Food Addiction

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor

msBahasa Malaysia


What is food addiction?

The opinion that an individual can be addicted to food has recently increased. That comes from the imaging of the brain and other studies of the effects of compulsive overeating on pleasure centers in the brain. Some experiments in animals and humans prove 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 the brain chemicals called 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.

How common is food addiction?

Nowadays, more and more people with food addiction increase every year.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of food addiction?

Food addiction isn’t always easy to detect. This is especially true for food addiction because we all need to eat. Additionally, food addicts can have some similar symptoms of other conditions, including depression, binge eating, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). They will hide their problem by eating in private and even hiding food. Some common signs and symptoms of food addiction may include:

  • Constant obsession with what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and how to get more food
  • Overeating at mealtime
  • Constant snacking
  • Eating at strange times like in the middle of the night
  • Hiding eating habits from friends and family or eating in secret
  • Bingeing and then purging, exercising, or taking laxative pills to “reverse” the binge
  • Eating even when full
  • Eating to accompany pleasurable activities like watching TV or talking on the phone
  • Associating food with punishments or rewards
  • Feeling shame and guilt after a binge or after consuming particular foods
  • Consistent failed attempts to control eating or eliminate bingeing episodes

Food addiction can often occur less serious than other addictions. However, it’s a condition that tends to progress gradually. It can result in lifelong obesity or health problems and worsen existing mental health issues.

When should I see my doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop this condition from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes food addiction?

This type of addiction is complex. Food, like drugs and alcohol, can trigger the release of dopamine in the brain. This chemical is associated with your pleasure. It can make a positive connection between food and emotional well-being. The addicted brain thinks food as a drug. To a food addict, food produces feelings of pleasure, even when the body doesn’t need the calories.  A study published in 2010 showed that when lab rats were given free access to high-fat, high-sugar foods, their brains changed. The changes in their behavior and physiology were quite similar to those caused by drug abuse. The study authors cautioned against drawing a parallel between drug and food addictions, but their work does assert that there are similarities. It also highlights the possibility that eating lots of unhealthy foods could increase your chances of becoming addicted to eating.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for food addiction?

Some common factors that can increase the risk of this condition include:

  • Depression and stress
  • Alcohol addiction
  • Lack of physical activities.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.


How is food addiction diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may experience food addiction, he/she will ask you some questions about your daily eating habits. Based on your signs and symptoms that you have, your doctor will determine you have this disorder or not.

How is food addiction treated?              

Until now, many scientists are still working to understand and figure out some treatments for food addiction. Some argue that recovery from food addiction may be more complex than recovery from other kinds of addictions. Alcoholics, for example, can ultimately abstain from drinking alcohol. But people who are addicted to food still need to eat. A nutritionist, psychologist, or doctor who is educated about food addiction may be able to help you break the cycle of compulsive overeating.

There are also a number of programs that help people who are addicted to food.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage food addiction?

A food addict must learn how to build up eating habits that are in tune with their body’s natural cravings. They must also learn how to eat properly when they’re hungry, not in response to emotional needs or stress. A food addict can’t simply eliminate food; it’s a basic need. Instead, food addicts must develop a healthy relationship with food over time.

It’s often helpful for a food addict to have join in a variety of activities and resources that promote healthy living, such as a fitness center, nutrition classes, or stress-reduction techniques.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: February 26, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019

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