When food becomes more about emotional hunger than physical hunger, you could be at risk of developing a food addiction. A dysfunctional relationship with food can involve over-eating or starve. In either situation, food is a weapon turned on the self in ways that are unhealthy and sometimes life-threatening to an individual.
These aren’t the occasional situations like over-eating at a holiday buffet or joining in on the late night pizza party. That kind of over-eating is situational and you can get back to normal eating with minor effort.
Food addiction goes beyond those situations – it’s a craving that drives a person to eat well beyond what it takes to satisfy basic hunger cues. With food addiction, the real “hunger” is emotional, not physical.
Food Addiction Dynamics
The dynamics of food addiction are similar to that of alcohol addiction or smoking. Each of those addictions involves a craving for something that’s damaging to the body in excess.
You can go cold turkey to give up smoking or alcohol as part of changing behaviours, but you can’t give up food. Refusing to eat leads to another kind of eating disorder, so it’s no improvement.
Unlike alcohol or smoking, food isn’t what’s harmful – it’s the way food is used that causes the problem. Food addicts actually get little pleasure from eating. They aren’t pigs without discipline – they’re people who are locked in a negative relationship with food, often suffering guilt after a binge.
Food addicts often hide food and eat secretly so that friends and family won’t know how much they’re eating. They sometimes eat foods that are stale, overcooked, undercooked or half frozen.
Food Addiction vs Eating Habits
Food addiction is never just about eating habits. It’s as much a psychological issue as it is a physiological one. Not all food addicts are overweight, either! Many are underweight to normal weight.
If the food addiction becomes bulimia with binging and purging, then the individual may not gain weight because of induced vomiting or excessive use of laxatives.
Like a drug addict constantly on the lookout for a fix, the food addict is always thinking about food. This person will talk incessantly about food, finding a place for lunch, getting a snack at break time or stopping at a fast food drive through on the way home from work before dinner!
Food addicts need medical and psychological help to overcome this disorder. You need a complete physical to identify and treat any problems such as diabetes, food allergies or thyroid.
You also need counselling with a mental health professional who specializes in eating disorders. Changing the way you deal with food starts with filling the emotional void that’s driving your food addiction.