Food is a necessity of life and growth. It is also a source of comfort, pleasure and social engagement. But for some individuals, the need to consume food is compulsive and uncontrollable. It has become as addictive to them as drugs are to substance abusers.

Food full of fat, sugar and sometimes salt, triggers chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure, like dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in the brain’s reward system.

People struggling with food addiction problems do so because when they eat large amounts of delicious food rich in sugar and fat, it offers them a release from emotional distress and provides pleasurable sensations. Often, though, these responses are quite short lived followed by feelings of guilt and shame.

Scientists have observed that food addiction can be caused by several reasons, such as biological, psychological or social reasons. Biological reasons could include hormonal imbalance, side effects from the use of some drugs and medications, family hereditary or abnormalities in some brain systems.

Emotional, traumatic and sexual abuse can also result in the psychological causes of food addiction; these can influence the individual to use food as a coping mechanism to relieve the painful emotions that resulted.

In addition, social, cultural or family pressure to meet a particular standard of body physic can create a circumstance where an individual have negative feelings about their body which can lead to eating disorder.

However, scientists have also discovered that eating walnuts daily can help a person control their appetite and dietary preferences while also feeling full and physically healthy.

So, what are the signs of food addiction?

Some of the most common symptoms of food addiction:

Obsessive food cravings

Cravings and hunger are not the same thing. You just finished a healthy and nutritious mean yet you have an urge in your brain to eat something else despite being full. This in itself doesn’t mean you have a food addiction problem as most people get cravings; but if this happens often and you have problems controlling yourself, then it’s a sign of a larger problem.

Binge eating

This is when you find yourself eating to the point of feeling physically ill, compulsively overeating in spite of the health implications, or eating large amounts of food for a longer period. This is definitely a sign of eating disorder.

P.K. Scheerle, RN of GiftedHeathcare, a travel nurse agency says conditions or situations such as pregnancy, stress and a vacation can trigger food cravings that could lead to binge-eating and leave the person feeling depleted, overstuffed, and fatigued.

She advises that one of the best ways to beat the urge and make better food choices is to learn to eat frequently, but in smaller amounts.  This will send a signal to the brain there’s enough supply of food, and that’s it’s fine to burn through those calories quickly. Conversely, eating in large amounts tells the brain there’s a food shortage around the corner, so the calories will get stored as fat, she adds.

Feelings of guilt

Although at different audible levels, everyone has this tiny ‘voice’ inside of them called a conscience. It makes us feel bad when we do something that is against or values or principles, or when we make a good faith decision but cannot keep to it.

Individuals suffering from food addiction tend to have feelings of guilt after every uncontrolled eating; they get this feeling and make up their minds never to lose control again.

But despite this good faith decision, the persistent desire and repeated attempts to control eating is usually unsuccessful and they find themselves repeating the whole thing over and over again.

Sleeping disorder

Sleeping disorders such as insomnia and oversleeping is another sign of food addiction, as individuals suffering from food addiction tend to get too tired after an eating binge. The resultant increase in weight also makes them oversleep, or they become so stuffed that they cannot sleep due to indigestion and constipation.

Avoiding social Interaction

Overeating can have a negative impact on work, family life and social activities. It causes the individual to give up important social, professional and recreational activities just so they can spend time on their own eating the food they love.

A very high number of individuals addicted to their food rarely get out of their homes except to buy more food or when going out is just unavoidable.

Eating alone

Individuals suffering from food addiction develop a pattern of eating alone. They hide their food consumption from others, preferring to eat alone when no one else is at home, or eating in the car, in their rooms and offices with the doors locked or after everyone else has gone to bed. They do this to avoid negative comments or reactions from others.

Other signs of food addiction are similar to signs of other forms of addiction. They include irritability, restlessness, digestive disorders, difficulty in concentrating, decreased energy and fatigue, headaches, nausea, stress, anger, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Food addiction might appear relatively harmless compared to other forms of addiction like drugs, alcohol or substance addiction, however, compulsive overeating can be quite harmful to the health and overall well being of an individual which is why individuals with this condition are advised to immediately seek professional help.

Useful Apps

Technology is nearly touching every aspect of our lives, and food addiction is no exception. Below are some samples on food addiction related apps:

WhatsMyM3

Stigma

MindShift

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