2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Are You Addicted To Food?

Being addicted to anything, from crystal meth, heroin, or prescription drugs to tobacco, alcohol, the internet, or exercise, is a lot more common–and a lot more complicated–than you might think. Perhaps the best way to view addiction is as a loss of control, whether it’s something you’re ingesting (called substance dependence) or something you’re doing (behavioral addiction).

Until relatively recently, doctors thought addictions were pretty much limited to certain legal and illegal drugs and their effects on the brain. These psychoactive substances can cross the protective blood-brain barrier and change the way your mind functions. Ultimately, your brain itself changes, starting to need the substance so intensely that you’d become physically or emotionally ill without it. A mild and controllable habit, performed at your discretion (such as wine with dinner), can transform into an addiction that you simply cannot stop without help.

Look at it this way:
•A habit you can always choose to stop.
•An addiction steals your ability to make that choice.

Obviously behavioral addictions (also called psychological dependencies) don’t involve ingesting psychoactive substances. However, a rich trove of research over the past 20 years has shown that when certain behavioral habits start drifting into the realm of addiction, brain chemicals do indeed change. But instead of the physical withdrawal that occurs when you stop a psychoactive substance (like cigarettes, alcohol, or heroin), when you stop a behavioral addiction too quickly you might experience feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, despair, failure, rejection, anxiety, and/or humiliation.

To avoid these miseries, you come to believe it’s just emotionally easier to continue the addictive behavior.

You’re complicated, and so is addiction
With any addiction, know that you’re a whole lot more complicated than you imagine. Research in the field of addiction medicine has focused on genetics (addictive behavior runs through families) and also the release of the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine, the memory neurotransmitter glutamate, and the stress-relieving neurotransmitter serotonin.

Longstanding addictive behavior has been shown to actually damage parts of your brain involving choice and social cues.

When the choice portion of your brain is affected, you choose small and immediate rewards over larger delayed ones. When the social cue area is damaged, you lose your sensitivity to appreciating the consequences of your behavior.

With obesity and its consequences linked to health and longevity, psychologists have done a lot of research on the nature of food addiction. But the question remains: To what extent is an unhealthful BMI related to poor food choices, nutritionally poor food, and large portions vs. an actual addiction to food itself, including all the addictive risks of genetics and neurotransmitters?

The answer is that everything is involved: poor choices, bad food, giant portions, and addictive behavior.

To evaluate the issue of food addiction, a team of psychologists at the University of Luxembourg recruited a large number of women, both normal weight and overweight, to participate in an interesting project. They were to look at a series of photos of either neutral household objects (a mug, a comb) or a very fattening item of food. When the photo appeared on the screen, they were to press a button as quickly as possible to move on to the next photo. There were two test sessions, one during which everyone arrived at the test site hungry, the other after they’d just finished eating. Here are some of the photos the test subjects viewed.

I’ll bet you know where this is heading. Even though they’d been told to click away from the photos as quickly as possible, there was a direct correlation between a woman’s BMI and lingering on the food photos. The overweight women simply could not help but look at the food longer than the healthy-weight participants, whether or not they were hungry.

Based on previous comparable studies in the area of addiction medicine, this had all the hallmarks of confirming addictive behavior as a major component cause of obesity.

The way forward
So how do you personally approach this if you’re overweight, dieting has never really been successful, and when push comes to shove in the quiet of your room you could admit you’re a food addict?

I’d suggest three steps you can take, and please do all three simultaneously:

If you live too far from WholeHealth Chicago, you’ll need to use the trusty internet to put your food addiction recovery team together. I recommend you begin by locating a good psychologist. Then ask your chiropractor or primary care physician for nutritionist and acupuncturist recommendations.

The main reason for doing everything at once is that effective addiction therapy requires a team approach. The good news is that it can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time. People with serious drug addiction issues go into an intensive rehab program and their lives can be changed in eight to 12 weeks. You can make major changes in your food addiction behavior and dramatically reduce your long-term health risks by crafting your own outpatient rehab program.

Wondering if you’re actually addicted to food? Take this quiz.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

 

 

Leave a Comment


  1. Larry Stoler says:

    It’s true. We’re addicted to food. Also, we’re obsessed, worried, stressed out and we generally have a very conflictual relationship with food and eating. Ok, Not everyone.
    Among the more promising natural approaches to bringing our relationship with food into balance and improving overall health is the Dragon’s Way® Program. There’s a class starting at WHC on September 8.

  2. Tanya says:

    The issue of food addiction is very valid and of course prevalent in our society. But don’t you think that sugar/carb addiction plays a big role in the overall food addiction picture? I’m only about 10 pounds overweight, so thankfully not obese, but I notice that cutting out refined sugar and reducing carb intake (Paleo diet) has eliminated cravings and allowed me to reduce portion sizes without being hungry.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Telemedicine – Now Available at WholeHealth Chicago

In order to maintain your continuity of care, WholeHealth Chicago now offers telemedicine appointments with most of our practitioners. During a telemedicine visit, you and your healthcare provider can review medical history, discuss symptoms, arrange for prescriptions, and more. When necessary, labs and diagnostic imaging can be ordered from a facility near your home, and our Natural Apothecary can ship supplements quickly to your door.

Please contact Patient Services for details and scheduling a telemedicine appointment, or to change a regular appointment to telemedicine by calling 773-296-6700.

We’re looking forward to meeting with you in our virtual consultation room soon.

DIAGNOSE-IT-YOURSELF: COVID-19

Far and away, the commonest phone call/e mail I receive asks about COVID-19 diagnosis.
Just print this out, tape it on your refrigerator door, and stay calm.

ALLERGIES

• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Red, swollen eyes
• Itchy eyes and nose
• Tickly throat
• No fever

COLD
• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Sore throat
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild dry cough
• Rarely a low fever

STREP THROAT
• Painful sore throat
• Hurts to swallow
• Swollen glands in neck
• Fever

FLU (Standard seasonal flu)
• Fever
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Sudden onset over few hours
• Headache
• Sore throat
• Fatigue, sometimes quite severe
• Muscle aches, sometimes quite severe
• Rarely, diarrhea

CORONAVIRUS-COVID 19
• Shortness of breath
• Fever (usually above 100 degrees)
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Slow onset (2-14 days)
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild fatigue
• Mild sneezing

Recent Health Tips

  • Commonly Missed Diagnosis: Early Autoimmune Disease

    Amazingly enough, there are more than 100 different autoimmune conditions, which collectively are responsible for more chronic illness and disability in women than heart disease and cancer combined. Men can get autoimmune diseases too, but the predominance in women (2:1) is striking and also puzzling, though current thinking attributes this susceptibility to a combination of genes and hormones. Because autoimmune conditions can affect any area Read More

  • Six Commonly Missed Diagnoses: B12 Deficiency

    You’re pretty sure you know your body and you tell your doctor you’re just not feeling right. You’re tired, maybe a little depressed, a bit achy. Maybe your digestion is “off.” The list of foods you can’t seem to enjoy is definitely longer. Your doctor’s empathic, not at all dismissive of your symptoms, but after a physical exam and some apparently appropriate tests she can’t Read More

  • What is Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN) and Can It Help Me?

    Ten years ago April marks the anniversary of the first time I wrote about low-dose naltrexone (LDN). I described it as an orphan drug, meaning that its patent had long ago expired, that it was generic, and that it was not owned by any one company. For these reasons and because they’d never recoup their investment, no Big Pharma company was interested in pursuing the Read More

Join our Discount Program

Member benefits include 10% off all your purchases. Low, one-time membership fee of $25 ($35 for family).

MORE INFORMATION

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!