Many food lovers will probably find it extremely difficult to classify food, which is the love of their lives, as an addictive substance. How can a good thing ever become an addiction?

The concept of food addiction has been in existence for a long time but just became more of a concern in recent times. According to recent research, the consumption of certain foods triggers the production of dopamine, a kind of feel-good chemical produced in the brain which gives us immense pleasure and satisfaction. Dopamine has been recognized as the main player in drug, alcohol or other addictions, and plays a huge role in food addiction as well.

It hinders the food addict from recognizing when to stop eating or how to stop. Should the person attempt to quit eating these foods, he is besieged by withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced by alcoholics and drug addicts.

This scientific discovery, though highly controversial, lends credence to the fact that food addiction is possible, something the food lovers will have to come to terms with.

Food addiction, thus simply put, is when an individual experiences frequent desires to eat certain foods, usually junk foods and foods with excess sugar, fat or salt etc. These desires or cravings are usually too frequent and occur when he/she is not hungry; it’s definitely not a response to hunger.

Food addiction can be classified alongside other eating disorders like binge eating and compulsive overeating. In a nutshell, food addiction is when an individual eats too frequently and too much.

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The causes of food addiction can be biological, physical or mental.

  • Biological causes: The biological causes of food addiction revolve around genes and hormonal disorders. This means that one can inherit addiction to food, especially sugary foods. It can also be as a result of the dysfunction of the hormones responsible for the regulation and satisfaction of hunger. This causes a lack of satisfaction unless an extreme amount of the addictive has been consumed. It has also been found that certain foods contain contents, e.g. artificial sweeteners, that are capable of stimulating the reward center of the brain the same way addictive substances like cocaine or alcohol does. This causes the brain to stop recognizing satisfaction from it, causing the eater to want to eat more again and again.
  • Emotional causes: Emotional eating occurs when one eats regularly for reasons other than hunger, especially to relieve stress or to deal with trauma or a bad day. Such individuals regard food as more than just a medium of physical sustenance, and they eat when feeling sad or when feeling very happy. Excessive eating or food addiction can also occur when someone has the habit of eating while deeply engrossed in other activities, such that they are not mindful of what goes into their mouths. These are the people who eat when watching a movie, reading, working on a project etc. While this is not of itself harmful, when it is done too frequently, it becomes a habit such that the addict engages in binge eating even when not hungry. Often, addiction can also result from forcing oneself through a dietary routine that disallows you from eating some particular kinds of food which you happen to love. When you slip up and eat these banned foods, you feel guilty. Often, a relapse can then lead to an episode of overeating. This will make you feel guilty and you will more likely eat even more in order to console himself.
  • Substance abuse: A common side effect of substance abuse is food addiction, as most substance abusers often have ravenous appetites after consuming their addictions of choice. So you find that most cocaine addicts are also usually food addicts.
  • Certain medications increase peoples’ appetite, and if this is not properly watched, it can lead to food addiction.

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It is often difficult to notice the symptoms of food addiction, because the source of the addiction, food, is something that we all need to live by. No one can abstain from food totally and because we all consume food, it is not always easy to point out when someone has a problem with it.

It is easier to recommend total abstinence from alcohol, drugs and other types of addictive substance but difficult when the addictive substance is needed for survival by both addicts and non-addicts. Food is needed by the addict and thus difficult to tell when the purpose of eating changes from sustenance to addiction. However, there are certain tell-tale signs if noticed over a period of time can point to food addiction.

Here they are:

  • A compulsion to eat even when not hungry: While it’s not unnatural to want to eat, it is however not natural to want to eat all the time even when you are not in the least bit hungry.
  • Irritability and depression: Another symptom of food addiction is similar to symptoms that occur with all other addictions. This is when the desire for such food exceeds boundaries such that the individual becomes uncomfortable, irritable and depressed when not around food. A brain scan carried out in research showed that a food addict had the same reaction to the sight of a milkshake as an alcohol addict to a bottle of cold beer.
  • Social shame: This occurs when the addiction affects one’s social life, causing the person to hide when eating the food he’s addicted to. There is also a feeling of shame and guilt when such a person is indulging his appetite. This more than often makes the person introverted and causes self-pity and refusal to seek help.



Food addiction need not be a death sentence. As with every other addiction, food addiction can be managed and eventually eliminated.

The first step to take is to change your mindset concerning food. Most of the time, food addicts struggle with following a restrictive diet that prohibits them from eating the food they love. When they go back to the food in question, they tend to overdo it. This is called a restrict-binge cycle. One way to avoid this is to allow yourself the freedom to eat what you love but in moderation. Research has shown that having cheat days when you are on a diet is one way to keep faithful to that diet. Since you know you can have one meal to indulge yourself, guilt is taken out of the picture and you more often than not will not overeat.

One other way to manage food addiction is to write down a list of things you like to do asides eating. Anytime you want to grab that snack, do something from the list. It will be difficult the first few times but it gets easier. Make sure the things on the list are things you love.

Lastly, seek help from friends or professionals. You should not be ashamed to do so. That’s admitting defeat even before you begin. Be honest with yourself and admit that you need the help.


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