Over the years, food addiction has become generalized to encompass a wide group of eating behaviors. Overindulging during the holidays or having the occasional Saturday-night splurge is perfectly normal behavior. But food addiction is a real problem for adults, affecting an estimated half of all obese people and 20 percent of those who are at a healthy weight, according to the Food Addiction Institute.
Like any addiction, food addicts face serious consequences if the condition remains untreated. Hundreds of thousands of deaths each year are attributed to obesity, with the condition increasing the risk of such fatal conditions as heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
Yet food addiction can be difficult to distinguish. Here are a few details about food addiction to help you determine if it impacts you or someone you love.
What is Food Addiction?
Research has shown that in some people, certain food ingredients can have an addictive effect on the brain. Ingredients like sugar, fat, and salt satisfy certain pleasure centers in the brain, similar to the way cocaine and heroin interact with those pleasure centers.
Yale researchers have developed a series of questions to determine a person’s level of food addiction, called the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS). The scale, available here, has been used in a number of research studies to determine the degree to which various foods directly impact a person’s pleasure centers.
While scientists say more research should be done on the issue, some scientists believe certain substances release certain chemicals such as dopamine, which lead to a feeling of happiness in consumers. Those individuals then want to experience that feeling again, leading to repeated consumption of the foods that release those chemicals. This leads to an addiction that, while not as immediately dangerous as a substance addiction, can eventually lead to obesity and disrupt a person’s ability to lead a productive life.
Food Addiction vs. Substance Addiction
Because of the dangers of obesity, it’s important that those suffering from food addiction recognize the symptoms and seek treatment. The YFAS can help, as can visiting a counselor who can recognize the symptoms and recommend a course of treatment. In groups like Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, food addicts combine a twelve-step program with specialized diets in order to steer them away from the substances that are causing the addiction.
While the process of identifying, understanding, and learning to treat food addiction is still ongoing, there are steps individuals can take to recognize symptoms of a food addiction. By noticing those substances and deliberately avoiding them, these consumers may be able to begin to break the cycle of addiction that is preventing them from succeeding in their weight loss goals.