I often say that in college I was addicted to Pop Tarts. In graduate school, it was candy corn. These days, thankfully, I'm more drawn to more nutritious foods, but I can't tell you the number of times I've heard others say that they're addicted to chocolate, or chips or fast food. While we usually all say these things in jest, the more research that is done on the brain's reaction to some foods, the more food addiction isn't just a joke — it's a reality.
The latest study to come out Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that a chocolate milkshake may affect the brain in the same way that cocaine might. Cocaine! Researchers are finding that high-sugar and high-fat foods, in a way, hijack the brain into not just craving but needing certain kinds of food. So how do you know if you are truly addicted to food? Or if you just really like and crave something? Below are five symptoms that may indicate an addiction to food.
5 Food Addiction Symptoms
1. Food is all you think about. If thinking about eating — or worrying about what you just ate — is getting in the way of your ability to go to work, be social or be a good family member, you may have a problem.
2. You want to stop — but you can't. If you feel like your love of food is out of control or if you want to stop eating so much but can't stop, it may be a sign that you need professional help.
3. You eat in secret or lie about what you've eaten. One characteristic of most people who are addicted to food is that they hide their eating behaviors or lie about what they've consumed. Feelings of guilt and shame when it comes to eating is another sign of disordered eating.
4. You eat beyond the point of fullness. Eating too much on Thanksgiving or your birthday is one thing, but regularly binging is another. If you regularly eat so much that you feel sick or can't stop eating even though you're full, you might be addicted to food. If you use laxatives or purge after binging, it's especially important to seek professional help.
5. You are compelled to eat when you're not hungry or are feeling low. While we all eat out of emotion every now and again, if you find yourself always going for high-fat and high-sugar foods when you're lonely, bored, stressed, anxious or depressed, this can signal food addiction, as your body is using some of the chemicals in those foods to boost levels in the brain.
If you think you might be addicted to food or have an eating disorder (many times they go hand in hand), get help by consulting your doctor, find a Registered Dietitian in your area who specializes in disordered eating or contact the National Eating Disorders Association's free hotline.
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.