Merriam Webster defines addiction as a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.
Food is an essential part of a human being’s life. We need to eat to keep our body operational as it has various systems that are essential for a living. Food provides us with the energy which we utilize in moving, thinking and even sleeping. At the same, it is also a source of gratification and pleasure for people due to its taste, smell or texture. However, in some cases, food may become a source of addiction like some harmful drugs and may be difficult to leave.
Food Addiction Vs. Compulsive Eating Disorder
Although two may appear very similar, they are actually not. Compulsive or Binge Eating Disorder is usually classified as a mental illness that can be easily cured through medications. Binge Eating Disorder results more often due to the environmental factors surrounding a person. Any external factor that might disrupt the psychological well-being of a person may result in the development of complex issues that in turn can possibly result in compulsive eating.
While on the other hand, eating Food Addiction is more complex in nature as certain chemicals can create a physical dependency on some food items.
For example, it is seen that people suffering from food addiction are likely to be dependent on highly palatable food which is enriched with fats and sugar. These palatable food items induce a chemical reaction in the body that provides a sense of satisfaction and relaxation to the person consuming it.
This feeling of satisfaction is what propels people to eat more than required. For seeking this pleasure of happiness, a food addict would continue consuming a certain food item even when not hungry. This results in a continuous vicious cycle where the consumption of the required dietary elements is essentially disturbed resulting in numerous medical complications.
Food Addiction consequently harms the physical and mental wellbeing of a person at the same time increasing the chances of obesity, heart illnesses, social isolation, depression and a whole range of diseases. People with food addiction are often found engaging themselves in aggressive behaviour due to the compulsive urge to seek pleasure through food items.
Thereby, one should take food addiction as seriously as other addictions and it becomes incumbent to seek a specialist to avoid other major conditions that might result as a consequence.
Causes of Food Addiction
There is no one single known cause of food addiction rather there are several factors that may contribute towards its development. From biological to psychological, food addiction can even be a culmination of both.
The biological reasons for food addiction include:
- The use of certain medications
- Hormonal imbalance
- Impeded development of certain parts of the brain leading to an abnormality
- Having a family history of addiction
The psychological causes of developing food addiction are similar to those of Binge Eating Disorder. The external environment that a person grows up in has a tremendous effect on the psychological well being of a person. Studies put into analyzing food addiction found that the majority of the people who suffered from this condition had a traumatizing past with a history of emotional and psychological abuse. Having experienced intense situations of grief and depression, suffering from low self-esteem and being unable to cope with high levels of stress can possibly lead to food addiction.
Moreover, social factors have also become a major reason for this illness. Family disturbances, the exertion of peer pressure and isolation are some of the social reasons.
Further to that, it is also important to understand that food addiction may at times not develop alone. Rather it may co-occur with some other medical illnesses or addiction of some other substance like alcohol.
Either way, nutritionists have concluded that it is imperative to maintain a healthy psychological environment and lead a stress-free life. When the mental health of a person is significantly disturbed, medical treatment needs to be considered as an utmost priority.
Symptoms of Food Addiction
Unlike other illnesses which are easy to diagnose through blood tests, food addiction may only be diagnosed by observing the behaviour pattern of a person. Some of the common behavioural symptoms are as follows:
- Unnecessary Cravings: It is the urge to have more food ingested even after a hearty meal. People suffering from food addiction will report excessive munchies regardless of being hungry. Although cravings themselves may not be an issue for a normal person, however when it exceeds unnecessarily, a person may be suspected of suffering from food addiction. Fulfilling these cravings trigger the production of dopamine in the brain that helps relax the body.
- Eating more than what’s required: One of the most obvious symptoms, food addicts will indulge in eating until they feel excessively stuffed. They are unable to keep a balance when it comes to how much to eat. One bite may convert into 30 bites, while one sip of a soft drink may turn into 10 bottles.
- Guilt feeling post meals: The feeling of guilt that takes over people suffering from food addiction is not uncommon. After ingesting an excessive amount of food, addicts are reported to have felt “bad” about themselves which sometimes develop into mild depression. However, the feeling may last only temporarily, and addiction may set in again once the guilty conscience is over
- Urge to eat alone: One of the most common symptoms, food addicts will often have the urge to seclude themselves from people when eating. They will prefer hiding how much they have eaten and may find possible excuses to avoid people. According to a survey that was undertaken, patients with food addiction will munch on food excessively more at night when they are able to isolate themselves
Harmful Effects of Food Addiction
The implications of food addiction and its consequences on the lives of people who are suffering from this condition can be considerable. The addiction can lead to a disruption in the physical and psychological lifestyle of a person making it difficult to perform everyday tasks.
The physical effects of food addiction are mostly related to the development of illnesses which result as a consequence of obesity. Food addicts are likely to suffer from
- Heart Disease
- Digestive Problems
- Chronic pain
- Decreased sex drive
While at the same time deteriorating the mental health of a person by causing:
- Panic Attacks
- Irritability and intense mood swings
- Social Isolation
- Development of suicidal tendencies
Treating Food Addiction
Food Addiction is a severe condition that should not be overlooked. People suffering from this illness find themselves dwelling in emotional and physical despair which inhibit the normal working of their lives.
Fortunately, there are specialized treatments available to curb this problem. Food addiction treatment centres have recently become common and offer a comprehensive plan for treating the addiction. These centres may aware people about their addiction and at the same time offer psychological treatment as well.
Moreover, the establishment of food groups like Food Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and Food Addictions in Recovery that cater specifically to the problem of food addiction can be one other way of curbing the problem. These groups offer step by step plan for the patient at the same time maintaining a reasonable amount of privacy and anonymity of the person seeking help.