What is Food Addiction?

Almost everyone experiences some sort of food craving at some point in their lives. The most common cravings are for foods high in fat, sugar, and carbohydrates such as chocolate, pizza, potato chips, and ice cream. Food cravings are important to understand because they can play a role in excessive or compulsive eating. But at what point does this become “food addiction?”

A major contributing factor to America’s obesity epidemic appears to be that many people in our society continuously overeat despite their best efforts to stop themselves. Clearly, this is not purely a matter of personal choice. Some experts have suggested that our current food environment regularly exposes people to high concentrations of potentially addictive substances such as sugar, refined sweeteners, refined carbohydrates, fat, and salt. It is this exposure that leads to a person’s inability to control their consumption of such foods.

This loss of control is called “food addiction.”

Of course, not everyone who struggles with their weight also struggles with food addiction; the prevalence of overweight/obese people that also have a food addiction diagnosis is around 20 percent. Although the prevalence of food addiction is not sufficient to account for the obesity epidemic, it can help to explain why some people struggle to achieve and maintain weight loss.

At this time, there is no official definition or diagnosis for food addiction. However, Mark Gold, Chief of Addiction Medicine at McKnight Brain Institute at University of Florida describes food addiction as:

  • Eating too much despite consequences, even dire consequences to health
  • Being preoccupied with food, food preparation, and meals
  • Trying and failing to cut back on food intake
  • Feeling guilty about eating and overeating

If you or someone you know might be struggling with food addiction, contact a dietitian/nutritionist, psychologist/psychotherapist, or doctor who is educated about food addiction and may be able to help you break the cycle of food addiction.

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