Symptoms of Different Modern Day Addictions

Symptoms of Food Addiction

In the hierarchy of basic human needs, food ranks right up there with air and water. Without food, death walks near. With food, life brims with color. It’s not surprising that the act of eating tends in most people to arouse significant emotional reactions.

With some people, however, eating goes beyond being a biological necessity and a mildly enjoyable activity. It becomes an end in itself. Actual hunger is no longer relevant. For these unfortunates, food is an addictive substance. They cannot stop eating.

Many exasperated dieters have cracked wise about the addictive properties of certain foods. Chocolate, ice cream and potato chips are notorious subjects of mirth. Research suggests that the jokes hold substance, though. A notable study published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Society) Psychiatry found a significant correlation between familial tendencies to addictive behaviors and the likelihood of obesity.

Hyper-palatable foods such as easy-to-digest hamburgers, greasy chicken nuggets from fast-food restaurants and many packaged snacks appear to strongly stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that normally lights up the brain’s pleasure center. Routinely consuming an excess of foods laden with fat, salt and sugar may rewire the brain to anticipate and demand more such foods, especially in individuals who have inherited a increased genetic susceptibility to addictive behaviors.

Cocaine and other substances change brain biochemistry in similar ways, which has led more than a few medical professionals to consider treating compulsive overeating with methods originally developed for addressing addiction to hard drugs. However, unlike illicit recreational drugs, food is genuinely necessary to life. Research into the unique challenges of food addiction continues to be an area of intense interest.

Any of the following symptoms may indicate a problem with food addiction:

  • Steadily rising consumption. It’s normal to eat more at certain times and less at other times, but a long-term trend of obesity and the increasing consumption of comfort foods may indicate a miswired brain that no longer knows how to distinguish between true hunger and a runaway appetite.
  • High tolerance for large quantities. There’s nothing wrong an occasional feast, such as during the Thanksgiving holiday and other special occasions, but routinely gobbling down large meals before the onset of satiety is a danger sign.
  • Inability to refrain from eating. A powerful urge to consume food even in the absence of hunger pains is a fairly revealing sign that the hunger-regulation system has drifted away from normalcy.
  • Obsessive thoughts about food. Most people look forward to their meals and enjoy regular snacks, but compulsively dwelling on upcoming meals and snacks may indicate the need to consult a health professional.
  • Withdrawal anxiety. Notwithstanding amusing jokes about food withdrawal, feeling anxious or panicky about not eating is a clearly distinguishable symptom of food addiction that bears little resemblance to normal hunger pangs.
  • Persistently unhealthy habits. Habits are always hard to change, but growing obesity and a pattern of overeating that stubbornly resists all efforts to return to normal eating habits are almost certainly symptoms of physical and emotional problems that require medical attention.

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