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Food addiction: How it works & what you can do about it

Food addiction: How it works & what you can do about it

Food addiction is a new term that has gained more popularity lately.

It isn’t caused by a lack of willpower or discipline, it’s actually more complicated.

In fact, a food addiction may affect the brain in a similar way to a drug addiction (1).

This article explains how food addiction works and tells you what you can do about it.

How does food addiction work?

A food addiction starts in an area of the brain called the reward system.

The reward system is designed to make “feel-good” chemicals such as dopamine when people do things that help them survive, like eating food (2).

Although the reward system is helpful, it can be a problem sometimes.

For example, unhealthy foods like ice cream and sodas can cause the brain to release much more feel-good chemicals than healthier alternatives like fruits and vegetables (3).

Surprisingly, a food addiction works similarly to a drug addiction (1).

Animal studies show it affects the same areas of the brain and can cause cravings (4, 5).

On top of this, your body can become tolerant to the feel-good response from eating certain junk foods. This means you would need to eat more to get the same feeling.

If left untreated, food addiction may lead to serious physical and mental health issues.

Here are some common signs of a food addiction (6):

  • You get cravings, even when you’re full
  • You eat to the point you feel ill
  • You feel guilty after eating, but keep doing it
  • You make excuses for your eating habits
  • You find it difficult to quit, even if it causes you physical problems
  • Your eating habits are affecting your social life and relationships
Summary

A food addiction starts in the reward system, where the brain makes “feel-good” chemicals such as dopamine in response to eating foods. Unhealthy junk foods can cause the brain to release more dopamine than healthy foods, which can lead to an addiction.

What can you do about it?

Although a food addiction is a common problem, there’s no quick fix for it.

If left untreated, it may cause physical and mental health issues over time.

However, there are some things you can do to help overcome it, including: 

  • Keep the trigger foods out of your house
  • Get support from close friends and family members
  • Try a 12-step program to help you build a healthy relationship with food
  • Try following a structured meal plan or eating pattern
  • Seek help from a dietitian or licensed nutritionist
  • Speak to a psychologist or psychiatrist
Summary

A food addiction can be difficult to overcome, but not impossible. Try following some of the tips above.

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Blog written by Ryan Raman MHSC, RD
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