Do you find it difficult to stop eating, even when your stomach is telling you that you’re full? If so, you may be among the estimated 70 million adults in the U.S. that have a food addiction.
This number is rising and what’s interesting to note is that being overweight and having a food addiction don’t always go hand in hand. The compulsion to eat even when not hungry can strike people who are a “healthy” weight as well.
People with a food addiction often crave certain foods for the same reason a drug or alcohol addict has to consume a substance or drink: it triggers dopamine, or the “feel good” chemical in the brain. Because of this, it can be a tough addiction to overcome.
Knowing the signs of food addiction is the first step in getting help for it. Here are some common characteristics of people with a food addiction.
Cravings Even When Full
You just ate a satisfying meal and you feel like unbuttoning your pants, yet you’re dying for something sweet for dessert. Or an hour after eating you may crave a salty snack. This is what it can feel like when you’re addicted to food.
It doesn’t matter that your stomach is technically full; there is something telling you that you “have” to have your craving. It may feel unstoppable and you believe you won’t feel satisfied until you get to eat what you want.
Eating in Private
People with a food addiction often feel guilty or ashamed about it and may not want others to see how much they’re consuming for fear of being judged. So they eat alone and in private. It’s very similar to an alcohol addicted person drinking at home, alone, so that they can avoid judgment.
A food addicted individual may put up a healthy front by bringing a salad or other low calorie meal to the office or avoid eating with coworkers altogether. Then they binge at home, or they may eat alone in their car during their lunch break.
You also don’t have to live by yourself to be a food addict. Some people wait until their partner and children have gone to sleep before giving in to their craving.
Food addicts also tend to avoid social situations that involve eating, so that they don’t have to be in the company of other people while eating. If you’re too embarrassed to let others see you eat, it’s a strong sign you may have a problem.
Inability to Stick to Limits
“I’ll just have five potato chips” you may tell yourself, only to polish off a bag. This type of addiction makes it very difficult to stick to a portion size or specified amount of food, even with the best of intentions. The euphoric feeling you get after consuming a favorite food can be impossible to resist.
Eating When Stressed
A food addict often turns to food for comfort during stressful times and bouts of depression in much the same way someone with a drinking problem turns to alcohol. They usually eat when they don’t even have an appetite, but believe the food can help them deal with whatever feelings they’re struggling with.
A job that causes anxiety may also trigger food addiction. Using anxiety, depression, or stress as an excuse to “treat yourself” because you’re feeling bad is a sign of food addiction.
Waking up to Eat
People with a food addiction think nothing of getting up in the middle of the night to eat. This kind of eating can disrupt sleep and make it more difficult to lose weight, and it can prevent the individual from feeling and performing their best the next day.
Craving Highly Palatable Food
It’s not surprising that most people with a food addiction crave foods that are high in salt, sugar, or fat. These three ingredients make certain foods tasty or highly palatable, and they contribute towards increasing dopamine levels. Unfortunately, they also tend to be high in calories and can promote weight gain.
Some people may also crave food with a certain texture or a combination of two different foods or more that gives them pleasure.
Feeling Guilty After Eating
Food addiction can make people feel guilty after they eat more than they know they’re supposed to. They may beat themselves up and swear the most recent incident is the last time they overindulge, but they find it impossible to keep their word.
Health Problems from Food Doesn’t Stop the Addiction
Food addiction can cause people to gain weight which brings with it its own set of physical problems. This may include an increased risk of heart disease, shortness of breath during physical exertion, painful joints, and other physical symptoms.
Serious health issues often do little to encourage a food addict to face their problem and make changes to their eating habits. Eating too much of the wrong foods can affect our mental health as well, creating a bad cycle that is hard to break.
You Can Get Help for Food Addiction
Don’t let food addiction take over your life. If you or a loved one wants to stop a food addiction, the good news is it can be conquered using a variety of therapies and treatments. Which ones work best depends upon the individual and their specific habits regarding food.
Dr. Blair treats clients throughout the greater Los Angeles County area with food addiction. If you’re struggling with a food addiction, contact Blair Wellness Group. We’ll work with you one-on-one to help you beat food addiction.