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Food Addiction

Content by: Sarah Bigbee, RD

Identifying food addiction and addressing the challenge. It’s complex and requires multidisciplinary approaches. A general guide for professionals.

Food Addiction


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Food addiction is defined as non-hunger related eating behaviors, most often involving the consumption of highly palatable foods. “Highly palatable” foods usually contain higher amounts of sugar, fat or salt, which tastes good and stimulates the desire to eat more than what is necessary to support energy requirements.

To put it simply, food addiction is over-eating foods that are made to taste very good and stimulate a desire for more. Though there is some discussion in the scientific community of whether food addiction can actually be classified as an “addiction,” we do know that highly palatable foods cause our brains to react and crave more. These foods can cause a person to eat past the point of satisfaction and fullness, and overtime, can lead to very serious health problems.

According to the CDC, obesity prevalence in U.S. adults from 2017 to March 2020 was 41.9%. This represents an 11.4% increase from the rates from 1999-2000. Food addiction was found to be a contributing factor in obesity. Women are more likely than men to experience food addiction. Treating food addiction may play a pivotal role in improving our obesity rates and general health in our communities. Below, we are going to discuss the process of identifying, treating and providing long-term support for our clients that must work to overcome food addiction.

● Identifying Food Addiction:
Helping a client to understand food addiction requires an honest and open space that is free of judgment. There are common emotions in the disordered eating and addiction communities, including shame and guilt. Building a trusting relationship will help your client open up and share personal eating habits.

There are common behaviors a client with food addiction may share directly or indirectly in conversation:
1. Craving highly palatable foods often, even when hunger is not present.
2. Eating a highly palatable food past the point of feeling full.
3. Feeling guilty about eating certain foods.
4. Hiding the consumption of certain foods.
5. Feeling a loss of control and demonstrating an inability to stop eating highly palatable foods.
6. Trying, without success, to stop eating certain highly palatable foods.
7. Making excuses for the consumption of highly palatable food.
8. Being unable to quit, even when knowing the health outcome could be negative.
9. Having a history of other types of addiction.
***Addiction shifting or transferring is when a client replaces one addiction with another. This often occurs without realizing it.

● Treating Food Addiction:
Each client will face different obstacles through the treatment and healing process, but many will present with similar challenges. It is common for a person with food addiction to have a low self esteem or self worth, poor body image, triggers and relapse/binges. By setting goals and receiving consistent coaching, your client can learn to face food addiction and overcome the challenges.

A few tips in your support of a client:
1. Do a self assessment of eating behavior, including preferences, triggers, feelings with your client or independently. This will help to determine which obstacle your client would like to tackle first.
2. Based on the self assessment, guide your client into making a targeted list of challenges. Be sure to ask your client to list some of the challenges and offer examples to share with you. It is important to recognize it may take a multi-disciplinary approach.
3. Using your clients list of challenges, identify specific goals, practical methods to address daily challenges. Utilizing the SMART goals format will help keep goals realistic and attainable.
4. Monitor progress and help your client remain committed to the stated goals. This will look different for each client and for different stages in recovery.

● Long-term support:
It is important to plan for long-term support. This plan will vary from client to client, and there are many schools of thought related to addiction. Common therapy modalities that may be used include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), nutrition counseling and psychotherapy. Program options such as individual counseling, group therapy, support groups and 12 step programs may offer excellent options for your client.

Having a support system is vital for continued recovery. Because there is no cure for addiction, relapse is common and can happen to anyone. A strong support program allows clients to recognize relapse as a set-back, but not a failure.

We have the opportunity to help our clients struggling with food addiction move into recovery and provide them with a more balanced healthy life. Healing our clients' relationships with food can heal many other aspects of their lives, including their physical and mental well-being.

Quick tips:
🎦 A great video to show your client to help promote self esteem and self acceptance

🔡 Keep a Food & Mood Journal

⏩ Use SMART Goals

✓ What do we mean when we say "palatable food"?

✓ Food Addiction: Its Prevalence and Significant Association with Obesity in the General Population:,and%20increased%20with%20obesity%20status

✓ A Narrative Review on the History of Food Addiction Research:,Randolph%20in%201956%20%5B26%5D.

✓ Adult Obesity Facts:

✓ Food Addiction: Its Prevalence and Significant Association with Obesity in the General Population:,and%20increased%20with%20obesity%20status.

✓ Eating Disorder - Food Addiction:

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