Eating Habits, or Food Addiction?

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By News Team on December 29, 2021

Eating can be one of life's greatest pleasures, but it's possible to have an addiction to food that harms your overall health.

Watch the video above to hear from David Salzberg, M.D., bariatric surgeon and director of Carilion Clinic’s Medical Weight Loss Center, as he speaks about unhealthy eating habits and what you can do about them. Or read on for some highlights from the video.

What is Food Addiction?

People with food addiction compulsively eat certain foods to the point where it's physically and mentally unhealthy.

Typically these foods are high in:

  • Sugar
  • Fat
  • Salt
  • A combination of the three

These addictive foods activate the reward center in the brain, making us crave more of the same food. This causes a loop of craving and reward that leads to eating the same foods over and over, even when it's not good for us. As Dr. Salzberg points out, "Food addiction involves the same areas of the brain as other addictions, including drugs. As with drugs, sometimes our brains develop a tolerance. They need more and more of the addictive food to satisfy the craving."

Signs of Food Addiction

Eating the same foods often doesn't necessarily mean you have a food addiction. "It really isn't even about how much of a certain food you eat," says Dr. Salzberg, "but how big a space it takes up in your mind and in your life."

Here are some possible warning signs to look out for:

  • Eating certain foods even when you're not hungry
  • Obsessive cravings for these foods
  • Repeated binge eating
  • A pattern of trying and failing to stop overeating
  • Eating for emotional reasons like stress, depression or anger
  • Eating alone to hide your behavior
  • Eating to the point of physical discomfort

Side Effects of Food Addiction

Dr. Salzberg makes a distinction between food addiction and obesity. "They're separate but sometimes related conditions," he says, "and weight gain is a common side effect of food addiction." Together with obesity, side effects can include: 

  • Digestive disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Lowered self-esteem

Dr. Salzberg stresses that "food addiction is not a personal failing. It's just a result of the way our brains are wired."

And it is treatable.

"Ridding yourself of food addiction can be very liberating," says Dr. Salzberg, "like breaking the bonds of any other addiction." 

So, if you think you may have a food addiction, speak with your primary care provider.

"The sooner you reach out," says Dr. Salzberg, "the sooner you'll feel better."

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