Food addiction is entirely real. I’ve seen it. Researchers have found that when consumed, food releases certain chemicals in the pleasure centers of the brain (the same ones people feel all giddy with glee over when they use drugs) that make them feel all warm on the inside. They have on record, seen that certain reactions are the same as a person with a cocaine or heroin addiction.
Minus the raging anger/talkativeness and purple dragon. Just can’t seem to catch that fucking dragon.
Anyway, for a long time, the idea of being addicted to food was essentially scoffed at. People were told they just needed some “self control”, or to “…get off their fat ass and do something else”. Sound familiar? But in recent decades, with the rising obesity epidemic, researchers decided to look at the causes of it.
They began to notice more and more people were becoming addicted to food, using it as an escape of sorts to make themselves feel better. For one, food isn’t illegal, and relatively easy to come by (apparently there are places everywhere that sell it. Don’t even need to “know a guy who know’s a guy” to find it).
So how does food addiction actually happen? Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the “reward” centers in the brain, involving brain neurotransmitters like dopamine. The foods that seem to be the most problematic include typical “junk foods,” (like candy) as well as foods that contain either sugar or wheat, or both. Food addiction is not about a lack of willpower or anything like that. It is caused by the intense dopamine signal “hijacking” the biochemistry of the brain. There are many studies that support the fact that food addiction is a real problem.
There are several signs and symptoms that can help to identify if you or someone you know truly has a problem with food. I won’t go into details, as there are several, but take a look at that link to help spot them. You may laugh, but it could help save someone you know and care about from serious problems down the line.
And just like with any addiction, there are support groups. For example foodaddictsanonymous.org is one such site. These are in most maenters as well. Like with most problems, the first step is admitting that there is one.
- Set Boundaries with Unsafe Foods. Typically, trigger or “unsafe” foods are removed from the diet and boundaries are set so that managing these foods in a healthier way can be relearned. If someone binges on ice cream when he or she is stressed, it’s best not to keep it in the house. Eliminating the temptation until he or she can eat ice cream again in a balanced way is a safe option.
- Follow a Structured Meal Plan. A person suffering from an unhealthy relationship with food can get on the right track to recovery by following a meal plan and normal eating pattern. This helps the person set safe boundaries with food, and feel satisfied so that there is not a physiological need to eat. It’s more tempting to be out of control with food when there is physical deprivation.
- Learn Healthy Coping Strategies. Address reasons for turning to food to cope. Identify healthier coping mechanisms and strategies so that one can begin learning healthier means of dealing with emotions.
- Seek Professional Advice. Beating a food addiction is a process and does not happen overnight; it often needs to involve a registered dietitian and licensed therapist that specialize in the area of disordered eating. These professionals will help a person suffering from food addiction implement appropriate strategies, and provide accountability and sound advice.
Those are some examples from our friends over at myfitnesspal.com of ways to help. In reality it can be a lot more complicated than that, but as always with our philosophy here, see a doctor. They can help point you in the right direction to get you or someone you know the help that they need to become a healthier individual.
For those that don’t mind reading and find things like this interesting, the Food Addiction Institute released an interesting research article about food addiction, that I do suggest reading. It can be sciency, so I do warn you, but it is interesting nonetheless.