When it comes to the word "addiction," a few substances tend to come to mind, typically drugs and alcohol. The word "food?" Decidedly less so. But believe it or not, food addiction is quite common.
What is a food addiction?
According to the Food Addiction Institute, "food addiction is a chronic and progressive disease characterized by our seeking the foods or food behaviors we are addicted to, eating/doing them compulsively and having a great deal of difficulty controlling these urges despite harmful consequences."
Researchers at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Science & Policy have developed qualification questions to help identify those with food addictions. Do these apply to you?
- End up eating more than planned when you start eating certain foods
- Keep eating certain foods even if you're no longer hungry
- Eat to the point of feeling ill
- Worry about not eating certain types of foods or worry about cutting down on certain types of foods
- When certain foods aren't available, go out of your way to obtain them
Food Addiction Treatment Options
If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, you may consider looking into food addiction treatment options.
"When it comes to food addictions, you need to define where the trigger of the addiction is coming from," says Sharon Zarabi, Director Bariatric Program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "People who consider themselves food addicts are eating to fill a void in their life, which could be loneliness, boredom, lack of purpose...and they cope with food."
Fortunately, like other addictions, there are treatment options for people who want to take control of their eating habits.
Similar to any substance abuse program, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, food addiction 12-step programs work through group meetings with others who struggle with food addiction. A sponsor is provided to help each person develop healthy eating habits.
Most 12-step programs are free, with meetings all over the world. Some include Overeaters Anonymous, Greysheeters Anonymous, Food Addicts Anonymous, and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Another option to explore is cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a psychological approach that has been shown to be effective in treating eating disorders, like binge eating disorder and bulimia.
Most 12-step programs are free, but there are programs that patients can pay for that are effective for food addictions.