Cravings, overeating, shame? You may have a food addiction


Photo: ImagesBazaar

Photo: ImagesBazaar

Food addiction is actually a serious behavioral disorder that is just starting to get recognized. It involves the uncontrollable craving for junk food high in fat, sugar and refined flour. Because these foods give a temporary feeling of satisfaction and happiness, eating them too often can a dependency that leads you to reach for unhealthy snacks even when you aren’t hungry.

Food addiction has even been likened to drug addiction. It is said to affect the same areas in the brain, trigger the release of similar neurotransmitters and produces identical symptoms like in the case of a drug addict.

Left unchecked, the addiction can grow over time, since it takes more and more junk food to get the same amount of pleasure. As the addiction grows, the addict’s mental and physical health deteriorates.

Some signs of the addiction include craving certain foods and eating them even after having a full meal, overeating the food you were craving, eating certain foods in secret due to embarrassment, feeling guilty about eating certain foods and yet eating those items again, even if you know that they are not good for your health. If many of these describe you, you may have an unhealthy relationship with food, and may even be addicted.

The first step in treating food addiction is to recognize the condition and want to stop. Like with smoking, alcohol or drug addiction, if there is no deep desire to want to stop, then it will be very difficult to actually do so. After all, indulging in the addiction brings short-term pleasure, and the treatment involves denying that pleasure, which requires serious effort. Each person has to make the decision for themselves.

Treatment/Recovery

Like with addictions to other substances, a food addict will never be cured of his or her addiction. However, recovery and long-term behavioral change is possible. Whether a person can treat food addiction on their own or they need help from others depends on how advanced their addiction is.

In early stages, one way to help break the vicious cycle is to make a list of the unhealthy foods you crave and overeat, and try to avoid them completely so as not to be tempted to binge. Some people think that they can control their consumption through willpower. If you are able to limit your consumption of the problem foods to a reasonable amount and only once a week, and you are happy with yourself and your health, then there isn’t a strong argument that you should stop. However, if you find yourself making multiple exceptions during the week, and justifying why you should break your rule, then you need to stop completely.

If you are not able to kick the habit on your own, you may be in the middle or late stages of food addiction. It is then time to get help from others, whether is is a friend, a spiritual guide, a family member, a support group or a mental health professional. There are 12-step programs for food addiction. When seeking a mental health professional such as a psychologist or counselor, look for someone who has experience dealing with addiction.

Completely giving up something that brings pleasure is difficult, and it may seem like a big sacrifice. However, many people who have diabetes or heart problems have to do so eventually. Curbing food addiction now may prevent future health problems.

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