Food Addiction

While food addiction is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it typically involves binge eating behaviours, cravings, and a lack of control around food. Like addictive drugs, highly palatable foods trigger feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine. Once people experience pleasure associated with increased dopamine transmission in the brain's reward pathway from eating certain foods, they quickly feel the need to eat again (American Addiction Centers 2020). Food addiction is closely associated with eating disorders, including obesity, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.



The reward signals from highly palatable foods may override other signals of fullness and satisfaction. As a result, people keep eating, even when they're not hungry. Compulsive overeating is a type of behavioural addiction meaning that someone can become preoccupied with a behaviour (such as eating, or gambling, or shopping) that triggers intense pleasure. People with food addictions lose control over their eating behaviour and find themselves spending excessive amounts of time involved with food and overeating, or anticipating the emotional effects of compulsive overeating. Consuming food triggers chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, that act as a reward and give pleasurable sensations to the individual. These chemicals can also act as a release from emotional distress. People who show signs of food addiction may also develop a kind of tolerance to food. They eat more and more, only to find that food satisfies them less and less (American Addiction Centers 2020). Scientists believe that food addiction may play an important role in obesity. But normal-weight people may also struggle with food addiction. Their bodies may simply be genetically programmed to better handle the extra calories they take in. Or they may increase their physical activity to compensate for overeating (American Addiction Centers 2020). People who are addicted to food will continue to eat despite negative consequences, such as weight gain or damaged relationships. And like people who are addicted to drugs or gambling, people who are addicted to food will have trouble stopping their behaviour, even if they want to or have tried many times to cut back (American Addiction Centers 2020) .


Signs of Food Addiction

Here's a sample of questions that can help determine if you have a food addiction. Do these actions apply to you? Do you:


  • End up eating more than planned when you start eating certain foods

  • Keep eating certain foods even if you're no longer hungry

  • Eat to the point of feeling ill

  • Worry about not eating certain types of foods or worry about cutting down on certain types of foods

  • When certain foods aren't available, go out of your way to obtain them


Symptoms of Food Addiction

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

  • having obsessive food cravings

  • being preoccupied with obtaining and consuming food

  • continued binge 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

After consuming large quantities of food, a person with a food addiction may also experience negative feelings, such as:

  • shame

  • guilt

  • discomfort

  • reduced self-worth

Food addiction can also trigger physical responses, including:

  • intensive food restriction

  • compulsive exercise

  • self-induced vomiting


Treatment for Food Addiction


  • Self-help organizations – Talking with others who also have a disorder have been proven to be very effective. 

  • Therapy – Behaviour therapy or cognitive behaviour therapy is a proven evidence based therapy teaching skills to reduce the urges. Find a licensed practitioner

  • Medications – Studies suggest that some medication may be effective for the treatment of gambling addiction. Speak to a psychiatrist specialised in addiction treatment for an evaluation and recommendations.

  • Treatment programs – Many in-treatment and outpatient programs can assist with a gambling disorder.


Why choose PRC Recovery?

We are a registered treatment centre specialising in the treatment of addictive disorders. Our individualised approach to treating addiction is based on international standards and includes the many proven modalities in the treatment of addiction. Key focus areas for an effective program:

  • Family involvement – family participation in the treatment of any addiction is vital.

  • Individualised approach – underlying issues prolonging any addiction is based on the individual and therefore individual treatment plans are an important component to effective treatment of addiction by a qualified professional counsellor.

  • 12 step program – Twelve step programs have proven highly effective in the treatment of addiction and starts forming the solid foundation in early recovery. It is also used as the platform to the introduction of self-help organisations, forming part of the aftercare.

  • Aftercare – Stopping the addiction is only the foundation phase in the treatment of addiction. A well thought-out aftercare plan is crucial to sustain long-term recovery.


Sources: American Addiction Centers. (2020 January 23). Behavioral Addictions. Retrieved from. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/behavioral-addictions American Psychiatry Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders: DSM-5. 5TH ed., American Psychiatry Association American Psychiatry Association. (2018). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders: DSM-5. 5TH ed., American Psychiatry Association Food addiction treatment signs and causes. (n.d) - http://americanaddictioncenters.org/food-addiction-treatment/ Gearhardt, A. N., Corbin, W. R., & Brownell, K. D. (2009). Yale Food Addiction Scale - midss.org/sites/default/files/yale_food_addiction_scale.pdf Hebebrand, J., Albayrak, Ö. Adan, R., Antel, J., Dieguez, C., de Jong, J., Dickson, S. L. (2014, November). "Eating addiction", rather than "food addiction", better captures addictive-like eating behaviour. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 47, 295-306

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