In the case of a food addiction, the brain’s reward center chemically reacts to certain foods or to the volume of foods, in the same manner as it would to addictive drugs such as cocaine or heroin/opioids. This is exactly why food is a surprising source of addiction. How is it that favorite snacks or treats can be put in the same dangerous category as illicit drugs? The key to understanding the simple pleasure of delighting in a favorite meal versus a food addiction lies in one word: intensity.
Food Addiction is in the Brain, Not the Stomach
“Feel-good” chemicals such as dopamine are released by a vulnerable brain by highly palatable foods. Once people experience the intense pleasure associated with increased dopamine transmission in the brain’s reward pathways from specific foods, they will quickly feel the need to eat them again. Highly palatable foods are foods very high in sugar, fat, and salt. They are typically processed foods.
Like all addictions, a food addiction will have eventual negative medical effects (commonly manifesting in excessive weight gain, obesity, and Type-2 Diabetes) as months turn into years. More immediately, a food addiction will begin to interfere with a person’s life priorities, including productivity at work. Increasingly, food addiction is often addressed in executive recovery coaching sessions. What are some signs to look for when contemplating this topic?
What Are Common Behaviors Associated With Food Addiction?
- intense cravings for certain foods, despite feeling full and having just finished a healthy meal
- beginning to eat a craved food and often eating much more than originally intended
- eating a craved food to the point of feeling excessively full (discomfort)
- experiencing guilt after eating a particular food (s) and then eating them again soon after
- reasoning with oneself as to why responding to a craving is a good idea
- unsuccessfully trying to quit certain foods despite numerous attempts
- often hiding food consumption
- feeling unable to control the consumption of unhealthy foods
Four or five items may indicate an issue with a particular food (s). If six or more of these statements apply, a food addiction is likely.
Professionals That Help with Food Addiction
As with any addiction, underlying issues and sometimes unresolved traumas are at the source of the problem. Oftentimes, a medical health expert will determine this aspect of the issue. A Recovery Coach can assist a person in recovery by providing non-judgemental support, accountability assistance, and expertise on mapping healthier habits and tools to use to successfully continue on the lifelong path of recovery.