Managing Co-Occurring Food Addiction and Anxiety

Child struggling with ARFID

Addiction can take many forms. Most commonly, we hear of addiction to alcohol and various substances, including illicit drugs, pharmaceuticals, and more. Many individuals may assume that food is not something that one can become addicted to; however, there are many characteristics and behaviors that are indicative of a food addiction.

According to the Food Addiction Institute, a food addiction is a disease defined by a loss of control over the ability to stop eating certain foods [1]. Further research has demonstrated the biochemical nature of a food addiction, where an individual becomes addicted to the chemical reactions triggered by eating foods that are highly palatable, including foods rich in salt, sugar, and fat [1].

Understanding a Food Addiction

The diagnostic criteria for a food addiction is still being studied and determined, including whether this disease falls under the spectrum of eating disorders or substance abuse.

While there are many similarities between a food addiction and binge eating disorder, many clinicians argue the importance of approaching a true food addiction with both the traditional treatment for eating disorders, including therapy, medication, mindfulness training, etc., and addictive-model treatments, such as 12-step groups, psychoeducation about chemical dependency, and more [2]. One commonality of food addiction with both eating disorders and substance abuse is the presence of other mood disorders that can develop, including anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders, including social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and more, have been linked to all types of addictive behaviors. When it comes to food addiction, there are many situations that may trigger a person to eat beyond a point of comfort or turn to food as a means of coping. A person who struggles with a food addiction and underlying anxiety disorder may inadvertently engage in maladaptive eating habits as a way to manage their stress.

Because of the strong correlation between food addiction and anxiety, it is highly recommended that a person with a food addiction be screened for anxiety disorders.

Seeking Out Appropriate Treatment

Support group holding handsThe good news is that once any potentially co-occurring anxiety disorders are identified, effective treatments can be utilized to address the anxiety and help a person gain control over their food addiction. Once a person begins to effectively manage underlying anxiety issues, they may find that food addiction behaviors are lessened.

Comprehensive treatment approaches for co-occurring anxiety and food addiction include the combination of psychotherapy techniques, medication management, support groups, and learning how to develop healthier coping mechanisms in place of food addiction behaviors. Work with your treatment team and food addiction specialist to identify an individualized treatment plan for your care and recovery.


Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Director of Content and Social Media for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: Food Addiction Institute, “What is a Food Addiction?”, Accessed 9 May 2017.
[2]: Food Addiction Institute, “DSM-5 Acknowledges Food Addiction”, Accessed 9 May 2017.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 17, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 17, 2017.
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