Can Food become an Addiction

Trying to lose weight is for most of us a mammoth task and one that rarely turns out as we planned. We all have good intentions but invariably end up eating all the wrong unhealthy foods. Food addiction can become a very serious problem as certain foods can only lead to addiction, irrespective of how hard you try to curb the cravings.

What is food addiction?

Just as drug addicts and alcoholics are addicted to drugs and alcohol, food addicts are addicted to junk food and unhealthy foods.  There are many world class treatment centres in South Africa, particularly some of the rehabs in Cape Town. Certain areas in the brain are triggered when pleasant tasting foods are consumed which contain sugar, fat or salt. This releases chemicals such as dopamine which causes you to continue eating no matter how hard you try not to.


To suffer from food addiction does not mean that you have no willpower but is a result of biochemistry in the brain. This type of addiction is similar to other eating disorders such as bulimia and obsessive overeating. The results of food addiction can be devastating and can lead to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and depression. Apart from the physical problems, it will also destroy your self-confidence and make you very unhappy with your own body. Food addiction is serious and could even result in death.

What are the symptoms of food addiction?

It’s hard to believe that there are people that actually “suffer” from food addiction, when there are so many people dying of starvation in Africa every day.  As there is no scientific diagnosis like blood tests, for food addiction, we can only consider the behaviour patterns to diagnose the problem.

We will consider a few common or basic symptoms that are distinctive to the food addict.

  1. If you just finished a good healthy meal and feel you have had enough to eat but you crave for more unhealthy food.
  2. As soon as you start eating the unhealthy food you crave, you discover that you have eaten much more than you wanted to.
  3. Even although you feel guilty about eating certain unhealthy food you still continue eating them and you find it difficult to stop.
  4. You keep making excuses to yourself as to why you should be eating those types of foods.
  5. Even though you have tried, you find that you are unable to resist the craving for the unhealthy foods.
  6. You never share your problem with others even your own family.
  7. Although you see that your weight is increasing and it worries you, you are unable to control the craving. You can’t stop even when it is causing harm to your body.

If you have answered yes to 3 or 4 of the above you may have an eating problem. If the figure is 5 or more then you might consider getting help for a food addiction. Ixande Treatment centre is a world class Cape Town Rehab that has been in existence for nearly 20 years.

Is there help for the food addict?

It appears that it is very difficult for the food addict to break the habit. A food addict still needs to eat every day and can’t really avoid the issue altogether; to completely stop eating junk food is very difficult.

You need to make a definite decision to avoid unhealthy foods permanently and to try and not give in to any cravings.  To assist you it will be worth it to make a few lists. The lists can contain positive thoughts and a list that reminds you of things you should try and avoid. Make sure you keep it in your wallet or on the fridge door for easy reference.

The list of things not to do can sound a bit harsh, but this isn’t about weight loss or a simple issue. It is a serious addiction problem and must be treated as such.

Here is a very basic example of what you can write down on a list:

Positive thoughts:

  • I will lose weight
  • I will live longer
  • I will have more strength and feel better.

Be aware of what not to do:

  • I should not eat cake at a birthday party.
  • I should not eat ice cream when offered.
  • I should not be allowed too many carbohydrates with my meal.

It is important to write all these thoughts down even if they sound strange, and then take the two lists next to each other and ask the question “Is it worth it”. Then if you have answered “yes” you can be sure that you will succeed in managing your addiction, but you must stick to your decisions.

It is also important to have a list of “Trigger Foods”; these are foods that trigger your cravings. These types of food need to be avoided altogether.

In today’s world there are fortunately restaurants and even fast food outlets that offer healthier food choices. Try to go to these outlets and to make the healthier menu choices at restaurants.

One thing to remember at this stage is not to go on a diet. The fight to overcome your food addiction is hard enough and you don’t need extra pressure that sticking to a diet will make. Rather seek to live a healthier life by changing your lifestyle and making sure the changes are sustainable.

If all this is not solving your problem then you must turn to a professional for help. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help you with your food addiction. Please remember that there are also support groups that could help, these groups are able to encourage you in your quest for healthier living.