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Food Addiction: Causes, Symptoms, Signs & Treatment Help

What is Food Addiction?

Food is essential to human survival and is an important aspect of our wellness, in addition to a means of pleasure and enjoyment.  Food not only provides needed sustenance, it also adds a gratification factor through various tastes, smells, textures, etc.  However, for many individuals, food can become as addictive as drugs are to a substance abuser.  For men and women suffering with a food addiction, highly palatable foods (which are often rich in fat, sugar, and/or salt) trigger chemical reactions in the brain that induce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.  This reaction has been explained as comparable to an addicts response to their substance of choice, as it activates the same brain reward center.

Food addicts become dependent upon the “good” feelings that are obtained from consuming certain foods, which often perpetuates a continued need to eat, even when not hungry.  These behaviors generate a vicious cycle of  food addiction.  As the food addict continues to gorge upon foods that induce pleasurable feelings, they often overindulge and eat beyond what is required for satiety and normal nutrition.  This can lead to several physical, emotional, and social consequences, such as digestive issues, heart disease, obesity, low-self esteem, depression, and isolation.  A food addict will often re-engage in these destructive behaviors, even amidst undesired consequences, due to the need for induced feelings of pleasure.  Because of the ferocious cycle of food addiction and the detrimental consequences associated with this behavior, it is crucial that professional food addiction help is sought.  If you or a loved one has been struggling with an addiction to food, consider the possibilities of a life free of this burden.  You can find peace from a food addiction by seeking the appropriate care and help you need.

Causes of Food Addiction

Food addiction is likely the culmination of several factors that interplay in the overall cause of this disorder.  A man or woman may develop a food addiction as a result of biological, psychological, or social reasons.  Biological causes that may influence the progression of a food addiction might include hormonal imbalances, abnormalities in various brain structures, side effects from the use of certain medications, or having family members with food addiction issues.  A food addiction might also be the result of psychological factors.  Factors included in this category might include emotional or sexual abuse, being a victim or survivor of a traumatic event, having an inability to healthily cope with negative situations, chronic low-self esteem, or experiencing grief or loss.  Psychological factors such as these can influence an individual to use food as a coping mechanism to relieve the painful emotions that may have resulted.  Lastly, there are social implications that may be involved with food addiction, including factors such as disturbances in family function, pressure from peers or society, social isolation, child abuse, lack of social support, and stressful life events. Food addiction can also be associated with other co-occurring disorders, such as eating disorders or substance abuse.  Because food addiction is a complex mental health issue that can have serious complications if left untreated, it is highly recommended that professional help be sought to effectively heal from this disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Food addiction can be recognizable by numerous signs and symptoms.  The following are possible symptoms of food addiction:

  • Gorging in more food than one can physically tolerate
  • Eating to the point of feeling ill
  • Going out of your way to obtain certain foods
  • Continuing to eat certain foods even if no longer hungry
  • Eating in secret, isolation
  • Avoiding social interactions, relationships, or functions to spend time eating certain foods.
  • Difficulty function in a career or job due to decreased efficiency
  • Spending significant amount of money on buying certain foods for bingeing purposes
  • Decreased energy, chronic fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia or oversleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Digestive disorders
  • Suicidal ideations

If you or your loved one has been experiencing any of these above symptoms as a result of food addiction, seek out professional help immediately to work through these pertinent issues.

Food Addiction Effects

If you or your loved one had been struggling with a food addiction, you may understand the implications this may have on the various aspects of your life.   If a food addiction is left ignored or untreated, it can rapidly begin consuming your life, creating damaging and chronic symptoms.   Understanding how food addiction may affect the different aspects of your life may encourage you to get the help you need and deserve.  The following are some of the effects of food addiction:

Physical Effects – A food addiction can result in many negative physical consequences on the body as an excess of food is consumed.  These are some physical effects that may be experienced:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Digestive Problems
  • Malnutrition
  • Obesity
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Chronic pain
  • Sleep disorders
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Arthritis
  • Stroke
  • Kidney/Liver Disease
  • Osteoporosis

Psychological Effects – Food addiction can be debilitating to mental health, especially if there is lack of support or inadequate help.  Some of the psychological effects that may be experienced include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased feelings of anxiety
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or in despair
  • Increased irritability, especially if access to desired food is restricted
  • Emotional detachment or numbness
  • Suicidal ideation

Finally, food addiction can have an impact on your social life and relationships.  Social effects of food addiction include:

  • Decrease performance at work or school
  • Isolation from loved ones
  • Division within family units
  • Lack of enjoyment in hobbies or activities once enjoyed
  • Avoidance of social events or functions
  • Risk of jeopardizing finances or career

Food Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one has found yourself stuck within the vicious cycle of a food addiction, you have likely experienced a roller coaster of emotions, including despair, frustration, and hopelessness.  Living with a food addiction may be preventing you from enjoying a life you once lived, though the possibility for healing always exists.  By seeking the appropriate help and care you need, you can find the resources to address your food addiction in an effective manner.  Thankfully, there are specialized food addiction treatment centers that can help you approach this disorder in a holistic and comprehensive manner.  Food addiction treatment centers offer multi-specialty treatment that will focus on and address medical issues and nutritional concerns, while integrating psychotherapy.  There are also a myriad of support groups that you can become involved with, such as Food Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous.  These groups are 12 step based programs that effectively address food addiction on the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects, offering much needed support to individuals seeking to heal from their addiction to food.  Attempting to deal with your food addiction alone can possibly further draw you into fear or isolation.  Having guidance, help and support from an eating disorder center that treats food addiction, specialist, or support group can provide you or your loved one with the tools and resources you need to recover and heal from a food addiction.

  • Eating disorders are often co-morbid conditions, meaning they can commonly occur with other mental or behavioral conditions. For example, some individuals with eating disorders may also struggle with substance abuse, such as alcoholism or an addiction to drugs.
Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
January 31, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Information & Support for Eating Disorders
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

anandita June 30, 2014 at 3:58 am

AWESOME is the only word for this article . thank u!! it helped me loads and loads in my biology project

Velma Alford April 16, 2016 at 2:25 pm

Thank you for this GREAT GREAT GREAT article.
Clear, concise, and so right on.
That’s all of my experiences as a food addict.
I am so grateful to now be in recovery since 3/11/15.
Thank you God!

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