Food addiction is defined as the compulsive need to overeat. It’s an addiction because, according to scientific studies, foods have biologically addictive qualities. Therefore, when a person eats, they’re essentially rewarding themselves with the intake of food. Each year, 400,000 deaths are associated with the obesity epidemic itself. In America, about 50% of the obese are considered to be addicted to a specific food. According to former commissioner of the FDA David Kessler, there are 70 million food addicted adults living in the United States. In 2000 alone, illnesses, disabilities and death related to obesity cost the United States $117 billion.
Why do people binge eat? The first and obvious theory is a series of biological anomalies in the body. Some would have you believe that food addiction is the product of hormonal imbalances, medication side effects and abnormalities in brain chemistry. Others would point to psychological reasons that can cause a person to turn to food for emotional gratification, such as sexual abuse or low self-esteem. Some food addicts struggle to cope with society’s standards of body image and others are bullied into their eating habits. Whether it be poor impulse control or loneliness, dinner for a food addict is a way of coping with their deep-seated mental troubles.
Distinguishing someone with food addiction can be relatively easy if you’re aware of the symptoms. Addicts usually eat more than they intend to and struggle with cravings despite being full. Many of them are insecure and try to goad others into speaking on their weight. In most cases, setting rules means setting themselves up for failure, and the shame of breaking them leads to many addicts to hiding much of their food consumption from others. They tend to make excuses up in their heads for how much they eat, and usually compare themselves to people on TV. Addicts check themselves often to see if their bodies jiggle or grow, and weigh themselves repeatedly throughout the day. Not only does this addiction take a toll on one’s body, but it heavily impacts their self-esteem as well.
Fortunately, there are treatments out there for people who are battling food addiction. Much of the self-help will involve identifying and gradually reducing trigger foods, limiting portions to smaller helpings that can accommodate a diet. The second and most obvious alternative to the effects of food addiction is exercise, which will bring on the same sort of ‘highs’ and satisfaction that eating brings. It gives food addicts a chance to shed much of the weight that makes them insecure. Lastly, finding a therapist or counselor who will help them overcome their insecurities and lead them to a healthy lifestyle can be enough to inspire a turning point in their lives.
America continues to struggle with its obesity epidemic, and food addiction is far more common than you probably think. It’s so common that the government has occasionally come under scrutiny for attempting to involve themselves in America’s weight problem. Food, like many drugs, gives the brain a reward incentive to fuel these bad behaviors. Not everyone is susceptible to these harmful effects for the same reason that not everyone does drugs – sometimes they may not have the genetic or environmental influences that cause people fall victim to these addictions. But like everyone else, food addicts have a chance to live normal lives if they acknowledge their problems and make an effort to get help.