What is food addiction?

What is food addiction? Is food considered a real addiction? The answer is yes. Food addiction is very much a real disorder.  Here is the definition of food addictions:

Scientifically, food addiction is a cluster of chemical dependencies on specific foods or food in general; after the ingestion of high palatable foods such as sugar, excess fat and/or salt the brains of some people develop a physical craving for these foods.

food addiction or eating addiction is a behavioral addiction that is characterized by the compulsive consumption of palatable (e.g., high fat and high sugar) foods – the types of food which markedly activate the reward system in humans and other animals – despite adverse consequences. (Food Addition Institute)

Food addiction signs

Studies have been conducted and noted that for some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also activated by food, especially highly palatable foods. Highly palatable foods are foods rich in:

  • Sugar
  • Fat
  • Salt

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. (WebMD)

Meeting people who have gained weight back after weight loss surgery

I have met several women in my journey who have shared their weight loss stories and their failures to keep weight off after weight loss surgery. Much to my surprise, their stories have saddened me and prompted me to write about the signs of food addiction.  All of these stories I have heard have had different bariatric surgeries and show different types of eating habits.

Patient 1 with an Ruex-en-Y

The first woman is in her early 40’s had the Ruex-en-Y surgery over 14 years ago. She stated that it was the best thing she could have done for herself as she was morbidly obese and not able to move from her couch.  Today, in 2017, the patient stated that she has gained 90 pounds over the course of 14 years. She said that although she gained, she is very much happy and knows what she needs to do to lose the weight but has no motivation at the moment. My question to her was how did you gain the weight back if your stomach is so small. She stated that you can eat every 30 minutes, basically munching on foods all day long. She is diabetic and drinks sugar free beverages but is always snacking on food.

Patient 2 with a Gastric Bypass

Patient number two is a woman in her late 30’s. She had her gastric bypass 14 years ago. She was amazed to find out that I had the laparoscopic sleeve done and that I had lost so much weight and looked really thin. The tenure patient stated that she had lost 86 pounds in her first year and then stopped losing weight. During the conversations I asked if she had kept up with the program with her lifestyle changes of eating and exercise. The woman said she was able to keep the weight off for another year but in the third year she gained all the weight back. I asked her how did she gain the weight back? Her reply was she did not know how she gained the weight back.

As the days passed I observed that eating out is very much an issue in offices. I observed that she was eating full meals at lunch time, and not the healthiest choices and drank sugary drinks. In addition to eating full meals, the woman was snacking continuously all day. As we got to talking, she shared with me that she is always hungry; non-stop starving. Her doctor prescribed her an appetite suppressant, but the side affects were pretty bad; such as, being extremely hot, sweaty and restless. The woman felt hungry with taking the appetite suppressant. Is this even possible? She has never gone to support groups and did not visit the nutritionist. All of the habits that had been taught had not been followed. The woman is aware she needs to lose weight but is not mentally ready to take the steps in order to work on weight loss.

Patient 3 with Laparoscopic Sleeve

The last patient is in her middle twenties and is a restaurant manager. I met her during an event and we got to talking. She has asked me if I wanted to taste the food and I said no thank you, sadly I am limited to what I can eat. The young lady shared with me she knew what it was like as she had the laparoscopic sleeve surgery done a year and half ago.

The conversation continued, and I asked her how her progress had been going and if she had reached her goal. The young professional said she had not reached her goal and gained twenty pounds after starting her new job. She shared that having access to food all day is very difficult. The variety of food that is available and the temptation is very difficult to overlook. Temptations are difficult for this young lady and she does not have an understanding of how to control the urge to eat when food is in front of her. The young lady did not have any reasons for her eating habits and didn’t seem worried about the twenty pound gain.

Conclusion: Is food an addiction?

In conclusion, although the patients that shared their stories with me did not state that they depended on food or have a food addiction;  it appears that the reason these women gained weight was due to their food consumption and choices. At no time was any emotion or expression given as to why these patients have been eating frequently. How does one see the signs of food addiction?

Food is serious, it provides solace to many people, a high they can only reach with the taste of food. How does one learn how to stop and have self control over food? This is a tough question to answer as everyone is different and struggle with their own emotions.

Help is available and one should seek to visit their doctors, bariatric centers or psychologist and have a one-on-one honest conversation without judgement. The weight loss journey does not stop after a year, this is a lifestyle commitment and one must have the will to keep on fighting for the healthy lifestyle they had chosen.

cited: www.webmd.com; food addiction institute