“Can food become an addiction?” it is surprising, right? The obvious answer is yes. The real question is: “How can one overcome this addictive habit and start living an independent, fulfilling life again?”But let’s not jump right into answering the question… yet. Addiction is not limited to drugs, alcohol, and sex. While those three addictions are by far the most common, a person can also fall prey to food addictions.
In fact, it is possible to develop food addictions at any age. If one person can have a full-blown alcohol addiction, and another one has a chocolate or ice cream addiction, then it only makes sense to ask: is food addiction really as common as alcoholism. The answer isn’t straightforward as no one would find it in The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders. There is more to learn about this condition from this guide, including possible treatments. So, let’s get started.
What is Food Addiction?
In simple terms, food addiction is a condition where people obsessively eat certain foods, whether they are in the form of binge eating or compulsive eating. In more serious cases, this addiction can even lead to the loss of important food. The condition is more common in women than in men, but it is difficult to estimate its prevalence as it is not specifically diagnosed in people. Its symptoms usually include:
- Consistent guilt after meals
- Uncontrolled cravings even after eating
- Failure at setting dieting rules
- Creating excuses for the excesses
- Secret dieting
- Inability to quit overeating despite its prevalent adverse effects
In some people, food addiction also goes beyond what is considered acceptable by society and is a public health issue.
To understand food addiction, one must first know what causes it. The key factor of the addiction is the person’s brain’s response to pleasurable eating, where dopamine gets released. Food rich in sugar, salt, fat, and carbohydrates has a similar impact, producing addictive effects. When a person overdoes it on the meals that have these ingredients, this leads to a buildup of chemicals in the brain that affects the brain’s normal functions and leads to addiction. The symptoms of food addiction are similar to those of substance use disorder.
Other factors that may lead to this addictive condition include the following:
- Absence of a healthy diet in childhood, which becomes a part of the individual during other stages of life.
- Influence of genetics
- Lack of nutrition education at school
- Lack of a healthy environment at home
Food can be used as a way of coping with situations in life such as a stressful job or lifestyle changes. This is when services such as Life Coach Manchester can help.
Food Addiction Treatment
In truth, there is no “cure” for food addiction. However, a patient can manage the condition with the help of medical guidance and therapy. When done properly, the treatment approach can reduce such an addiction to the barest minimum.
Food addiction therapy is similar to that of other addictions, as it features dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), interpersonal psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The only difference between this condition and others is the inclusion of nutritional counselling.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy
DBT helps the patient deal with their mental distress, such as feelings of anxiety. Patients will learn techniques that will help them to manage these issues, including identifying stress triggers and controlling unhealthy moods. With this therapy, they can also monitor their relationshipsto reduce dependency on food as a stress reliever.
This technique involves helping a patient face up to their problems and dealing with issues, such as emotional needs, depression, anxiety, and grief. In this treatment, the focus will be to work on social communication and relationships.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This form of therapy is the most commonly employed. As its name suggests, it deals with the balance between the two main dimensions: thoughts and emotions. In detail, these include behaviours, feelings, and thoughts associated with eating.
The therapist uses positive rewards and consequences that help in changing the thought process of a patient and the emotions they feel. The latter can improve their behavioural pattern through coping mechanisms. The technique does not encourage patients to lose weight or cut back on certain meals but does work towards their emotional wellbeing and diet moderation.
This treatment will assist patients in understanding how their bodies function and how to deal with eating habits that may have developed over time. They can understand what changes they need to make in their eating habits and how to do so to improve their quality of life.
Medical Intervention for Food Addiction
If the food addiction is very severe and there is a major health concern associated with it, certain medical interventions will need to be employed. These range from medications to supplements. They include:
Vyvanse (medication for ADHD)
Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine) helps the patient manage the disorder better. It lowers the symptoms and works on long-term use. In one study, Vyvanse proved to be an effective option for patients battling attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and obesity, but it needs to be taken with a meal and under the guidance of a doctor.
Topamax (topiramate) lowers binge eating and anxiety disorders. Although it is a long-term solution for reducing cravings, some patients don’t tolerate it very well and have a high chance of experiencing side effects.These effects are very minor in adults, but some patients on the medication report having kidney stones. Hence, strict medical guidance is required when taking this drug.
Antidepressants are also effective in the treatment of addiction. Zoloft (sertraline) and Bupropion are two drugs of choice. They help curb the symptoms of addiction such as stress and anxiety. Some patients also report significant success with antidepressants as a standalone drug. It works well for adults, as well as adolescents. It comes with a few side effects like anxiety and sexual dysfunction.
Dealing with Food Addiction Withdrawal
Withdrawing from unhealthy food can be as harsh as withdrawing from drug addiction, depending on the individual. Symptoms canoccur when a person has a longer period of indulgence and likely intensify during the initial days of withdrawal. They could include:
- Regularfood cravings
To deal with these food withdrawal symptoms, try the following strategies:
- Schedule meals to keep the brain at ease and keep track of diets
- Keep raisins, nuts, and almonds nearby to satisfy those periodic cravings
- Exercise regularly to relieve stress and anxiety, and also promote weight loss
- Meditate to maintain a sense of calm and peace
Food addiction can be challenging, like other addictions. However, with patience and persistence, people can see significant results. It is essential to avoid unhealthy dieting habits and maintain a daily schedule of nutrition and fitness. Those who feel an uncontrollable need to overindulge in bad food should seek help from a dietician or a counsellor. Medications, such as antidepressants can be beneficial as well, but under strict medical guidance.