Why Is Food So Addictive?

What you need to know about Food Addiction

food addiction therapy in Santa Barbara

As a food addiction specialist, I often provide therapy to patients who are dealing with eating disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia, Orthorexia, Bigorexia, and Binge Eating Disorder. These are serious conditions which wreak havoc for patients by affecting their health and relationships, their sense of self and well being, and they diminish their ability to participate fully in daily activities.

After a general medical condition has been ruled out, I work with patients in therapy to determine the underlying psychological and emotional causes for their condition.  I want patients to understand that they are not alone in dealing with their eating disorder.

In addition to the underlying factors contributing to one’s eating disorder, they also serve as powerful coping mechanisms. We associate food with memories, use it to make ourselves feel happy when we are sad, rely on it as a way of showing love for our families, and sometimes even punish ourselves with it. My goal is to help patients understand why they interact with food the way they do, so that we can work together to build a life that doesn’t revolve around food.

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Understanding Food Addiction

The first step is to understand why food is so addictive in the first place. According to WebMD experiments have shown that the same pleasure and reward centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine are also activated by food.

Highly palatable foods that are rich in sugar, fat, and salt trigger the release of brain chemicals, like dopamine, that just make you feel good. For some individuals, the neurochemical structure of their brains may predispose them to either being more sensitive to the chemicals released when eating highly palatable foods or less responsive, meaning it takes eating more of the food to elicit the same pleasure response.    Over time, this can override normal feelings of satisfaction, induce cravings, and compel you to eat, even if you’re not hungry. Tolerances can build up, where you find that eating more and more food becomes less and less fulfilling.

People of all backgrounds, races, body types, and ages may struggle with foodaddiction. Metabolism and levels of physical activity can figure into the equation as well. If an emotional condition such as depression or anxiety is present, simple enjoyment can quickly turn into an addiction. Once food addiction occurs, eating becomes the primary source of pleasure and reward.

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Signs of Food Addiction

It may be difficult to admit to yourself that you have a food addiction, and it can also be hard to spot in others because there is a significant amount of shame and secrecy around food addiction. Here are some questions that might help you or a loved one face the reality of a food addiction:

  • Does it often feel like you are eating more than you planned, especially when it comes to certain foods?
  • Do you feel the need to continue eating those foods, even though you are not hungry any longer?
  • How often do you eat so much that you become ill?
  • If a certain type of food is not available, what actions do you take?
  • Is eating interfering with your ability to work or interact with others?
  • Are you embarrassed by how much you eat around others?
  • Do you eat in secrecy?
  • If you try to cut down, do you experience anxiety, agitation, or any other physical symptoms?
  • Have your eating habits caused you to experience depression, self-hatred, or guilt?
  • Does it feel like to need to eat more and more just to feel any pleasure at all?

Food addictions are different in everyone. These questions don’t necessarily indicate that you have or don’t have an addiction, but they can be helpful guidelines. If you think there is cause for concern it is always best to check with a medical doctor and a mental health professional to confirm your suspicions.

Getting Help for a Food Addiction

Once a person becomes addicted to food, it is difficult to stop, despite any rational thinking or negative consequences that occur. It may require medical care, treatment for depression, nutritional counseling and physical training combined. Here are a few organizations which can provide further insights into the causes, symptoms, and treatments for food addictions:

  1. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD): This non-profit organization has been dedicated to the prevention and alleviation of eating disorders since 1976. ANAD advocates for the development of healthy attitudes, bodies, and behaviors. The organization also promotes eating disorder awareness, prevention and recovery through supporting, educating, and connecting individuals, families and professionals.
  2. National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA): NEDA was formed in 2001 through the merger of two groups – Eating Disorders Awareness & Prevention (EDAP) and the American Anorexia Bulimia Association (AABA). NEDA believes we can confront eating disorders with increased awareness, early intervention and improved access to treatment. The non-profit provides programs and services to give families the support they need to find answers for these life-threatening illnesses.
  3. The Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders: This website has been raising awareness and providing support to people with eating disorders and their loved ones since 1995.  They are determined to remind every sufferer that they are not alone, and that complete recovery is possible.

If you or a loved one is affected by a food addiction or an eating disorder, contact my office immediately to set up a session, and let me help you find a path to a better life.

Dr. Adina McGarr-Knabke
The Santa Barbara Therapist
 

About MySantaBarbaraTherapy.com: Known as The Santa Barbara TherapistDr. Adina McGarr-Knabke works with clients who have eating disorders, providestherapy for anxiety, and offers depression counseling as well as alcoholism and addiction treatment services. Her office is located at 1187 Coast Village Rd., Suite 10P in Santa Barbara. Visit the website at http://mysantabarbaratherapy.com to download a complimentary PDF, the “Top 10 Ways to Cope With Depression and Anxiety.” “Like” the Facebook page to receive updates, tips, and information on sustaining good mental health. Appointments may be made online or by calling 818-518-6775.

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