Food Addiction: Symptoms, Causes, Complications, Effects and Treatment

Food addiction


There are some people who struggle with weight loss and eating healthy even with the efforts they make. Despite their willingness to shift to a healthier lifestyle, they find themselves eating unhealthily and uncontrollably. These all boil down to one condition – food addiction.

What Is Food Addiction?

In recent years, food addiction has gained the focus of the medical community. Just like drugs and alcohol, a person can become addicted to food. Food addicts suffer from a compulsive need to eat, even when they’re not feeling hungry.

Food addiction is a serious problem and manifests itself when the person has an uncontrollable craving for excess food, even when he had just consumed refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and flour substances. These substances are quickly digested and metabolized into sugar in the blood.

Because of the overpowering craving for food, this condition may lead to serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, increased blood cholesterol levels and hypertension, which is a risk factor for stroke.

For individuals who suffer from this condition, highly palatable foods, which are high in sugar, salt and fat, trigger a chemical reaction in the brain. This reaction produces feelings of satisfaction and pleasure. It’s comparable to an addict’s response to the substance he is addicted to. Food stimulates the same reward center that becomes activated in people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

As a result, a food addict relies on the satisfying and good feelings gained from consuming certain foods. This leads to the need to eat, even when not hungry. In the long run, the reaction becomes a vicious cycle and it’s dangerous for the health.

2Signs and Symptoms

Everyone needs to eat since it’s a physical need. Hence, addiction isn’t always easy to identify. The spectrum of signs and symptoms are also correlated with other conditions such as binge eating and depression.

However, there are some signs and symptoms that help distinguish food addiction from other eating disorders and mental health problems.

  • Overeating during mealtime
  • Constant Snacking
  • Continuous obsession with the eating schedule, what to eat, how much to eat and how to get more food
  • End up eating more than planned
  • Keeps eating even if no longer hungry
  • Eat to the point of feeling ill
  • Makes way to eat, even if the food isn’t available
  • Midnight snacking
  • Hiding eating habits from family and friends
  • Keeping food inside the room to hide from other people
  • Binge eating then purging, taking laxative pills and exercising
  • Eating while doing pleasurable activities like watching a movie, etc.
  • Consistently failed attempts to control eating
  • Feels guilty when eating certain foods yet finds himself unable to control cravings

If you have more than six of these signs and symptoms, you’re probably a food addict. Many food addicts are obese, and they have tried several methods to control their weight such as undergoing surgery, weight loss drugs, and diets. However, nothing has produced a permanent solution to the condition.


Food addiction is multifaceted, but just like drugs and alcohol, food can trigger dopamine release in the brain. This chemical neurotransmitter is responsible for feelings of pleasure. As a result, it produces a definite link between a person’s well-being and food.

According to a study by the Food Addiction Institute, some adults who were binge eating on dense carbohydrates had the same D2 dopamine gene marker that is found in people who suffered from alcoholism and other drug addictions.

In another study, it shows that the overconsumption of fats has been linked to brain systems that can stimulate the intake of fat. Moreover, brain imaging research shows that tasty food induced some changes in the dopamine receptors in the brain, same as alcohol and addictive drugs.


Food addiction may lead to severe complications such as getting ill with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, and obesity. Other complications of food addiction include the development of eating disorders, purging behaviors like vomiting or using laxatives, an uncontrollable increase in weight, depression and reduced self-esteem.


The consequences a food addiction may have on the various aspects of life can be overwhelming. In fact, it may take a toll on one’s physical, psychological and social well-being. The condition, if left untreated, can quickly lead to various complications.

Physical Effects

Since overeating may eventually lead to obesity, it may have severe and adverse effects on the body. There are two health effects that a person may experience – short-term and long-term physical complications.

Short-term Physical Effects

Anyone who has binged on food will feel uncomfortable and may have the following effects:

Long-term Physical Effects

Food addiction and the consumption of too much unhealthy food may lead to severe physical complications. Some are debilitating and life-threatening.

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Lipid profile abnormalities like increased blood cholesterol levels
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cancer
  • Reproductive Problems
  • Gallstones
  • Digestive problems
  • Obesity
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Reduced Libido
  • Arthritis
  • Liver and Kidney Disease

Psychological Effects

Food addiction may also affect one’s mental health, especially if there is a lack of emotional support from his family and friends. Some of the psychological effects of food addiction may include:

  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks / Anxiety
  • Feeling sad and hopeless
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Increased irritability, especially when not allowed to eat one’s food cravings
  • Low self-esteem
  • Emotional detachment

Social Effects

As a result of food addiction, one’s social health may become affected. Many individuals who suffer from food addiction may become socially withdrawn. The other social complications and effects of this condition may include:

  • Poor school or work performance
  • Isolated from loved ones and friends
  • Becomes reclusive
  • Lack of enjoyment in hobbies and interests
  • Risk of endangering one’s career, relationships, and finances
  • Avoids social gatherings


The treatment of food addiction is a multidimensional process. This means that the treatment should address the patient’s physical, emotional, and psychological needs. The goal of food addiction treatment is for the individual to replace dysfunctional eating patterns with healthy habits. Moreover, underlying mental health problems such as depression and anxiety should be treated too.

However, the specific treatment for the condition is still in the works. For some health experts, however, recovery from food addiction may be complicated than recovery from other types of addiction, such as alcoholism and drug addiction.

In fact, battling food addiction may be harder than expected. For alcoholics, they can help curb the condition by abstaining from alcohol. Food addiction, on the other hand, is another story because the food is an essential need. This means that no person can refrain from eating.

Seek Professional And Medical Help

By seeking professional and appropriate help, a patient can find the resources to address the problem efficiently. Today, there are specialized food addiction treatment centers that implement holistic and comprehensive strategies. These treatment centers address medical issues, nutritional concerns, and psychological problems while assimilating psychotherapy.

There are a number of programs designed to help people who are addicted to food. For instance, a group called Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous has specialized programs to help food addicts. Another group called the Food Addicts Anonymous, implement strict diets that advise its clients to abstain from eating culprit ingredients such as sugar, wheat, and refined flour.


Dealing with food addiction isn’t easy. Prevention can be a daunting task too. However, it is important to prevent this condition from going out of control. Thus, identifying the condition is the first step toward prevention.

Determine Staple Foods From Treats

The first step is to know one’s staple foods from treats. The brain is programmed to seek out the delicious reward of natural carbohydrates like berries from some vegetables. Today, however, food manufacturers make palatable products to make people eat more and feel gratified. As a result, people become used to eating highly-flavored foods. To prevent this, try shifting your diet to a healthier one with fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils.

Limit Or Eradicate Consumption Of Sugar, Refined Carbohydrates, And Flour

Another way to prevent this addiction is to limit or eradicate the consumption of the culprit ingredients in the diet. These ingredients may trigger the pleasure centers, and you’ll end up overeating.

Determine which foods might trigger your pleasure centers, leading to overeating. If eating junk food, fast food goodies or sweets trigger these feelings, you can try eating healthier options that are delicious and palatable just the same.


Food addiction is real and the numbers are increasing by the minute. The good thing is, just like any other addiction problems, it is treatable and preventable. All you need to have is self-control and shifting from an unhealthy diet to a healthy one.

Food addiction is a growing epidemic, just like one of its physical effects – obesity. Obesity can lead to serious health and emotional issues that are hard to battle. There are many ways to prevent and control this condition, to live a healthier life. If food addiction and obesity can’t be controlled and treated, the lasting effects are distressing and alarming.

If you are suffering from food addiction, it’s recommended to see a doctor immediately for treatment methods to be implemented before the condition worsens and physical diseases emerge.