Food addiction is no laughing matter. And it’s on the rise. Some experts believe that this is partly due to the increasing tendency of manufacturers to (purposefully) make our food more addictive (by pumping it with sugars). This is scary, considering how young they target our children too.

Of course we all use food or alcohol sometimes to blow off steam, but what’s the difference between that and actual addiction? It is the lack of control around food that is one of the main characteristics of addiction. The effects are devastating, causing ill-health, overweight, obesity and often depression yet, despite these, the person just can’t seem to gain control over food.

Is Food Addiction Real?

Up until relatively recently, the idea that a person could be addicted to food was controversial, with little evidence to back it up. But it has recently gained increasing support, backed up from brain imaging and other studies of the effects of compulsive eating on the pleasure centres of the brain. Food addiction is similar to several other eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, bulimia, compulsive overeating, and other unhealthy relationships with food. Food addiction is a serious problem and a major reasons why some people can’t control themselves around certain foods — no matter how hard they try. Food addiction is particularly tough because it’s not possible to detox or quit the addictive substance as we all need to eat to survive.

Questions to Ask About Food Addiction

Researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Science & Policy have developed a questionnaire to identify people with food addictions. Here’s a sample of questions that can help determine if you have a food addiction. It’s important to note that this is not a medical diagnosis. The questions merely reflect what’s commonly seen in cases of food addiction and help gauge the likelihood of addiction.

Do you often:

– End up eating more than planned when you start eating certain foods?

– Keep eating certain foods even if you’re no longer hungry?

– Eat to the point of feeling ill?

– Worry about not eating certain types of foods or worry about cutting down on certain types of foods?

– When certain foods aren’t available, go out of your way to obtain them?

Does food affect your personal life in any of these ways:

1. You eat certain foods so often – or in such large amounts – that you start eating food instead of working, spending time with the family, or doing recreational activities.

2. You avoid professional or social situations where certain foods are available because of fear of overeating.

3. You have problems functioning effectively at your job or school because of food and eating.

For the full questionnaire, please click here.

How to Beat Food Addiction

The first step is admitting that there is a problem. Often, people don’t truly think they are an addict and they may return to harmful behaviour. But when someone realises they have an addiction, there is a definite shift in the path they are on. Beating any addiction is a major achievement. Psychotherapy is an essential step in identifying and addressing what might lie at the root cause of your addiction.

Many addicts have an underlying mental health issue or have experienced some type of trauma in life that ultimately led them to find refuge in mind-altering substances or harmful activities. Psychotherapy allows us to comprehend the many layers of complexity that surround addiction and self-destructive behaviour. Therapy can also help us identify and address the cues and triggers to relapse, such as stress.

One of the most important things is to follow a regular, structured pattern of eating. According to Judith Brisman, founding director of the Eating Disorder Resource Centre in Manhattan: “Ultimately, I’m a big believer in integrating a structure around eating, like having a sense of three meals a day and two snacks — something rhythmic that can work ongoing. Then listening to one’s body about what’s needed at each of those times.” She also recommends intuitive or mindful eating (see our blog on this topic here.)

Recommended Books & Contacts on Food Addiction

Surviving an Eating Disorder: Strategies for Family and Friends by Judith Brisman

Shades of Hope: How to Treat your Addiction to Food by Tennie McCarty 

The Food Addiction Recovery Workbook: How to Manage Cravings, Reduce Stress, and Stop Hating Your Body (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook) by Carolyn Coker Ross.

Overeaters Anonymous: offers a 12-step approach (with support groups) to dealing with food addiction.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Irish Association for Counseling & Psychotherapy (www.iacp.ie)

Blog Post by Maebh Coyle