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Food addiction

Food addiction (addiction) is a mental pathology where overeating, fasting act as a positive emotional reinforcement and are stimulators of physical pleasure in humans. In other words, this is a state of a person when meals are used not to remove hunger, but to cope with various emotional states: anxiety, excitement, boredom, distract oneself in some way, provoke pleasant emotions. Food becomes not a source of essential nutrients, but a replacement for missing emotions and a solution to a person’s personal, professional, financial problems. It turns out that life is saturated with missing “tastes.”

For a person suffering from food addiction, food ceases to be a physiological need. At lunch or dinner, he does not remove hunger in order to maintain a viable state and health, but fights stress, evokes positive emotions in himself. Appetites increase over the years. Loss of control over the state of satiety. A person eats not 3, but 5, 7, 9 or more times a day, including at night.

The diet of the patient with food addiction is varied, but it is dominated by a few favorite foods. Receptors react to them more actively due to the aromas and flavorings in the composition. Sweet desserts, hamburgers, french fries and other components of fast food will deal with a normal figure in 1-2 months. To abandon them will require a worthy alternative and strongest motivation.


Types of addiction

Types of food addiction:

Hyperphagia (gluttony) – the absorption of huge portions not out of hunger, but out of boredom and for the sake of fun. This is the production of endorphins, with the help of which the mood rises, and the person calms down. But after eating, a person may regret and sincerely wish to stop everything before the next attack.

Bulimia is a painful craving for food associated with the fear of gaining excess weight, which is accompanied by emptying of the stomach after each meal by vomiting. Such people look completely healthy, and their weight is within the normal range. But when a disease develops into a chronic form, many diseases appear.

Anorexia is a psychological disorder, expressed by a strong suppression of the desire for food. The goal of people exposed to it is to achieve ideal forms with strong weight loss. There is no rejection of food, but due to high requirements for weight, there is no normal nutrition. Such a violation can be fatal. Dependence on the test of different tastes – a person composes his diet from some carbohydrates (indulges in sweets) or sits on a rigid diet (mono diets, tight calorie control, separate meals). These types of food addiction are psychological diseases. Therefore, in such situations, a person needs to seek help from a specialist.

The main causes of food addiction:

  • A period of life crisis (adolescent crisis, job loss, severe postpartum condition, etc.).
  • Lack of goals in life, meaning.
  • Achieving an important goal led to relaxation and unwillingness to work more on oneself (after marriage).
  • Serious shock (serious illness, divorce).
  • Eating food to achieve various goals (the child wants to be praised; someone eats so as not to offend grandmothers, mothers, friends).
  • Who can become addicted to food

People systematically overeat and become obese for many reasons. Those who occasionally drink alcohol because they like its taste and effects are far from alcoholics, just like people who occasionally smoke marijuana are not yet drug addicts. Recent studies have tried to determine what distinguishes a food addict from someone who overeats. These differences are important as they are directly related to approaches to treating food addiction.

For example, when addiction is the main cause of obesity, traditional treatment consisting of a diet where willpower and personal responsibility are important will be completely ineffective. Since food stimulates the pleasure center in the brain, many experts quite rightly believe that in this case the same approaches and methods should be applied as in the treatment of any other addiction. A simple change in lifestyle and diet, or even gastric bypass surgery, will have minimal effect, since food addiction is the cause of obesity.


Signs and causes of food addiction

Signs of food addiction

Like other types of addiction, food addiction has a number of characteristics:

Constant and obsessive thoughts about food – what to eat, what to buy in the store, what to cook delicious;

The impossibility of self-control in food. For example, a person with a full box of chocolates in front of him finds it difficult to limit himself to one or two chocolates. The desire to eat the whole box will be for as long as it is not empty, and after that it will already be difficult to breathe;

Instant sharp desire for any food. For example, in spite of the fact that a person recently dined, if he sees cakes on the counter of the store, then he breaks down – he buys several pieces and eats “voraciously”;

If a person has experienced any stress, he has a desire to eat something as compensation for the trouble that happened;

More frequent promises of a person to reward himself with “something tasty” after he makes any unpleasant necessity. For example, “I will clean the house and then buy myself a chocolate bar, because I deserve it”;

Lack of the desired food leads a person to unpleasant physical sensations (a kind of “withdrawal” in a drug addict).

The main reasons for uncontrolled food addiction include:

Nervous system disorders. Abundant absorption of food helps a person to achieve calmness, get rid of painful experiences or obsessive thoughts.

Stress. The individual is trying to “seize” a traumatic situation in order to reduce its destructive effect on the body.

Fear of appearing unattractive. Such a person torments himself with worries that his body is not perfect and does not meet the standards established by fashion. As a consequence, he tries to keep his food intake to a minimum, thereby ruining his health.

Overeating or malnutrition causes the individual to get rid of any other habit on the principle of “knock out like a wedge.” For example, he quit smoking and began to seize the desire to drag on a cigarette – candy.

In childhood, food addiction arises from the child’s desire to please the next of kin. After all, from an early age he is taught that if you eat more, you will grow up strong. In addition, refusal to eat can be perceived by a mother or grandmother as a reason for resentment.



Dealing with food addiction is not much different from working with any other addiction, and, first of all, begins with the fact of acknowledging the problem itself. As long as the addict shrugs off the painful attachment, he is closed for treatment.

Then you need to carefully analyze your life. Any disorder must have a cause. Sometimes it lies on the surface, sometimes you have to dig deep into your past and present, the reason always exists. Your task is to switch the ways of solving the original problem on the right track. After all, then you will simply have nothing to “seize”, and the need for painful overeating will disappear as unnecessary.

In the course of treatment, the following tasks are consistently solved:

Discussion of diet, fears, interpersonal problems, patient recommendations for self-control. Conclusion of a therapeutic contract: a) on improving health, sleep, mood and relationships with others; b) on the achievement of a certain body weight (usually 50 kg, 500 g per week) with the help of bed rest and control of the clinic staff over the intake and removal of food.

Somatically oriented therapy aimed at training eating behavior. The patient receives 2000-2500 calories per day in the form of liquid food. Food is given to the patient 3–6 times a day and, if necessary, is introduced through a tube or in the form of nutrient solutions intravenously. Personnel are present during meals and 2-3 hours after meals to avoid vomiting (aversive intake).

Psychomotor training for the correction of disturbances in the body scheme and operant conditioning with the encouragement of adequate eating behavior (with the next increase in body weight by 100 g – the abolition of bed rest, eating in the dining room, leaving the department, etc.).

Individual and group cognitive therapy: discussion of the patient’s self-observation diary with the identification of unconscious cognitive distortions.

Intensive dynamic therapy in a diagnostically homogeneous group for the patient to become aware of his feelings and needs, primarily in independence.

Family therapy or, if the parents refuse it, working out the patient’s relationship with them in other forms of therapy. The attending physician can act as a partner for the psychotherapist.

Art therapy – treatment through games. In special classes, a person learns to express his feelings and get rid of stress using play situations, as well as creativity – drawing, modeling, construction.

Gestalt therapy is working with a person’s fantasy zone. This is how this direction considers neuroses, fears, depression and internal conflicts of a person. A specialist helps a person to become aware of their problems and learn how to deal with them.

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