Understanding Food Addiction


The human body needs food to function, but food addiction can become a problem. Food addiction happens when a person becomes dependent on certain types of foods. Foods that contribute to food addiction are usually unhealthy, such as chips, sweets or white bread.

Food addiction happens when the need to eat becomes compulsive or uncontrollable. This compulsive behaviour may be in response to an emotion, such as stress, sadness, or anger.

We all overeat from time to time, but people with food addiction often overeat every day, and they eat, not because they are hungry, but because they are trying to cope with stress. Eating junk food causes a release of dopamine in the brain and this reward encourages susceptible individuals to eat more unhealthy foods.


Symptoms of food addiction can be physical, emotional, and social. The symptoms include:

  • having obsessive food cravings
  • being preoccupied with obtaining and consuming food
  • continued binging or compulsive eating
  • continued attempts to stop overeating, followed by relapses
  • loss of control over how much, how often, and where eating occurs
  • negative impact on family life, socializing, and finances
  • the need to eat food for emotional release
  • eating alone to avoid attention
  • eating to the point of physical discomfort or pain
  • feelings of shame
  • feelings of guilt
  • discomfort
  • reduced self-worth



Food addiction can also trigger physical responses, including:

  • intensive food restriction
  • compulsive exercise
  • self-induced vomiting

The road to recovery, as with any addiction, can be very challenging. However, it is possible to break the pattern and learn how to develop a healthier relationship with food.

Treatment for food addiction needs to address the emotional, physical, and psychological needs of the individual. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to addiction. There is no supplement, mental trick or magical remedy out there. The path begins with treating yourself with compassion and learning to think of eating primarily as a way of nourishing your body. Emotional detox can also be needed.

For long-term success, those who have an addiction will need to work through the emotional issues and mental health problems that initially led them to the addiction or kept them there. This can include traumatic memories, painful emotions and difficult situations; all of which can be addressed with the right support. There are also several lifestyle changes that may help a person manage a food addiction, including:

  • replacing processed foods and sweeteners with nourishing alternatives
  • avoiding caffeine
  • allowing time for a food craving to subside, which can take around 2-5 days or longer
  • eating three balanced meals a day
  • drinking plenty of water
  • sitting at a table while eating, focusing on the food, and chewing slowly
  • preparing and sticking to a grocery list of healthy foods when shopping
  • cooking meals at home
  • exercising regularly
  • getting enough sleep
  • reducing workplace and social stress


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