Food Addiction – How Does It Start?

Food Addiction – How Does It Start?

Food addiction is literally being addicted to food!

Addictive foods are those comprised of high levels of refined carbohydrates, sugar, salt and fat.

When you eat sugary foods, the parts of your brain associated with reward and pleasure activate.

Research on rats has also found that high fructose corn syrup (which is an ingredient in many processed foods) causes similar addictive behaviour as cocaine.

Much like with drugs, only some people seem to be susceptible to food addiction even though most people are exposed to the same foods.

Food addiction may also be more common than you think – a study found 5.4% of people surveyed met the criteria for a food addict.

Food addicts have a need to consume foods throughout the day that are considered junk food.

With a high proportion of sugar, fats, salts and/or refined carbohydrates, the foods have low nutritional value and contain few vegetables or fruits.

Some food addicts may only consume 3 meals a day.

While others constantly eat to obtain their ‘high’.

The foods can cause bingeing, therefore large amounts are eaten in a short period until the person is excessively full.

How does Food Addiction start? 

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Addiction to food and Eating Disorders is becoming more common throughout the world and affects both men and women.

Many adolescents, teens, young people and adults suffer from Food Addiction, Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders, and so many suffer in silence.

People who have a food addiction usually have one or more underlying issues that contribute to the addiction.

This could include:

  • Anxiety,
  • Trauma,
  • Grief & Loss,
  • Bulimia,
  • Binge Eating,
  • Depression,
  • Family history of substance abuse, and/or
  • Personal history of substance abuse.

A food addict is most likely to be more susceptible to eating sugary, high in salt or fatty foods as they release the “happy hormone” dopamine, which causes the person to seek the high.

People that are addicted to food may have the following symptoms or signs:

  • Inability to control intake of food;
  • Eat large portions;
  • Eating until over full or until feeling sick;
  • Choose unhealthy or junk food over healthier options such as fruit and vegetables;
  • Sneaking and/or hiding food;
  • Spending a lot of money on food;
  • Planning when, what and where to buy the next ‘hit’;
  • Numerous unsuccessful attempts to quit or give up junk food, and/or
  • Constantly looking for “fast fixes” i.e. latest weight loss programs and diets.

Childhood Food Addiction

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Addiction can be developed and triggered in childhood or adolescence. 

Research suggests that children’s attitudes and beliefs surrounding food, dieting and weight management are associated with their level of overweight/obesity.

These attitudes correlate with that of their parents.

Other underlying causes of food addiction within childhood or adolescence may include:

Stress or Trauma

If a child experiences a stress or trauma, they may be given food to soothe or may turn to food to soothe their emotions.

Overindulgent Parenting

Allowing a child to eat unhealthy foods and/or lots of food without boundaries.

Food Scarcity

Not having enough food and when it becomes available, a child over-indulges.

Food restriction

Being told that certain foods are not allowed, and this makes the child want them more and seek them out.

Poor Nutrition

Many families are time-poor and have lost the art of cooking, so packaged foods, takeaways etc. are easy. Instead of these foods being an occasional treat, they become everyday foods.

Parent with an Addiction/Mental Health Issue

Parents are a child’s role model and provide nutrition. If they won’t eat healthy and provide unhealthy foods to satisfy their own issues, then a child suffers the consequences.

Adulthood Food Addiction

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In adulthood, addiction may start as a reaction to extreme stress.

Signs of stress eating that leads to food addiction can be:

  • Eating when you’re not hungry;
  • Eating to self-sooth;
  • Using food as a reward;
  • Eating until you are over-full or stuffed, or
  • An inability to control food amounts.

The constant cravings and need to search for non-nutritious food is an addiction, no different than the cravings and seeking out behaviours in any addiction such as alcohol, tobacco, or cocaine.

For food addicts the cravings are triggered by the “feel-good” brain chemical Dopamine.

The desire to cure one’s self of the addiction may be strong, but in the end professional support is often needed.

The good news is that food addiction can be cured! 

Unlike drug addicts who will need substitutes like methadone for the rest of their lives, or tobacco addicts who have to resort to patches, food addicts can use their drug as their recovery tool.

They can find healthy, balanced and delicious foods that will not overexcite their brain chemicals and allow them to eat normal portion sizes, without bingeing.

If you need help breaking free of Food Addiction, help is available!

Fit Minds & Bodies Clinic will help you break free of negative behaviours that support Food Addiction and build a life filled with balance, satisfaction, happiness and purpose.