Challenges of Treating Food Addiction
Food addiction is growing around the world, and although it definitely can be treated, there are several obstacles that must be overcome.
Food addiction and sugar addiction are terms that have been getting a lot of media attention over the last year or two, but many people are still unsure what food addiction actually entails and how it is treated. Below we will explain what food addiction actually is and how it can be treated. It is important to note, however, that although it definitely can be treated, there are some challenges that must be overcome that are not present when treating drug or alcohol addiction
Food addiction is a type of behavioural or process addiction best understood as a compulsive over-consumption of food despite negative consequences.
In a way that is akin to drug or alcohol abuse, when a person binges on processed foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt, it triggers the brain’s reward system, releasing excess dopamine. With repeated over consumption, a person can become addicted to these types of foods because they release far more dopamine than when eating, say, broccoli. Just as a heroin addict will seek out heroin, food addicts will seek out food that is high in fat, sugar and salt – even when the consumption of these foods begins negatively affecting their lives.
Although often interchanged, food and sugar addiction are not the same thing – rather you could say that they are closely related. Sugar is a naturally occurring substance found in fruit and most vegetables. But this natural sugar is not addictive. Processed sugar on the other hand, such as white sugar and brown sugar that you buy from the supermarket, can be.
Unfortunately, processed sugar is found in more food than most people think including salad dressings, bread, store-bought tomato sauce and more. And sugar has been found to be quite addictive in the same way described above – by releasing large amounts of dopamine into the brain. However, when sugar is combined with fat and salt – it produces the most addictive types of food, and it is these foods containing all three ingredients that most food addicts will eat in large quantities.
Some of the most common symptoms or signs of food addiction are as follows:
§ Frequent cravings for particular foods
§ Eating more than intended
§ Feeling guilty after eating certain foods or quantities
§ Inability to say ‘no ‘ when certain food is on offer
§ Often eating to the point of feeling excessively full
§ Eating in secret/hiding eating habits from others
§ Repeatedly trying to quit eating certain foods with no success
§ Eating as a way to cheer yourself up or alter your mood
§ Excessive eating despite negative health effects
Food addiction can cause many negative effects including weight gain, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and more.
It can also have severe social and emotional effects as well. Those suffering from food addiction often have feelings of shame, guilt and depression which could lead to feelings of hopelessness and even suicidal thoughts in more extreme cases. They may avoid professional or social events in fear of overeating in front of others, or they may start to pull back from relationships with friends and family as they begin to prefer food over social interaction.
Whether physical or emotional, these effects are quite serious and can really bear a negative impact on a person’s life. Thankfully, food addiction treatment is available, albeit with a few challenges.
When it comes to alcohol or drug addiction treatment, abstinence is almost always preached. Heroin addicts must never touch heroin again if they want to ensure a successful life in recovery. However, this is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome when treating food addiction. Obviously, telling someone to abstain from food is essentially a death sentence – which means that food addicts must learn to overcome their addiction in a slightly more complicated way.
As part of Shafa’s addiction centre, Shafa Home employs a unique method called Recovery Zones which has been specifically designed to treat addicts with addictions where complete abstinence is not possible.
This method uses three zones – active, danger, and recovery – to help identify behaviours that will definitely lead to continued addiction, actions that are a slippery slope towards active addiction, and actions or behaviours that promote recovery respectively. For example, when it comes to food addiction, cookies and ice cream are foods that should definitely be avoided so they would fall into the active zone. Fruits and vegetables would be placed in the recovery zone. As well, attending a party where food will be served could be a slippery slope, as the addict has no control over what food will be served.
However, it is not that simple. Most food addicts know that they should be eating salad instead of pizza, but they are unable to control themselves. This is why our treatment programme also combines mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and the 12 Steps to help those addicted to food learn to recognise thoughts and behaviours that lead to compulsive overeating. Using CBT and mindfulness, we help our clients retrain their thought processes in a way so that they do not get sucked back into active addiction.
Because of the challenges that food addiction can present, it is important that you make sure you find a treatment centre that has experience dealing specifically with food addicts. Not all addiction treatment centres are equipped to deal with food addiction.
If you or someone you know is currently suffering from the negative consequences of compulsive overeating, contact one of our counsellors today for a free, no-obligations assessment to see how we can help you get your life back on track. Remember, the sooner that you get help for your addiction, the better your chances are for a successful and long-term recovery.
Shafa Home is country’s premier organization for treatment of alcohol/drug problems, de-addiction, rehabilitation, counseling, treatment for females, nasha mukti , psychiatric disorders and secondary addictions like gambling, internet etc.
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