In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the term “food addiction” is not listed as a specific diagnosis. However, many experts and advocacy groups agree that some people can (and do) become addicted to food.
In addition to offering nourishment to the body, food can also trigger specific parts of the brain that are connected with reward and pleasure. When an individual consumes specific kinds of food, especially those that are full of sugars, fats, and salts, the brain can respond by releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that offers the same response as that which occurs when an individual abuses a drug like cocaine or heroin.
Of course, addiction is more than merely a physical reaction. Just as many individuals start to abuse alcohol or other drugs as a method of self-medicating mental anguish or numbing themselves from painful memories, thoughts, or emotions, engaging in the overconsumption of food can sometimes serve the same purpose.
When an individual uses food in response to pressure or stress, when he or she feels the desire to eat more than his or her body needs, and when he or she is unable to control the amount, frequency, or speed with which the eating occurs, a food addiction might have developed.
One expert, who formerly served as the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), approximates that nearly 70 million Americans display behaviors that could be considered indicative of the presence of a food addiction. This expert’s research also shows that nearly 50 percent of obese individuals, 30 percent of overweight individuals, and 20 percent of people whose body mass index (BMI) is within the normal range, are actually struggling with food addiction. In 2014, a study of more than 130,000 women showed that about 6 percent met the criteria for food addiction.
Causes and Risk Factors for Food Addiction
Just like many other types of addictions, forms of disordered eating, and various mental health conditions, a food addiction can be caused by a number of genetic and environmental factors.
Genetic: Studies show that those individuals who suffer from hormonal imbalances, side effects from the use of specific medications, or abnormalities in certain brain structures, or who have family members that struggle with a food addiction, are more likely to have this same condition.
Environmental: Someone who has experienced abuse, trauma, or neglect is more likely to face the challenges of food addiction at some point in his or her life. Additionally, other environmental factors such as low self-esteem, grief, loss, and poor coping skills can add to one’s chances of developing this condition. Many studies also show that family conflict, peer pressure, and social isolation can add to the development of compulsive eating behaviors.
- Poor coping skills
- Experiencing one or more traumatic events
- Possessing certain genes or gene clusters
- Depression or other mental illness
- Suffering from sexual abuse
- Lack of social support
- Continued stressful life events
Signs and Symptoms of Food Addiction
Since food addiction is not included in the DSM-5, there are differences in the opinions of health care providers regarding the specific symptoms that one might display in order to receive a diagnosis for food addiction. However, for certain organizations, including Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA) and the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, the following are the most common symptoms that might indicate that a person is struggling with a food addiction:
- Hiding food throughout one’s house, automobile, or workplace
- Eating significantly more than one intended
- Lying about the amount or frequency with which one eats
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide weight gain
- Eating alone or in secret
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Being overweight or obese
- Excessive fatigue
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal ideation
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Obsession with food and eating
- Feelings of shame or disgust after eating
- Mood swings
- Periods of emotional detachment
- Agitation and irritability
Effects of Food Addiction
Suffering from an addiction to food and failing to receive treatment at a premier rehab center can cause severe mental, physical, and emotional destruction, including the following:
- Social withdrawal and self-isolation
- Suicidal ideation
- Family discord
- Diminished interpersonal relationships
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Digestive problems
- Sexual dysfunction
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Elevated cholesterol
- High blood pressure
Treatment for Food Addiction
Being unable to control one’s eating behaviors, needing to overeat in an effort to cope with stress, or becoming obsessively fixated with thoughts of food and eating, can have a dramatically negative impact on one’s physical health, emotional stability, and social wellbeing. The effects of untreated food addiction can be deadly. However, prior to the worst-case outcome, individuals who are addicted to food and do not obtain the professional care they need often experience a highly diminished quality of life.
The impact of obesity and being overweight can be physically destructive, while the frustration, shame, and self-hate that is associated with food addiction can have just as negative an impact on one’s state of mind. Those who refuse to obtain treatment for their food addiction are likely to withdraw from friends, family, and loved ones, avoid social outings or activities, and otherwise suffer from isolation and ostracization. When one’s primary means of dealing with the pain of these negative experiences is to partake in overeating, he or she will very quickly be trapped in what might feel like a fast-moving downward spiral.
At Sierra Tucson, the best rehab center for food addiction treatment, we are fully equipped to help those who are struggling with a food addiction as a secondary diagnosis. Disordered eating rarely exists in isolation; it is often accompanied by other mental illnesses. At our rehab,, we are able to develop personalized treatment for all individuals who come to our treatment center looking for the best way to overcome their disordered eating patterns. The team of dedicated specialists at our rehab can help these individuals identify the causes and underlying issues that lead to the development of their condition, as well as provide solutions through evidence-based treatment modalities.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with a food addiction, contact our treatment center right away. We can help you enjoy a brighter, happier, and healthier way of life.