Food addiction

November 12, 2012

Food addiction

Food addiction is a term used to describe a condition whereby people turn to food for comfort and in order to cope emotionally.


Food addiction can be hard to recognize and diagnose. Unlike other addictions eating food a number of times throughout the day is a normal and essential part of life. In some ways everyone is addicted to food because we need it for survival. Everyone has experienced the unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling of being hungry, and the longer you go without food the more eating becomes the most important thing you need to do. Symptoms of hunger become both emotional and physical as you start to crave food. This is the feelings and behavior experienced by all addicts.

Understanding and recognizing food addiction

There are however some differences in the behavior of those suffering from a food addiction in relation to those who simply enjoy eating. Most importantly food addiction is what’s known as maladaptive. This means that rather than feel better as they intended from binge eating, the individual actually end up feeling worse than they did before. Additionally food addiction can lead to further health problems including obesity and malnutrition. Another way of recognizing the condition is through the fact that food addicts over eat on a regular basis. Whilst we all over indulge from time to time, someone with a food addiction will usually over eat on a daily basis. They are not doing so because they are hungry but are using food as away to deal with stress and to make them feel comforted. It is often the case that if they are unable to eat, they will begin to suffer from anxiety.

Controversy behind food addiction

Food addiction is a behavioral addiction, which means the addiction isn’t to a substance that causes a physical tolerance and withdrawal but is to the action of eating. Therefore there is some controversy as to whether food addiction should count as a true addiction. Others argue that the sugar and fat that make up much of the food that those with a food addiction consume count as such a substance. Additionally, eating food causes opiates to be produced in the body and therefore a physical reaction does occur. There are other similarities between food addiction and other addictions. For example the external cues that trigger the addictive behavior, the effects the behavior has on the mood of the individual as well as expectancies, restraint and attribution. Studies have also shown that the brain’s reward system reacts in the same way to sugar as it does to other addictive substances. In animal studies, dopamine activity has been influenced by the consumption of sugar.


Rates of obesity have been rising over the past 20 years and continue to do so. In the US almost 1 in 5 adults are obese and in 2008 obesity was ranked the highest health concern for children. Therefore proving to be a greater concern than drug abuse and smoking.


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