worry about the types of foods that you eat? Do you believe you should cut down on certain foods?
- When a particular food item isn’t available, do you go out of your way to find it?
- Do you find yourself spending excessive amounts of time eating or thinking about food or certain foods, to the point that you have missed out on spending time with family and friends, working, going to school, or doing recreational activities?
- Do you avoid social situations where you know there will be food, for fear of overeating?
- Have you performed poorly at school or work because of eating and food?
In contrast to other forms of addiction, food addiction is thought to be more difficult to overcome because sufferers cannot abstain from eating completely. Unlike alcoholics or drug addicts, food addicts cannot give up eating food. However, that does not mean the cycle of binging cannot be broken. If you think you may have a problem, the first thing to do is consult a physician, nutritionist, counselor, or psychologist. A healthcare professional help you find the resources and support you need to change your relationship with food. Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA) is another organization that can help you on your way to overcoming compulsive eating.