Food Addiction and the Brain

Food Addiction and the Brain

Food Addiction, why are some people addicted to food and others aren’t?

The definition of Food Addiction is pretty straight forward and no different than an addiction to illicit drugs really. This term (food addiction) simply means compulsive, impulsive, loss of control, secretive, binge eating and cravings for food. No matter what the negative consequence or result may be. The only difference is that food is legal and necessary for life, illicit drugs are not.

Not everyone that has a problem with food or is overweight has a food addiction. There are numerous reasons we overeat or have problems with food. Many times trauma or depression in someone’s life may be a reason an individual will turn to food because this is their comfort zone and it makes them feel ‘good’ for the moment.

We live in a very judgmental world and sadly in this country at least, size does matter. Being overweight or obese can and does affect an individual throughout their entire life. They are viewed as lazy and lacking self discipline. The emotional roller coaster is very overwhelming; on top of their ‘out of control’ eating habits many are extremely depressed.

The obesity epidemic in the country is bad enough but to make matters even worse, teens that are overweight or see themselves as overweight are at a high risk of suicide. Mental health issues that many youths experience if they’re overweight seems to be growing. This is extremely disheartening and serious.

Studies and research has been done trying to identify differences in brain activity in relation to food. Could we be wired in such a way that many people are hooked on food?

A level of euphoria for many of us comes when thinking about food, smelling food, and most definitely while eating our favorite foods. This is true for most people. When an individual is addicted to food, thoughts and euphoria associated with it becomes an obsession. It’s very common for someone addicted to food to plan their day, evening, or week around it.

An individual who may be addicted to food tends to have symptoms of an addict or alcoholic. There are physical, mental and emotional cravings that develop with an addiction to food. Some of the symptoms may include:

  • Obsession with food
  • Thinking about food all the time, even waking in the middle of the night to eat
  • Lack of self control with food
  • Preoccupation concerning food, always thinking about it
  • Compulsive with food no matter how it makes you feel mentally or physically later
  • Secretly eating and hiding food
  • No matter how hard you try, you just can’t stop

Foods Themselves Can Be Very Addicting

There are also many foods out there that are very addicting to people. Fats, sugars, salt and chocolate can be extremely addicting. One thing is for sure, food manufacturers found that out a long time ago. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in our brain that is very similar to adrenaline. Many of the foods that we enjoy elevate our dopamine levels just looking at it, let alone eating it. Studies have been done proving that just seeing food and smelling it elevates that chemical in our brain. Consuming the product makes it worse. These end up being our feel good comfort foods.

Some scientists also say that fast food is addictive. They say that burgers and fries can be just as addictive as some illicit drugs. Not only are they everywhere, but with most of them you don’t even have to get out of your vehicle to get them. Again the salty and fatty foods that tend to elevate our dopamine levels just looking at a commercial are everywhere. Eating fast food or anything else for that matter in moderation is fine, but there are many people who can’t control their consumption when it comes to hamburgers, fries and pizza.

There is definite conflicting theory’s out there concerning food addiction. Many people believe being addicted to food is impossible. That it’s all in your head and that self control is lacking. Others believe that for some people there may be much more to it when it comes to the brain, brain function and genetics.

There are a few things we know for sure though, there are people out there miserable and suffering because their compulsion for food has taken over their lives. There can also be serious health complications associated with obesity such as:

  • Serious Health Complications
  • Blood (fat) lipid abnormalities
  • Cancer, of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, breast, colon, rectum and prostrate
  • Depression
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Gynecological problems (infertility and irregular periods)
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Fatty liver disease (Non-alcoholic)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Skin problems, intertrigo and impaired wound healing
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes

Signs to look for if you think you may have a problem with food:

  1. Feelings of guilt when eating
  2. Binging-eating large amounts of food at a time
  3. Purging
  4. Misuse of laxatives, diuretics and diet pills
  5. Secretly eating
  6. Eating when not hungry
  7. Eating when depressed
  8. Unable to control eating, just can’t stop
  9. Eating foods that you know are harmful to you
  10. Excessive exercising after you eat


There are several options for treating food addiction:

  1. Eating disorder treatment centers
  2. Consulting a nutritionist
  3. Consulting a doctor
  4. Qualified Psychologist
  5. Counseling
  6. Eating disorder specialist
  7. 12 step group like Overeaters Anonymous (OA)
  8. Support groups

If you do have an addiction to food, you’re not alone. Addiction to food and eating disorders is becoming more and more common throughout the world, and it affects both men and women. Many adolescents, teens, young people and adults suffer from food addiction and eating disorders, and so many suffer in silence.

Depression, medications, hormones and age are just a few reasons our weight can be affected. Don’t be so quick to judge someone who’s overweight or obese, this is something that could happen to anyone of us if the conditions are right.

Websites used in this article
Health News:
Mayo Clinic:

Topic Discussion

  1. Addict

    Can addictions be linked to a dysfunctional nervous system? If the nervous system is not functioning properly then it could be causing unwanted addictions to foods and possibly even behaviors.

    Infrared thermography is a technology used in the treatment of migraines that helps identify a dysfunctional nervous system.

  2. Addict

    Are some addictions to a certain food, like carrots? or is it just to "food" in general?

    • Addict

      I'm addicted to a lot of fruits (apples, bananas, grapes, peaches, nectarines, pineapple, watermelon, etc.) so I think it's possible for someone to be addicted to carrots or other sweet vegetables. I'm also addicted to sweet potatoes. I have an obsession with most foods. If it's left in front of me, I'll eat it. It's that bad.

  3. Addict

    Hey there, My name is Rebecca and Iâm a Casting Producer for the TLC show Freaky Eaters. We are launching into our second season and we are looking for Food Addicts and Binge Eaters for the show.

    If any commenters on this site would like more info -or- to refer someone, please send an email to [email protected] with your name, phone, email, and brief description of your eating habits.

    Thanks so much, Rebecca

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