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What is food addiction?

Food addiction is a disorder characterized by preoccupation with food, the availability of food and the anticipation of pleasure from the ingestion of food.  Food addiction involves the repetitive consumption of food against the individual's better judgment resulting in loss of control and preoccupation or the restriction of food and preoccupation with body weight and image.  Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by intense fear of gaining weight.  Bulimia Nervosa is described as binge eating and compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain.  Compulsive Overeaters use food inappropriately and eventually become addicted to it and lose control over the amount of food they eat.

What are warning signs for anorexia nervosa?

Behaviors associated with Anorexia Nervosa include excessive weighing, excessive measuring of body parts, and persistently using a mirror to check body size.  Self-esteem is dependent upon body shape and weight.  Weight loss is viewed as an impressive achievement and an example of extraordinary self-discipline.  Persons with Anorexia Nervosa may develop odd and ritualistic eating habits such as cutting their food into tiny pieces, refusing to eat in front of others, or fixing elaborate meals for others that they themselves don't eat.

What are the effects of anorexia nervosa?

Physical implication of Anorexia Nervosa may include disruption of the menstrual cycle, signs of starvation, thinning of hair or hair loss, bloated feeling, yellowish palms/soles of feet, dry, pasty skin.  Starvation experienced by persons with Anorexia Nervosa can cause damage to vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, and brain.  Additional complications may include drop in pulse rate and blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms or heart failure.  Nutritional deprivation may also lead to brittle bones and osteoporosis, decreased brain volume, death by suicide or complications of the malnutrition.

What are warning signs of bulimia nervosa?

Individuals with Bulimia Nervosa become ashamed of their eating behavior and attempt to conceal symptoms through rapid consumption of food.  They will eat until painfully full and stop if intruded upon.  80- 90% of bulimics will induce vomiting.  Other behaviors include misuse of laxative, diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, and hoarding of food.  A depressed mood and loss of sexual interest are common among bulimics, as is frequent complaints of sore throats and abdominal pains.

What are the effects of bulimia nervosa?

Physical implication of Bulimia Nervosa may include loss of dental enamel, increase of cavities, swollen saliva glands, calluses, scars on hands (from self induced vomiting), irregular menstrual cycle, dependency on laxatives for bowel movements, fluid and electrolyte disturbance. Individuals with Bulimia Nervosa, even though of normal weight, can severely damage their bodies by frequent binging and purging.  Malnutrition, like Anorexia Nervosa, may lead to cardiac complications, heart failure, stomach rupture, or sudden death.

What are the warning signs of compulsive overeating?

Overeaters demonstrate uncontrollable binge eating without extreme weight control and see that behavior as normal.  Overeaters present with moderate to severe obesity, with an average binge eater being 60% overweight.  Binge-eating episodes consist of carbohydrates and junk food with most binges done in scheduled secrecy.

Do you have a food addiction?

Has anyone ever told you that you have a problem with food?

Do you think food is a problem for you?

Do you eat large amounts of high calorie food in a short period of time?

Do you find yourself fearful of gaining weight?

Do you eat when you are disappointed, tense, or anxious?

Can you stop eating without a struggle after one or two sweets?

Do you find yourself preoccupied with gaining weight?

Has being overweight ever affected any part of your life?

Do you weigh yourself once or twice (or more) a day?

Do you eat more than you planned to eat?

Have you hidden food so that you would have it just for yourself?

Have you ever felt angry when someone ate food you saved for yourself?

Do you worry that you can't control how much you eat?

Have you felt frantic about your size, shape, or weight?

How many methods of weight loss have you tired in the past? (i.e., self induce vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, fasting, amphetamines (diet pills), weight loss programs, etc.)

Have you ever felt so ashamed of the amount you eat that you hide your eating?

Have you been so upset about the way you eat that you wished you would die?

Do you overeat more than twice a week?

Do you invent plans in order to be alone to eat?

Do you seek out companions who eat the way you do?

How can someone get help?

The first step is to determine if there is a problem.  A Certified Addictions Counselor trained specifically in identifying food addiction can effectively perform an assessment to determine if a problem with food exists and recommend a level of treatment. For a free confidential assessment, call the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at (800) 522-3784.  An assessment can be completed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are always welcome.  

Sources:  American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness