Eating disorders v/s food addiction

Food addiction is, the desire to eat which can become a mental and physical burden, and after a while, it’s not done for taste but just because the mind craves it. Whereas, an eating disorder can be defined as a psychological problem that causes unhealthy eating habits to develop.

There are broadly 2 types of addictions- behavioral like internet addiction, gambling, etc, and substance-related like tobacco, alcohol, etc. Food addiction is conceptualized more as a substance addiction where chemical properties of some foods which have high-density sugar or fat or both create the reward that leads to addiction. Food addiction is similar to other addictions in the sense that it’s difficult for some people to control themselves around food.

Food addiction affects the same areas of the brain as any drug addiction does, as the neurotransmitters involved are the same. The most problematic foods are mostly junk food or food that has high sugar, but sometimes people can crave just about anything, they just need to fulfill the desire to eat.

No tests can diagnose food addiction; it is dependent on behavioral symptoms like:

  1. Getting cravings despite feeling full
  2. Eating much more than needed
  3. Eating till feels excessively stuffed
  4. Feeling guilty afterward, but doing it again soon
  5. Hiding eating behavior from others
  6. Unable to quit despite physical problems

Some of the myths related to a food addiction are:

  1. There is also a significant difference between emotional hunger and food addiction; thethe difference can be told by asking if the treatment for emotional eating has worked. If the treatment doesn’t work then there is a good chance the person is a food addict.
  2. Only obese people are food addicts: this may not be true as food addicts can also have normal BMI or thin waist.

Food addiction treatment requires realizable goals i.e. gradual reduction of addictive foods, replacement with filling healthy foods, adequate water intake, and taking medical or psychological help where required.

Another important thing to realize is that food addiction has a hallmark of relapsing to the old addictive patterns of food intake even after a period of healthy food habits. Thus, one needs to be on the guard to protect oneself from the craving and desire to take such high energy and salt foods.

In addition, the overthinking related to food needs to be replaced with healthy and balanced thinking (just like in CBT) and food cravings need to be managed like a wave that would pass away if you somehow let it go without drowning in it i.e. ordering more food. Comfort foods should be avoided as a tool to manage negative emotions.