Eating healthy and losing weight may seem impossible for many people.
Despite their best intentions, they repeatedly find themselves eating large amounts of unhealthy foods — knowing that it may cause them harm.
The truth is that the effects of certain foods on the brain make it hard for some people to avoid them.
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.
This article examines food addiction and provides tips for overcoming it.
Food addiction is an addiction to junk food, comparable to drug addiction.
It’s a relatively new — and controversial — term, and high-quality statistics on its prevalence are lacking (
Food addiction is similar to several other eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, bulimia, compulsive overeating, and other unhealthy relationships with food.
SUMMARY Food addiction is a highly controversial concept, though most studies suggest it exists. It works similarly to drug addiction.
Food addiction involves the same areas of your brain as drug addiction. The same neurotransmitters are also involved, and many of the symptoms are identical (
Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the reward centers of your brain. These effects are caused by brain neurotransmitters like dopamine (3).
Food addiction is not caused by a lack of willpower but results from a dopamine signal that affects the biochemistry of your brain (
SUMMARY Food addiction involves the same areas of your brain and the same neurotransmitters as drug addiction.
There is no blood test to diagnose food addiction. As with other addictions, it’s based on behavioral symptoms.
Here are 8 common symptoms of food addicts:
- You frequently get cravings for certain foods, despite feeling full and having just finished a nutritious meal.
- When you give in and start eating a food you craved, you often find yourself eating much more than intended.
- When you eat a food you craved, you sometimes eat to the point of feeling excessively stuffed.
- You often feel guilty after eating particular foods — yet find yourself eating them again soon after.
- You sometimes make excuses in your head about why you should eat something that you’re craving.
- You have repeatedly — but unsuccessfully — tried to quit eating certain foods or set rules for them, such as cheat meals or days.
- You often hide your consumption of unhealthy foods from others.
- You feel unable to control your consumption of unhealthy foods — despite knowing that they cause you physical harm, including weight gain.
If you can relate to four to five of the symptoms on this list, you may have a serious problem with food. If six or more apply to you, then you’re most likely a food addict.
SUMMARY The main symptoms of food addiction include craving and binging on unhealthy foods without being hungry and an inability to resist the urge to eat these foods.
Though the term "addiction" is often thrown around lightly, having a true addiction is a serious problem.
The symptoms and thought processes associated with food addiction are similar to drug abuse. It's just a different substance and the social consequences may be less severe.
Food addiction can cause physical harm and lead to serious diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes (
In addition, it may negatively impact your self-esteem and self-image, making you unhappy with your body.
As with other addictions, food addiction may take an emotional toll and increase your risk of premature death.
SUMMARY Food addiction increases your risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Excessive weight may also affect your self-esteem.
Completely avoiding junk foods may seem impossible. They’re everywhere and a major part of modern culture.
However, in some cases, entirely abstaining from certain trigger foods can become necessary.
Once you've made the firm decision to never eat these foods again, avoiding them may become easier, as the need to justify eating — or not eating — them is eliminated. Your cravings may also disappear.
If you're unsure whether avoiding junk foods is worth the sacrifice, consider writing a list of pros and cons.
- Pros may include: “I'll lose weight,” “I'll live longer,” “I'll have more energy and feel better every day,” etc.
- Cons may include: “I won't be able to eat ice cream with my family,” “no cookies on Christmas,” “I may have to explain my food choices,” etc.
Write everything down — no matter how peculiar or vain it may seem to you. Then put your two lists side by side and ask yourself if it’s worth it.
If the answer is a resounding "yes," then be assured that you’re doing the right thing.
Also, keep in mind that many of the social dilemmas that may show up in your con list can often easily be solved.
SUMMARY If you want to beat food addiction, you have to be sure that eliminating certain foods completely is the right thing to do. If you’re uncertain, writing down the pros and cons may help you make the decision.
If you decide to cut out certain foods completely to overcome your food addiction, you can do a few things to prepare yourself and make the transition easier:
- Trigger foods: Write down a list of the foods you tend to crave and/or binge on. These are the trigger foods you need to avoid completely.
- Fast food places: Make a list of fast food places that serve healthy foods and note their healthy options. This may prevent a relapse when you find yourself hungry and not in the mood to cook.
- What to eat: Think about what foods you're going to eat — preferably healthy foods that you like and are already eating regularly.
- Pros and cons: Consider making several copies of your pro-and-con list. Keep a copy in your kitchen, glove compartment, and purse or wallet. Remind yourself why you're doing this.
Additionally, don’t go on a diet. You should put weight loss on hold for at least one to three months.
Overcoming food addiction is difficult enough. Adding hunger and restrictions to the mix will only make things harder. You may be setting yourself up for failure.
Once you’ve taken these preparatory steps, set a date in the near future — like the weekend — from which point onward you won’t touch the addictive trigger foods again.
SUMMARY To beat food addiction, it’s important to plan your steps. Make a list of trigger foods and know what you’re going to eat instead. Constantly remind yourself why you’re doing this.
If you end up relapsing and losing control over your food consumption again, know that you're not alone.
Most people with addiction attempt to quit several times before they succeed in the long run.
While it’s possible to overcome addiction on your own — even if it takes several tries — it can often be beneficial to seek help.
Many health professionals and support groups can aid you in overcoming your addiction.
You may want to find a psychologist or psychiatrist in your area who has experience in dealing with food addiction to get one-on-one support — but there are several free group options available as well.
These groups meet regularly — some even via video chat — and can offer you the support you need to overcome your addiction.
SUMMARY If you can’t beat your food addiction alone, consider seeking help. Try support groups like Overeaters Anonymous or book an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in food addiction.
Food addiction is a problem that rarely resolves on its own. Unless you make a conscious decision to deal with it, chances are it will worsen over time.
First steps to overcoming your addiction include listing the pros and cons of quitting trigger foods, finding healthy food alternatives, and setting a fixed date to start your journey to a healthier you.
You may also want to consider seeking help from a health professional or free support group. Always remember that you’re not alone.