Defining Food Addiction
Generally, the term food addiction is used to describe someone who is a compulsive overeater. Anorexia and bulimia are sometimes called food addictions, but these conditions are most often referred to as eating disorders. The compulsive overeater spends excessive amounts of time thinking about food, eats to escape worry, feels guilty after eating, and often binges alone. He/she craves sweets and other foods that have little or no nutritional value. While many compulsive overeaters are either overweight or obese, a weight problem in itself does not indicate a food addiction.
A food addiction can have a significant impact on a person's mental health. As the person's weight increases, a negative body image and decreased self-esteem often result. Compulsive overeaters sometimes have strained relationships with friends and family because they resent those who tell them to "use a little willpower" to control the urge to overeat. Many compulsive overeaters suffer from depression. If the addiction is severe enough, a compulsive overeater may even struggle with suicidal tendencies.
In addition to psychological effects, a food addiction can be very dangerous to a person's physical health. Compulsive overeaters often suffer from diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, kidney disease, or arthritis. Chronic pain and limited mobility are also quite common.
Signs of Food Addiction
While only a qualified professional can diagnose a food addiction, many compulsive overeaters share a common group of traits. If you think you may suffer from this problem, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you eat to deal with stress or sadness? Do you often find yourself reaching for food even when you are not hungry?
- Do you feel remorseful, guilty, or ashamed about your eating habits? Do you get angry when people suggest that you have a problem with compulsive overeating?
- Do you try to hide your eating from those around you? Do you eat small portions of healthy foods in public and binge on cookies, pizza, or other unhealthy foods at home?
- Have you tried to diet, only to return to previous eating patterns? Do you feel powerless to control your food cravings?
The amount of times per day someone eats is not considered a sign of a food addiction. Compulsive overeaters can binge on large amounts of food at once, eat three meals plus snacks, or graze steadily throughout the day.
Treatment for Food Addicts
If you're suffering from a food addiction, help is available. Research suggests that approximately 80 percent of compulsive overeaters recover with the proper counseling and/or therapy. Since eating disorders are essentially poor behavioral patterns, treatment focuses on understanding the emotional conflicts that cause the desire to overeat. For example, many compulsive overeaters were sexually abused as children and must learn to cope with this trauma before they can conquer their addiction.
In addition to traditional one-on-one counseling or therapy sessions, many compulsive overeaters use support groups to aid in their recovery. Overeaters Anonymous allows compulsive overeaters to come together to share their experiences and support each other on the path to recovery. Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous provides support to people suffering from anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive over-eating.
In some cases, compulsive overeaters are treated with medication. For people suffering from depression, prescription antidepressants can make it easier to control food cravings. However, medication is most effective when used as part of a comprehensive treatment program.