What is Food Addiction?

Food Addiction is a hot topic in the health and wellness industry. There are countless programs that promise to break your addiction to food. Help for your addiction can be found through 12 step programs, cleanses, detoxes, and even hypnosis. But is there more to the story then just stopping consumption of certain foods? Food addiction is a complex problem, and diagnosing and overcoming the challenge will require a look from several Mind Body Nutrition angles.

Let’s dive deeper into food addiction, its definition, its symptoms, and how to overcome it.

Food Addiction Defined

Food addiction is when a particular food or substance hijacks our normal brain chemistry response and literally takes over and compels us toward over-consumption of that food, consequently creating health problems and weight gain.

In Dynamic Eating Psychology, there is a big distinction between a food addiction and being a food addict. In almost all cases of food addiction, the eater has a physiological and sometimes emotional addiction to a very specific food or a substance in the food (like sugar, salt or fat). Labeling oneself as a food addict, however, can in fact lead to a fearful and antagonist relationship with food in general.

Food addiction is not the same as being addicted to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, media or other external stimulants. You require food to survive; therefore, you cannot be a food addict. That is like saying you’re addicted to air or water – silly, right? Labeling yourself in this way can create an addiction consciousness and set you up for a lifetime of battling food and diverting life energy to managing your addiction, while also in some ways keeping you connected to it.

Are You Addicted?

According to the website WebMD, “Experiments in animals and humans show that, for some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also activated by food, especially highly palatable foods such as Sugar, Fat and Salt.” The brain has an increased dopamine response when consuming these foods, and the reward center will require more and more food to continually light up the brain’s feel-good hormones.

Food manufactures call this the “Bliss” point, and they are engineering more foods to elicit this reaction and stimulate our taste receptors. So in reality, it takes great awareness to NOT be addicted to many of the foods available today. While it’s possible to have an addiction to any food, usually the addiction is to foods containing high bliss point ingredients such as ice cream, desserts, candies, chocolate, snack chips, nuts, breads, pastas, crackers, cheeses, processed meats, pizza, or french fries, to name a few.

There’s also the increasing addition of artificial sweeteners, chemicals, food coloring, and preservatives in our foods that have brain altering effects. There’s been limited research on humans to safely condone our consumption of the endless combinations of food additives available today. Simply speaking, we are becoming a science experiment for the food industry by consuming ingredients that aren’t natural to our biology and weren’t in existence 50 years ago. And as the research develops, more and more experts agree that these chemicals and artificial foods have a great impact on our health and are creating addictions that willpower alone can’t overcome.

While it can be okay to occasionally consume foods and treats that contain these substances, there’s a point where the habit enters into the territory of an unhealthy relationship and can cause risks to health and wellbeing. Here are some signs that you may have a food addiction.

-The addictive food is making you gain weight, or is making it difficult to lose weight
-You are out of touch with your normal hunger signals, and consume the addictive foods at any time regardless of true appetite
-The addictive foods are causing serious unwanted symptoms and disease, and may be putting you at greater risk for diabetes
-You are using the addictive foods to regulate your mood and energy – for example, you need sugar to bring you up in the afternoon, and you need pasta or carbs to help you calm down at night
-You are in a cycle of self shaming over your food addiction because you believe it’s a willpower problem
-You prefer the addictive foods over life-giving, nutrient-dense food

If you feel that you have an addictive relationship with certain foods, then it’s time to try some Dynamic Eating Psychology techniques to break your addiction and find your way to a healthier relationship with eating.

Breaking Free

Many programs work with eaters to break their physical addictions, which is a very important and necessary part of the process. But here at the Institute, we believe that diving deeper into the emotional connections and thought patterns at the core of the addiction is crucial to long term freedom. Try these techniques to begin the journey.


As with all addictions, acknowledgment is the first step. Recognizing that the food is impacting your behavior and health means you are waking up and getting ready to do the work. Be kind to yourself, and understand that this is not about willpower. Changing your compulsion requires a literal reprogramming of your neural pathways.


Write down the history of your addictions and what events precipitated the behavior. Oftentimes we are confronted with a stressful life event, and we turn to sugar or comfort foods to reduce our stress or distract us from something painful. This is a totally normal survival response. However, once the stressful event has passed, our body chemistry has been altered, and now we are physically addicted. Recognizing the root trigger is critical to lasting success.


While your food addiction is an unwanted challenge, attempting to immediately stop using the food in question generally does not work. Because certain addictive foods, especially sugar, create such strong physical dependencies, you can potentially experience some very distressing symptoms by going cold turkey. Again, your taste buds and physiology have been hijacked, so create some strategies and substitutions to help get you through the toughest part of the withdrawal. Expect to feel physically bad and even emotionally upset – the addictive foods have most likely been used to moderate your emotions, so taking them away is bound to be difficult. Be honest with yourself, and prepare for this. Try to make the change at a time when you can have more space for rest and reflection. Journal about your feelings. Consider getting yourself some extra support by seeking help from a trusted expert or coach.


Replace the addictive foods with high quality, fresh, whole, nutritious foods. Your taste buds have been altered, but soon you will develop a taste for fresh, real food. Replace all processed sugars and sweeteners with fresh fruits, juices or smoothies. Slow down with food and take deep breaths before eating. This will place your body into a parasympathetic state, which is optimal for digestion. Add high quality proteins and fats to your diet to signal your body that you are being nourished. While fat can be an addictive substance, the addictive type of dietary fat is generally poor quality and highly refined. Instead, add essential fatty acids such as organic olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and avocado. The increase of quality fat can create satiety and reduce your physical need for the addictive food.

The journey to break free from food addiction can be challenging, for sure. But going within to uncover the circumstances related to your addiction will bring new self awareness that leads to true transformation. Be patient and kind to yourself through the process. The dependency didn’t develop overnight, and you deserve the time and space to overcome the addiction and develop a whole new, nourishing relationship with food and body. If want to learn more about helping yourself and others overcome Food Addiction and other eating challenges, check out our Eating Psychology Coaching Certification program.

The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

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About The Author
Emily Rosen

Emily Rosen is the Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, where she oversees business development strategies, student affairs, marketing and public relations in addition to her role as Senior Teacher. With an extensive and varied background in nutritional science, counseling, natural foods, the culinary arts, conscious sex education, mind body practices, business management and marketing, Emily brings a unique skill-set to her role at the Institute. She has also been a long-term director and administrator for Weight Loss Camps and Programs serving teens and adults and has held the position of Executive Chef at various retreat centers. Her passion for health and transformation has provided her the opportunity to teach, counsel, manage, and be at the forefront of the new wave of professionals who are changing the way we understand the science and psychology of eating and sexuality. Emily is also co -founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.