Food addiction is real and the concept is heavily supported by research in the past decade. While it remains a highly controversial topic, Nutrition In Recovery has taken the position that food addiction is both a behavioral-related (the person) and substance-related (the food) problem. However, just because someone has “food addiction” it does not mean they need to abstain from addictive foods. There are gentle ways to achieve recovery without being punitive or “counting days.”
The dominant portion of the food industry manufactures food that has been purposely designed to be highly rewarding to the brain, thereby possessing addictive qualities for some people. Many highly concentrated byproducts of food, and other forms of processed food, contain very high quantities of sugar, salt and fat; which can alter brain chemistry. Certain constituents of food, sugar in particular, can impair will, judgment and personal responsibility in highly susceptible individuals. We look at this as more of a public health problem than an individual problem.
Nutrition Education for Recovering Addicts
According to Dr. Kessler the author of The End of Overeating, “some people are likelier than others to find food more reinforcing and are thus more willing to work harder to obtain it” and that “over time, a powerful drive for a combination of sugar, fat and salt competes without our conscious capacity to say no.”
Individuals with a history of drug abuse are at higher risk for developing an addictive relationship to food. Recent research has shown that the same reward pathways in the brain involved in drug abuse are involved in the ingestion of highly palatable food. Compulsive overeaters share many of the same brain imaging characteristics as persons with drug addiction. A growing body of evidence suggests behavioral similarities between substance dependence and binge eating, specifically loss of control and cravings.
Food Addiction & Recovery
While not all individuals in recovery from drugs and alcohol will exhibit characteristics of Food Addiction (as measured by the Yale Food Addiction Scale), many will identify significant problems regulating food intake. Abstinence from specific offending foods is only indicated for severe food addicts under certain circumstances. Attempting to achieve abstinence from offending foods is not indicated for drug addicts in early recovery, as it may lead to rebound bingeing and/or relapse.
In general, individuals in early recovery from drugs and alcohol should secure a period of abstinence/sobriety before exploring abstinence interventions related to food. Meanwhile, Nutrition In Recovery strongly believes in choosing the least processed forms of food as possible. For those individuals who identify as “food addicts” and feel the necessity to eliminate highly offending foods from their diet, the dietitian can be critical in assisting with this process.
Nutrition In Recovery hears you and supports you! Twelve-Step support has also shown to be effective over the long-term for those who struggle with food addiction.
Food Addiction Resources:
- Journal about about Food Addiction and Eating Disorders HERE
- Recent BOOK CHAPTER HERE
- Learn a lot more about Food Addiction HERE
- David Wiss Food Addiction publication from Dec 2016 HERE
- David Wiss DEFANG HERE
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