Food addiction is a form of behavioral addiction that doesn’t involve the consumption of drugs or alcohol. This condition has no official definition in the U.S., but years of scientific research indicate that you can develop a damaging relationship to food that interferes with your ability to function well in daily life. If you suspect that you might be a food addict, you can use a couple of different approaches to check for possible signs of real problems.
How Could Food Be Addictive?
Before you begin looking for signs of food addiction, it might help you to know how you can potentially develop an addictive relationship to eating. At first, this might seem like a strange concept, since you must eat to stay alive. However, extensive research has shown that you can indeed develop an unhealthy fixation on certain types of foods. As a rule, the main culprits are foods that have a strong impact on your blood sugar levels (i.e., the amount of a simple sugar called glucose in your bloodstream at any given time). Things that fall into this category include processed table sugar, corn syrup, drinks sweetened with sugar or corn syrup, and processed grains. Salty, starchy and fatty foods may also trigger chemical reactions in your body that promote addictive intake.
Comparing Your Food-Related Behaviors to Substance Use
You can potentially detect signs of food addiction by comparing your food-related behaviors to the behaviors of people who develop diagnosable substance problems. Possible areas of similarity include:
- Feelings of mental or physical discomfort that appear when you stop eating certain kinds of food
- An inability to control or reduce your intake of a given food
- Devotion of lots of time to thinking about a food when you’re not eating it
- Putting consumption of a food above other life priorities
- Continuing your intake of a food even when you know it seriously harms your health
- Feeling the need to eat increasingly large amounts of a food to gain satisfaction
Using the Yale Food Addiction Scale
The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has developed a tool called the Yale Food Addiction Scale that allows you to assess your food-related thoughts and behaviors. This tool contains 25 questions that address issues such as:
- Episodes of uncontrollable food intake
- Any tendency to eat past the point of fullness
- Avoidance of certain situations out of fear of overeating
- Avoidance of situations just because certain foods are not served
- Skipping social, work or family obligations in order to eat a certain food
- Feeling strong cravings for certain foods when your intake drops or completely stops
- An inability to function effectively in any life area as a result of food/eating
- The presence of strongly negative emotions (e.g., guilt, depression, self-hatred) related to food
- An inability to act on any desires to change your food intake habits
The usefulness of the Yale Food Addiction Scale has been validated through scientific research.
Actions to Take
If you determine that you have significant signs of food addiction, you may want to seek assistance from a doctor who specializes in treating this particular form of addiction, or a doctor who specializes in treating non-substance-based behavioral addictions in general. You may also want to join a mutual self-help group like Food Addicts Anonymous, which functions along the same lines as a substance-based self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous. Alternatives to Food Addicts Anonymous include Recovery From Food Addiction and Food Addicts in Recovery.
Food Addiction Research Education: What Is Food Addiction? http://foodaddictionresearch.org/
Measurement Instrument Database for the Social Sciences: Yale Food Addiction Scale http://www.midss.org/content/yale-food-addiction-scale-yfas
Yale Food Addiction Scale http://www.midss.org/sites/default/files/yale_food_addiction_scale.pdf