It may be difficult to understand how some people cannot seem to control how much food they consume. Still, this is a very real problem affecting more people than many of us realise. Whether we call it food addiction or an addiction to eating, uncontrollable compulsions to eat can be every bit as strong as other compulsions to gamble, take drugs, or drink.
There has been some debate over the years whether the term ‘food addiction’ is appropriate in that there is no scientific evidence to verify that people become addicted to certain compounds or chemicals in food. For this reason, the NHS has suggested the term ‘eating addiction’ instead. As the thinking goes, people battling the compulsions are addicted to the act of eating and the pleasure it provides, not the food itself.
You may be concerned about your eating habits to the point of wondering whether you are addicted to eating or not. The first step in finding answers is to contact us on our 24-hour helpline. Addiction Helper can provide you with a free assessment and, if necessary, refer you to a rehab clinic or outpatient programme that can help you get your eating under control.
Binge Eating Disorder
There are two particular conditions therapists look at when helping someone struggling with food. The first is known as binge eating disorder. This is a clinically diagnosed disorder characterised by regular incidents of eating too much food in a short amount of time. People who suffer from this disorder describe being in a mindless state during binging episodes. They also describe feelings of being completely out of control once eating commences.
The challenge with binge eating disorder is to correctly define binging. Whereas there are clear-cut standards for binge drinking, no such standards exist for eating. What may be considered binging for one person could represent a hearty appetite for another.
Compulsive eating is the other condition therapists look at. It is not a clinically defined disorder in the same sense that binge eating disorder is; rather, it is a condition in which the sufferer describes compulsively eating for no particular reason. Where the binge eater will consume large amounts of food at one sitting in a very short amount of time, the compulsive eater is more likely just to eat continuously throughout the day.
Someone who feels compelled to eat may also describe feelings of being out of control. They tend to fear putting on additional weight, and most compulsive eaters have difficulty controlling their weight. They also have a tough time mastering cravings for certain kinds of food.
Signs and Symptoms of Eating Addiction
The line between binge eating disorder and compulsive eating is often a blurred one. For this reason, there is some disagreement over whether the two condition should be viewed separately. A number of studies over the years have suggested that both conditions are just different manifestations of the same problem.
Those signs and symptoms of both conditions are very similar, as follows:
- Eating when not physically hungry
- Eating more quickly than normal
- Continuing to eat past the point of fullness
- Eating alone or in secret
- Experiencing guilt after overeating
- Feelings of being controlled by cravings
- The inability to stop eating at a moment’s notice
- Trying to compensate for overeating through food restriction, dieting or purging.
For the record, eating addiction works the same way as any other addiction in its mechanics. The act of eating triggers the pleasure centres of the brain to produce feelings of pleasure and, in some cases, euphoria. The sufferer enjoys those feelings of pleasure intensely and is, therefore, motivated to eat again in order to feel good again. The more times the cycle is repeated, the more the brain becomes dependent on the act of eating to derive pleasure.
Science has not yet determined what causes some people to derive so much pleasure from eating, but we do know compulsive eating is a real problem requiring professional treatment.
Treatment for Food Addiction
Food addicts don’t enjoy being under the control of their compulsions any more than gambling addicts enjoy being controlled by their desire to gamble. Anyone who feels he or she cannot master eating habits should consider the possibility of an eating addiction. The good news is that treatment has proven highly effective in helping people master their compulsions and go on to live full and productive lives while remaining in control of how much they eat.
Therapists have an advantage in treating food addiction in that there are no chemical substances to deal with as there are with alcoholism and drug addiction. Therefore, no detox is necessary. Therapists treat patients by first working to establish proper nutritional balance. Once that has been established, treatment moves to the therapy stage.
Therapies for food addiction can involve one-on-one counselling, support group participation, nutrition and diet instruction, and more. Therapists have an extensive list of options they can utilise for helping each client on an individual basis.
Be aware that the counselling therapies employed in treatment involve a lot of talking. The idea is for therapists and their patients to work together to try to determine the cause of eating compulsions. If those causes can be identified, the patient can be taught strategies that will help avoid them in the future. At the same time, counselling seeks to rebuild self-esteem, put food in its proper perspective, and give patients hope and purpose beyond the act of eating.
Addiction Helper has assisted countless numbers of people dealing with food addiction. We work with private clinics, outpatient programmes, counsellors and other service providers across the UK to provide the treatment that food addicts need. There is no need for you to continue living in the shame and guilt you now feel because you eat compulsively. Contact us right away. Let’s get started getting you on the road to wellness.