Food addiction

We all love to indulge in our favourite food but what happens when our cravings become uncontrollable? Food addiction is a serious eating disorder which affects an ever-growing number of people in the UK and across the world. While other eating disorders often get more attention, food addiction is actually far more prevalent than Bulimia and Anorexia combined with around 2% of people suffering from the condition. Food addiction can seem like a daunting thing to tackle, but it is possible to overcome this debilitating condition with the right help and support.

Food addiction - cuffed to donut

What is food addiction?

Food addiction is a form of behavioural addiction which manifests as a compulsive desire to eat despite negative consequences. People with food addiction experience a strong need or craving for certain foods, often unhealthy ones such as sugary snacks and fatty takeaways. They may also have a tendency to over-consume large quantities of food in one go even when they don’t feel hungry.

It is important to understand that food addiction is not the same as just overeating or having an unhealthy diet. It is a clinical disorder that can have serious implications for physical, mental and emotional health and requires professional help to overcome.

One thing that makes food addiction so difficult to treat is that, unlike a drug or alcohol addiction, you cannot stop eating. Instead, it is necessary to build a healthier relationship with food and break the patterns of compulsive overeating.

What causes food addiction?

The causes of food addiction are complex, but a combination of biological and psychological factors can be involved. It is believed that people with food addiction may have an altered reward system in the brain which means they experience pleasure from eating certain foods, especially those which are high in sugar and fat. This can lead to pleasure-seeking behaviour in an attempt to replicate the feeling of reward, creating a cycle of addiction.

Other factors such as stress, a history of trauma and underlying mental health conditions can also play a role in food addiction as people use comfort eating as a way to escape their problems or cope with negative emotions. However, while the dopamine hit that results from eating can provide short-term relief, it is only a temporary solution and often makes the symptoms of these underlying issues worse.

The negative impacts of food addiction

Food addiction can affect every part of your life including your physical and mental health, your relationships with loved ones and your ability to function at work or in school.

The physical health effects of food addiction include:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke

Mental health effects:

  • Low self-esteem and feelings of shame or guilt
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Social isolation
  • Exacerbation or development of mental health conditions
  • Body image issues
  • Suicidal thoughts

Food addiction - woman with depression

Socio-economic effects:

  • Financial issues due to excessive spending on food
  • Inability to maintain employment or attend school due to lack of concentration and focus
  • Social issues due to poor body image, low self-esteem and negative outlook
  • Strain on relationships with family and friends

All of these issues are why it is so important to seek help for food addiction as soon as possible. This will reduce the risk of further problems and help you to get your life back on track.

Do I have a food addiction?

Recognising the signs and symptoms of food addiction early on is vital as the earlier you begin treatment, the better the likely outcome will be. This is not always straightforward, however, as, like all forms of addiction, food addiction can be very deceptive and convince you and your loved ones that nothing is wrong.

To help determine if you have a food addiction, ask yourself the following questions which can point to common telltale signs:

  • Do I eat large amounts of food even when I’m not hungry?
  • Am I preoccupied with thoughts about food?
  • Do I experience cravings for certain types of food (e.g. sugary, fatty or processed foods)?
  • Do I often feel guilty or ashamed about my eating habits?
  • Have I lost control over my urge to eat?
  • Do I use food as a way to cope with stress, anxiety or depression?
  • Do I lie to my family or friends about the amount of food I eat?
  • Do I eat in secret or hide food around the house?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, it could be a sign that you need help for food addiction.

Common myths about food addiction

Food addiction is a relatively new concept for many people and so it is often underestimated or misunderstood. To help shed light on this debilitating condition, here are some common myths about food addiction and the truth behind the misconceptions:

Myth: You can’t be addicted to food, only substances like drugs and alcohol

Fact: Food addiction is a real condition that affects people in the same way as substance abuse. It is a type of behavioural addiction and is recognised by various bodies including the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the World Health Organisation.

Myth: You can quit food addiction on your own

Fact: Food addiction is not just about having the ‘willpower’ to resist indulgent foods. It is a complex psychological disorder and requires professional help to get to the root of the problem and develop strategies for managing it long-term.

Myth: Food addiction only affects obese people

Fact: Food addiction can affect anyone regardless of size or weight. Although food addiction often leads to obesity, some people who are addicted to food may actually be underweight due to their disordered eating habits.

What does treatment for food addiction involve?

Due to its complex nature, food addiction requires a multifaceted approach to recovery. This is best done at an inpatient food addiction rehab centre where you can receive round-the-clock care and support from experienced addiction and nutrition professionals.

Our sister centre, Banbury Lodge, is one of the UK’s leading food addiction rehab centres, offering residential treatment programmes that help address the physical, psychological and nutritional aspects of food addiction. It is also the only food addiction rehab centre in the UK to provide treatment for under eighteens.

Food addiction rehab at Banbury Lodge

Banbury Lodge’s food rehab programmes comprise a range of evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and mindfulness, which focus on understanding and ultimately changing the behaviours behind an individual’s food addiction. You will also participate in individual and group therapy sessions where you can share your experiences with other clients and gain support from a qualified therapist.

In addition to this, nutrition assessments are undertaken with a dietitian who will determine your dietary needs and provide ongoing education about healthy eating. While you are in rehab, a private chef will also prepare your meals according to your individual needs so that you can learn how to eat in a healthy and balanced way.

Aftercare is also essential for long-term recovery from food addiction, as it helps to ensure that you have the necessary support to maintain your progress once you leave food addiction rehab. At Banbury Lodge, this involves weekly group therapy sessions which can be accessed for up to 12 months after you complete treatment.

Food addiction relapse prevention

Relapse is an ever-present risk for anyone who suffers from food addiction because food is necessary to live so temptations are always there. While one tiny relapse does not mean failure, if you are aware of the triggers for your food cravings and have effective strategies in place to manage them, it can be easier to get back on track after a minor slip up.

Here are some useful tips that can help you prevent relapse and achieve long-term recovery from food addiction:

  • Monitor food triggers: Keep a diary of foods that trigger cravings, avoiding them whenever possible.
  • Find healthier coping strategies: Identify and practice healthier ways to cope with stress and negative emotions rather than using food as a way of numbing out.
  • Learn self-care practices: Practice activities such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness which can help reduce cravings and improve your overall well-being.
  • Talk to someone: It’s important to have a support network of people you can talk to about your feelings, worries and successes. Joining our Alumni Network and staying in touch with the other people you meet at food rehab can be a great way to feel connected and supported.
  • Stay active: Exercise can help boost endorphins and release stress, which can reduce cravings.

The next steps

If you or someone you know is suffering from food addiction, get in touch with us today. Our experienced team of addiction and healthcare professionals are dedicated to providing a supportive environment and the highest quality care which will give you the best possible chance of recovery from food addiction.