Food addiction is a common problem in Western society.
It involves binge eating behavior, cravings and a lack of control around foods (1).
There are at least 8 symptoms that are typical for food addicts. We decided to run a survey among our readers and ask about each of them.
An email went out to a total of 17,094 individuals and 875 of them answered.
Here are each of the 8 common signs and symptoms of food addiction.
It is not uncommon to get cravings, even after eating a fulfilling, nutritious meal.
For example, after just downing a nice meal with steak, potatoes and veggies, you may find yourself craving some ice cream for dessert.
You see, cravings and hunger aren't the same thing.
You don't actually feel "hungry" because you just finished a healthy and nutritious meal, but yet there is an urge somewhere in your brain to eat something else.
This is pretty common and doesn't necessarily mean that you have a problem. Most people get cravings.
However, if this happens often and you have real problems controlling yourself, then it may be an indicator of something else going on (2).
This craving is not about your need for energy or nutrients — it is your brain calling for something that releases dopamine in the reward system of the brain (3).
Summary Cravings are obviously very common. Fewer than 13% of participants rarely or never experienced this.
What harm is there in having a small slice of chocolate cake? A little bit ain't gonna kill you. Everything is good in moderation, right?
These are two remarks that people get to hear quite often when refusing an offering of unhealthy food for one reason or another.
Both of them are valid. One slice isn't going to do much harm and if you can eat cake in moderation then it's probably alright.
But for some people, there is no such thing as a bite of chocolate or a single piece of cake. One bite turns into 20 and one slice of cake turns into half a cake.
This is an "all or nothing" phenomenon that is common with addicts of all sorts. There is no such thing as "moderation" — it simply does not work (4).
Telling a food addict to eat junk food in moderation is almost like telling an alcoholic to drink beer in moderation. It's just not possible.
Summary When giving in to a craving, over 54% of participants ate more than they intended to either frequently or all the time.
Let's say you've given in to a craving.
Now you start eating, bite after bite, until you feel full — that is, if you weren't already full when you started (see symptom #1).
But it doesn't stop there, unfortunately.
You keep on eating, then you eat some more. When you finally stop, when your "urge" is satisfied, you realize that you have eaten so much that you feel completely stuffed.
Summary Of the participants in the survey, about 36% tended to eat until feeling excessively stuffed, either frequently or all the time. In some cases, this may be classified as binge eating.
When you do something you know isn't "right," something that is against your values, principles or previous decisions, you often feel bad about it.
This is called having a guilty conscience and is a very common feeling. It's a feeling that is both good and bad.
It is good, because it means that you do actually care. It is bad, because it feels incredibly unpleasant when it happens. It's a terrible feeling.
If you have been trying to exert "willpower" to control your consumption of unhealthy foods, giving in to a craving can lead to a guilty conscience.
You may feel that you are doing something wrong, even cheating on yourself. This may make you feel weak and undisciplined.
Yet, you soon do the whole thing over and over again.
Summary This is apparently very common. Among the participants, only 19% never or rarely repeatedly ate foods that they felt guilty about.
When you have decided to abstain from junk food on a particular day but a craving shows up anyway, you can imagine two forces at play in your mind.
One is the logical, rational decision you made to abstain from junk food. Perhaps you decided to only “cheat” on Saturdays.
But the other force is the craving. Today is a Wednesday and you feel like having something sweet in the afternoon.
Right now you have an urge to have a piece of food that you had previously decided you weren't going to eat on this particular day.
The logical decision you made to abstain becomes "challenged" by the new idea that you should indulge today and eat whatever it is you’re craving.
At these moments, you start thinking about whether you should or should not indulge. You may come up with some excuse about why it would be a good idea to give in to the craving and have that piece of food.
Summary This also appears to be very common. 30% do it frequently or all the time, while almost 40% can relate to doing it sometimes.
When people are struggling with self-control in one way or another, they often try to set rules for themselves.
For example, only sleep in on the weekends, always do homework right after school, never drink coffee after two in the afternoon. Sound familiar? For most people, these rules almost always fail.
There are few things that are as hopeless as setting rules about eating, especially for those who have problems with cravings.
Examples include one cheat meal per week, two cheat meals per week, one cheat day, only eat junk food at parties, birthdays or holidays, etc. I've personally tried all of these rules, along with a dozen others.
They failed, every time.
Summary About 80% of the participants had at least some history of failures to set rules about their food consumption. For 49% of people, this happened frequently or all the time.
People with a history of rule setting and repeated failures often start hiding their consumption of junk food from others.
They may prefer to eat alone, when no one else is at home, alone in the car or late at night after everyone else has gone to bed.
I used to drive to the store, buy junk food and eat it alone in the car. If I was home alone, I would eat it there, but I made sure to throw away and hide the packaging so that no one would be able to see what I had done.
I felt ashamed of it and I didn't like the idea of my loved ones realizing how weak I was and what I was doing to myself.
Summary Apparently hiding food intake is fairly common. About 26% of participants did it frequently or all the time, while almost 25% of people admit to doing it sometimes.
There is no doubt that the foods you eat have a significant effect on your health.
In the short term, junk food can lead to weight gain, acne, bad breath, fatigue, poor dental health and other common problems.
But in the long term, after years and years of continued abuse to the body, things can start to go really wrong.
A lifetime of junk food consumption can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, dementia and even some types of cancer.
Someone who experiences any of these physical problems and knows that they are directly related to their intake of unhealthy foods, but is still unable to change their habits, is in serious trouble.
Many people know that the junk foods are harming them, but are still unable to control their consumption.
Summary Of the 870 individuals who answered this question, 54% (476 people) answered that they agreed or strongly agreed.
Interestingly, most of the participants were women.
However, the pattern was very similar for males and females.
The age of participants:
It’s important to point out that most of those who participated were looking for weight loss information when they signed up to the mailing list.
This means that the sample may not be quite representative of the general population.
The word “addiction” was not used in the survey, but it was mentioned that it was about people’s relationship with food.
The DSM-IV is a guide used by health professionals to diagnose mental disorders.
If you look at the criteria for substance dependence, you can easily see that many of the 8 symptoms above fit in with medical definitions of addiction.
If you are wondering whether you have a problem with food addiction or not, then you only need to ask yourself this one question:
Have you repeatedly tried to quit eating or cut back on your consumption of junk food, but you can't?
If you can relate to that, then sure thing — you do have a problem and you better do something about it.
Whether you are a full-blown "addict" that fits in with medical definitions of addiction doesn't matter, in my opinion.
The key point here is that deep in your heart you want to quit, but you can't.
If that is the case, then it is time for action.