Center for Hope of the Sierras helps transform the lives of males and females struggling with food addiction. Located in the scenic foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Center for Hope is the premier provider of eating disorder treatment for children, adolescents and adults of all genders.
Learn more about food addiction treatment at Center for Hope of the Sierras in Nevada
Can a person really be addicted to food? The term food addiction does not appear as a unique diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition), but many experts and advocacy organizations support the understanding that yes, some people can and do become addicted to food.
In addition to providing nourishment to the body, food can also trigger certain parts of the brain that are associated with reward and pleasure. When a person consumes certain types of food, especially those that are rich in sugars, fats, and salts, the brain may respond by releasing a flood of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is the same response that occurs when a person abuses a drug such as heroin or cocaine.
Of course, addiction is more than a physical reaction. Just as many people begin to abuse alcohol or other drugs as a means of self-medicating psychological pain, or numbing themselves to unpleasant thoughts, memories, or emotions, so, too, do some people engage in the overconsumption of food.
When a person uses food in response to stress or pressure, when he or she feels compelled to eat more than his or her body needs, and when he or she is incapable of controlling the amount, frequency, and/or speed with which the eating occurs, then food addiction may be present.
Food addiction statistics
One expert, who is a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), estimates that as many as 70 million Americans exhibit behaviors that are consistent with food addiction. This expert’s research also indicates that as many as 50 percent of obese individuals, 30 percent of overweight individuals, and 20 percent of people whose body mass index is within the normal range are actually dealing with food addiction. In 2014, a study of more than 130,000 women indicated that about 6 percent met the generally accepted criteria for food addiction.
Signs and symptoms of food addiction
Because food addiction is not included in the DSM-5, differences exist among healthcare professionals regarding the exact symptoms that a person must exhibit in order to be diagnosed with food addiction. However, according to organizations such as Food Addicts Anonymous and Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, the following are common signs that may indicate the presence of food addiction.
- Eating alone or in secret
- Lying about the amount or frequency with which one eats
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide weight gain
- Hiding food throughout one’s house, automobile, or workplace
- Eating significantly more than one intended
- Overweight and obesity
- Excessive fatigue
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Obsession with food and eating
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal ideation
- Agitation and irritability
- Mood swings
- Periods of emotional detachment
- Feelings of shame or disgust after eating
Effects of food addiction
Untreated food addiction can lead to significant physical, mental, and emotional damage, including the following:
- Elevated cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Digestive problems
- Sexual dysfunction
- Family discord
- Diminished interpersonal relationships
- Social withdrawal and self-isolation
- Suicidal ideation
Why consider treatment for food addiction at Center for Hope of the Sierras in Nevada
Being unable to control one’s eating behaviors, needing to overeat as a means of dealing with stress, or becoming obsessed with thoughts of food and eating can have a significantly negative impact on a person’s physical health, emotional stability, and social wellbeing. As indicated earlier on this page, the impact of untreated food addiction or compulsive eating can literally be lethal. Yet prior to this worst-case outcome, individuals who are addicted to food and who do not get the professional help they need are at risk for experiencing a significantly diminished quality of life.
The impact of obesity and being overweight can be physically debilitating, while the shame, frustration, and self-hatred that is associated with food addiction can have a similarly devastating impact on a person’s state of mind. People who do not get help to overcome their compulsive eating behaviors are likely to withdraw from friends and family, avoid social or recreational pursuits that they once enjoyed, and otherwise experience a sense of isolation and ostracization. When a person’s primary means of dealing with the pain of these negative experiences is to engage in overeating, he or she will quickly be caught up in what may feel like an inescapable downward spiral.
When a person who finds him or herself in this state is given the opportunity to work with experienced and compassionate professionals, the despair of food addiction can be transformed into the promise of a much healthier and more hopeful future. Comprehensive residential treatment can provide afflicted individuals with the medical, psychological, and therapeutic support that they need to regain their physical health and make the lifestyle changes that will allow them to reassert control over their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.