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Frequently Asked Questions

What is food addiction?

  • Food addiction is a brain disease like alcoholism and drug addiction which causes loss of control over the ability to stop eating certain foods as the body has become dependent on them.

  • Scientifically, food addiction is a cluster of chemical dependencies on specific foods or food in general.

  • After the ingestion of highly palatable foods such as sugar, excess fat, flour, grains and/or salt, the brains of some people develop a physical craving for these foods. Over time, the progressive eating of these foods distorts their thinking and despite negative consequences they are unable to stop the behavior.

  • Food addiction is a DIFFERENT disease than non-substance dependent obesity and eating disorders.

  • Food addiction requires a DIFFERENT approach to treatment.

  • While all of the overweight and obese are not food addicted, chemical dependency (addiction) is one of the driving forces of the obesity epidemic.

  • Food addiction is a more complex and difficult problem and requires special, addiction informed care in order to be properly and successfully treated.

What does someone do if they think they are a food addict?

  • Seek help. Find a support group or health care practitioner to provide encouragement and guidance

  • Make a list of binge foods. Eliminate sugar, flour/grain/starch, salt, and trans fat from your home and work environments, even if these foods are not yet on your list

  • Plan and write down your meals and meal times. Keep a journal to identify feelings or circumstances which act as triggers to reach for food

  • Make a list of healthier ways to self-soothe (i.e. walk or bicycle, talk to a friend, practice deep breathing, be mindful, or get a massage)

  • Don’t skip meals. Eat at regular intervals

  • For more information, tips, support, and additional resources, explore our website and share it with others.

What are some symptoms of food addiction?

  • Cravings for more and/or particular foods, such as those that contain sugar, flour/grain/starch, salt, and/or fat

  • Thinking one “cannot live” without favorite foods

  • Preoccupation with planning, buying, or eating food—even after having just eaten

  • Eating in secret or alone

  • Continued over/under eating despite adverse physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual consequences

  • Compulsive eating episodes that become more frequent and demand increased quantity to get the same effect

  • Emotional or physical withdrawal symptoms when stopping or reducing specific types of foods.

Does moderation work for the food addict?

No. If a food addict has tried diets and controlled eating and is still struggling with food, weight, and cravings, then they may be trying to solve the wrong problem. They may be a food addict and thus require abstinence from their trigger foods. Moderation of ‘favorite binge foods’ is only a solution for people who are not food addicted. A food addict needs to find a health care provider that understands food addiction and how to treat it. In addition, they will need further extensive peer group support .

How do I know if I'm a food addict?

If you eat when you really do not want to or if you persistently eat more food than your body needs, or eat in a way that you know is not good for you, you may be a food addict. Characteristics of a food addict include physical craving, loss of control, withdrawal, tolerance dependency and denial.

Why does a food addict need to abstain from certain foods?

For some, food ingredients (including sugar, flour/grain/starch) can produce brain changes and reactions similar to what happens in those who have other addictions. The treatment required for food addiction (substance use disorder or food dependency) is fundamentally different from moderation, which may be appropriate for treating other food-related disorders. For people with food cravings, abstinence or refraining from trigger foods and behaviors is essential because of the following:

  • The brain develops a stronger preference for foods that are calorie-dense (i.e. foods containing sugar, flour/grain/ starch, salt, and/or fat)

  • Consuming these foods activates the brain’s reward system and triggers the release of the “pleasure hormone” dopamine in the same way other addictive substances do. The brain then calls for more and more

  • The rewarding nature of these foods can sometimes encourage eating whether one is hungry or not

  • The behavior that results is not considered “normal” eating.

What are some of the consequences of food addiction?

  • Cravings (i.e. insatiable desired for more food or specific foods)

  • Feelings of guilt/shame/remorse about eating

  • Lying to self or others about eating behaviors

  • Stealing food

  • Distress or difficulty functioning due to behavior related to eating (i.e. fatigue, headaches/migraines, foggy brain, and/or aching joints)

  • Thinking about food almost all the time and wanting more

  • Food obsessions which impair normal functioning whether an over/under eater

  • Uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal occur when problematic foods are removed

What should a food addict look for in a healthcare provider?

It must be pointed out that most health professionals received little or no training in food addiction screening, diagnosis or treatment during their graduate and professional school training. Many have even been taught that food addiction does not exist. So it is important to have the following criteria in mind, at a minimum, when selecting a therapist, dietitian or other professional for food addicted patients.

Ask the following questions when looking for a healthcare provider:

  1. Has the provider successfully helped others struggling with food addiction?

  2. Does the provider offer an abstinence-based approach?

  3. Does the provider understand the importance of identifying addictive foods and finding ways to enjoy eating without them?

  4. Does the provider offer regular contact for patients challenged with food addiction?

What are some current food addiction statistics?

Twenty percent of normal weight people are food addicted.Weight gain and obesity can be caused by many things, being chemically dependent on foods being one of them. Approximately 50% of obese people and 30% of overweight people are chemically dependent to certain foods, most often sugar, fat, flour and processed foods. Some people are also addicted to the process of eating large volumes of food or other foods, such as grains.

What is the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) statement on addiction?

You may find reading their most recent ASAM statement of addiction helpful as you reflect on the question on whether or not you, personally, are struggling with an addiction to one or more foods or to volume eating. The short version of their statement reads as follows: Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

What should a healthcare provider do if they have an overweight or eating disordered patient that isn't getting better?

The health care provider must consider that their patient might be suffering from food addiction. The Food Addiction Institute to encourage the treatment of food addiction as a serious disease, like drug and alcohol addiction. The effort is intended to encourage health care providers to integrate into their practice the awareness of food addiction by asking their patients about loss of control when it comes to eating sweets and other foods. If food addiction is a possibility than proper screening and treatment is mandatory as this requires different treatment than other food related disorders. Untreated and poorly treated food addiction can be catastrophic to patients and their families. If you are a healthcare provider, explore our website and go to the “For Professionals” page to learn more.

Can I recover from food addiction?

Absolutely! Recovery from food addiction requires the same approach as recovering from any addiction. Complete abstinence of that substance is required. Recovery starts by identifying which foods you are addicted to and eliminating them from your diet. Recovery from food addiction cannot be done alone and will require support. Look into professional and peer group support.

How can I get involved with the Food Addiction Institute?

Sign up for our newsletter and receive email announcements for our monthly webinars and other activities, like our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

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