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Food Addiction: A growing concern

A surprising new type of abuse has recently gained quite a bit of media attention – food addiction. Food addiction has been featured as a topic on various television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN’s Larry King Live, The Dr. Oz Show, Intervention and Ruby. Tennis Champion Monica Seles wrote about her struggles with food addiction and attempts to smother her depression with food in her book Getting a Grip. CNN’s Headline News anchor Jane Velez-Mitchell recently released a book entitled I Want that details her struggle as a food addict. Legendary singer Sir Elton John discussed his inpatient treatment for food addiction in an interview with Larry King. Addiction to food is being scrutinized in recently released scientific literature. Current studies continue to analyze whether or not foods rich in fat and/or sugar are capable of promoting addictive behavior.

Food can be an alternating source of pleasure and torture for the millions that suffer from food addiction. For those afflicted with this addiction, eating is a type of escape much like taking a drink is an escape for an alcoholic. Food addicts “use” or abuse food like a drug to medicate themselves – as a coping mechanism to quell negative emotions, to fill a void in their lives or even to celebrate happy moments. Addicts find themselves bingeing on unhealthy foods and often grazing on food throughout the day despite a lack of hunger. Consuming large quantities of junk food leads to a host of health problems. Most food addicts gain weight and become obese. Obesity has grave consequences ranging from diabetes to premature death. Some addicts use compensatory behavior such as using laxatives, vomiting or over-exercising to offset the extra calories consumed during binges. Others try to diet between binges to balance overall calories. Most food addicts have nutritional deficiencies because they tend to eat high calorie foods with little to no nutritional value.

Food and thoughts of food consume a food addict’s entire day. The dilemma is that when hunger isn’t the problem, food is not the solution. The underlying causes of food addiction and overeating must be addressed before the unhealthy eating behavior can be properly modified. Otherwise, attempts at losing weight including dieting, nutritional education, exercise programs and bariatric surgery are doomed to fail in the long run. Everyone wants a quick fix; unfortunately, the right addiction recovery work has to be done to overcome food addiction. Fortunately, good treatment for food addicts is available. Food addiction is a growing problem in America that we cannot afford to ignore.

The phenomenon of food addiction is both psychological and physiological. Many addicts eat or binge due to negative emotions. Most choose unhealthy junk food or “comfort food” high in calories, fat and sugar. Studies suggest the food consumed causes chemical changes in the body and produces a “high” that provides the food addict with further motivation to eat. Once the high or rush is over, food addicts often experience regret, shame and guilt. Food addiction builds a vicious cycle by creating the need to eat more to deal with the negative emotions established by overeating in the first place. Other studies suggest that stress associated with withdrawal from unhealthy foods causes food addicts to experience increased cravings for junk food. Unfortunately, bingeing on more food is the way a food addict alleviates stress.

Do you think you may have a food addiction? Do you suspect a loved one has food addiction? If so, look for the following signs:

  • Being obsessed and/or preoccupied with food
  • Lack of self-control over food
  • Eating past the point of being full
  • Eating when not hungry – bingeing on large amounts and/or grazing throughout day
  • Using food as a distraction
  • Craving food when confronted with feelings such as depression, loneliness, anxiety, boredom and/or happiness
  • Stashing food in various hiding places; eating alone
  • Secretly bingeing on unhealthy food while eating healthy food in public
  • Feeling shame, guilt or remorse after bingeing
  • Continuing to binge and graze on unhealthy food despite negative consequences

Food addiction takes a heavy toll on the mind, body and soul. Dealing with food addiction is slightly different from dealing with other addictions such as alcoholism or substance abuse. In some ways, recovery from food addiction is more challenging because a person cannot abstain from food the way other addicts can completely avoid their vices. Food is necessary for survival and must be eaten every day. Food addicts have to learn that food is not the enemy nor is it their best friend. Those with food addiction must learn to practice healthy eating habits every day without going back to bingeing, overeating and other destructive behaviors related to eating. Professional help is the most effective way to derail food addiction and help food addicts find the path to recovery. If you suspect you or a loved one has a problem with food addiction, take that first critical step towards help – please call Shades of Hope for a free private consultation.

The Dr. Oz Show, A Food Intervention, aired November 17, 2009
The Journal of Nutrition
, Volume 139, No. 3, pp. 617-619, March 2009
Science Now, “Is Chocolate Cake the New Heroin?” Cassandra Willyard, November 2009
Larry King Live, Interview with Elton John, CNN, aired March 15, 2008
The Oprah Winfrey Show, aired January 5, 2009 and July 6, 2009
Intervention, A&E Network, “Josh”, aired January 21, 2009
O Magazine, Oprah Winfrey, January 2009
, The Style Network, Season 2, Episode 8
Getting a Grip by Monica Seles
I Want by Jane Velez-Mitchell

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