|Unfortunately, this is a very real condition, but one that you can conquer. Most of us eat a bit more than we should now and then, but I’m referring here to people who develop an addiction to food – addiction is not only about drugs and alcohol. Food addiction is commonly called compulsive overeating or binge eating, where a person eats more than is needed and finds it hard to stop. A food addict often feels guilty and gets depressed, even feeling self-disgust. How does this happen, how can you identify whether you have a food addiction, and what can be done about it?
Overeating can be a way to ‘bury your sorrows’, to deal with pain, abuse or loneliness, or seek ‘comfort’ in food. But there is another way you can become a food addict – by eating junk food. It’s highly addictive, nutrient poor (so your body wants more), and it becomes a learned behaviour. The more junk food you eat, the more you want to eat, and the worse you feel. The weight piles on and a vicious circle can ensue, leading sometimes to bulimia and even self-harming.
In this stressful world in which we live there’s never been a more important time to eat whole, real food and eliminate junk/processed food. If you’ve been eating processed food for a long time, you probably don’t even think about fresh food. If you regularly eat processed/prepared food from the supermarket or takeaway food which gets put into a microwave for convenience, you may be in this category. Foods which are typically addictive are pizza, chips, chocolate, fried chicken from vendors, burgers, fizzy drinks and any number of other processed and takeaway foods.
Why Food Makes Addicts Feel Better
Unfortunately, food addicts need a ‘fix’ and only feel better when they eat that food they crave. Cravings are part of food addiction just like any addiction. Foods high in sugar, damaged fats and chemicals stimulate the brain’s ‘reward’ centre, releasing ‘feel good’ hormones such as dopamine – a neurotransmitter which gives a sense of pleasure. In time, the brain becomes accustomed to dopamine, and more food is needed to release the same amount of dopamine, just as a drug addict needs higher doses as time goes on to create the same ‘high’. Sex, exercise and eating all trigger dopamine, they are all part of a normal life therefore they are designed to do this. However, overdoing anything always comes at a price.
The food industry or “Big Food”, know all about this, and getting you addicted to their food is now a ‘science’, sadly. Too much sugar is added say to chocolate, and this sweetness is then hidden by an infusion of salt and spices (even though you can’t taste them) – don’t take my word for it – you can read an outstanding book about this called Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. In fact most supermarket/takeaway foods (including savoury foods) contain more sugar than a bar of chocolate. This sugar is hidden and goes by more than 50 names, but you are left wanting that food again and again as your addiction grows. This never happens with real, whole, fresh food!
Studies have been done which show withdrawal from junk food – especially sugary food – is as severe as withrawal from alcohol and drugs in many cases, including shaking, anxiety and a change in body temperature. Sugar is the most addictive of all foods and here’s the biochemical reason why:
- Blood sugar increases forcing the pancreas to secrete insulin, which then breaks down and blood sugar levels plummet
- Lowered blood sugar levels send a signal to the brain – more sugar is needed
- The brain releases hormones causing a craving for sugar, leaving the person feeling weak and agitated until they get their “fix”
- A sugar addict will now binge-eat on sugary items to satisfy their craving