Are You an Addictive Eater?

Businesswoman hiding and eating chocolate bar
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In light of the obesity epidemic, the concept of “food addiction” has gained traction and garnered attention from researchers. While every human being needs food to live, there appear to be instances in which our relationship with food goes far beyond that fundamental.

You might find that you just can't seem to resist eating more than necessary, or you may feel that you can't control your cravings for unhealthy foods, especially refined carbohydrates. If so, you may have food addiction.

What Is Addictive Eating?

According to Food Addicts Anonymous, “food addiction manifests itself in the uncontrollable craving for excess food,” which is particularly notable following the “ingestion of refined carbohydrates, primarily sugar and flour substances that are quickly metabolized and turned into sugar in the bloodstream”—in other words, highly processed foods.

The Most Addictive Foods

Recent scientific evidence backs this up. In a study from the University of Michigan published early in 2015, researchers found that highly processed foods, such as pizza, French fries, and sweets with high sugar contents, were implicated in addictive-like eating behavior, and may even “share characteristics with drugs of abuse (e.g., high dose, rapid rate of absorption).”

It is no coincidence that these are the very foods that have been linked to the obesity epidemic as well. These are also foods that many people turn to when engaging in "emotional eating," or eating as a way of coping with stress.

“Are You a Food Addict?”

Food Addicts Anonymous, which has as its mission “recovering together one day at a time from the biochemical disease of food addiction,” asks this question. According to their list of characteristics, you might be a food addict if:

  • You cannot control your intake of food, particularly high-sugar foods or “junk food.”
  • You have tried different weight-loss strategies and diets, but none have worked on a permanent basis.
  • You have found yourself engaging in eating-disordered behaviors such as vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics specifically for the purposes of weight loss or trying to avoid weight gain after you believe you have overeaten.
  • You feel depressed, hopeless, sad or ashamed about your weight or your eating habits.
  • You experience more intense emotional changes or mood swings when eating highly processed foods.
  • You turn to food for emotional reasons, such as when you are upset or as a reward when you’ve attained a personal achievement.
  • You eat in private so no one will see what you are eating.
  • You steal other people’s food.
  • You find yourself engaged in intense, obsessive thinking about food.
  • You have noticed your quality of life deteriorating physically, emotionally, socially and/or spiritually due to your uncontrollable cravings for addictive food.

    (To view a more comprehensive list, you can visit the Food Addicts Anonymous site at

    Treating Food Addiction

    While groups such as Food Addicts Anonymous offer tools for recovery, including abstinence and a 12-step program, researchers are actively trying to uncover potential medical treatments as they continue to obtain a better understanding of the continuum of food addiction. It thus appears that, in many forms both now and over the coming years, help is on the way.

    If you are concerned that you may have a food addiction, discuss this with your doctor, who can also refer you to the appropriate specialist and to support groups like Food Addicts Anonymous that may be of great help. As with any addiction, prompt intervention is important and essential to getting on the road to recovery.

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    Article Sources

    • Food Addicts Anonymous. Are You a Food Addict? Accessed online at on March 9, 2015.
    • Piccinni A, Marazziti D, Vanelli F, et al. Food addiction spectrum: a theoretical model from normality to eating and overeating disorders. Curr Med Chem 2015 Feb 27. [Epub ahead of print]
    • Schulte EM, Avena NM, Gearhardt AN. Which foods may be addictive? The roles of processing, fat content, and glycemic load. PLoS One 2015 Feb 18.