Food Addiction Treatment
in Houston, TX and Online
Are You “Addicted” to Food?
If you answered yes, you may have symptoms of food addiction. You may feel addicted to food that is highly processed, craving more despite negative consequences such as physical discomfort, or not engaging in other activities you enjoy. There’s a reason you feel this way. Some research suggests that the combination of highly palatable carbohydrates (sugars) and fat floods the brain with feel-good chemicals similar to the way it does with other addictive substances. Therapy for food addiction can help you break free.
If you answered yes, you may have symptoms of food addiction. You may feel addicted to food that is highly processed, craving more despite negative consequences such as physical discomfort, or not engaging in other activities you enjoy.
There’s a reason you feel this way.
Some research suggests that the combination of highly palatable carbohydrates (sugars) and fat floods the brain with feel-good chemicals similar to the way it does with other addictive substances.
Therapy for food addiction can help you break free.
Does Overcoming Food Addiction Mean Stop Eating “Addictive Foods?”
You feel addicted to food.
You may think the solution is to abstain from addictive high fat and sugary foods just as an alcoholic might abstain from drinking alcohol.
That makes sense right? Control the uncontrollable.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it renders you powerless over food either way.
You’re either feeling powerless and out of control or powerless and thus having to exert a HUGE amount of control to steer clear of certain junk foods.
When that doesn’t work long-term, it can lead to shame, feelings of failure and inadequacy, and binge eating.
Avoiding a substance may work for drugs and alcohol, but you can’t avoid food.
The drive for food, including sugars and fats, is necessary for survival unlike the drive for cocaine, alcohol or other abusive drugs.
What Causes Food Addiction?
Food addiction is a process addiction.
Food temporarily relieves stress, and foods such as sugar can have a drug-like impact on mood. Sugar reduces stress-induced cortisol and we can become addicted to the process of using sugar to reduce stress.
It provides quick energy, numbs or soothes, and creates pleasurable feelings in the moment.
Over time, the process of soothing emotional pain becomes compulsive or habitual (like gambling or overworking). We become addicted to the process of feeling bad, using highly palatable foods, then feeling good.
The more you eat highly processed foods, the more your taste buds expect that same taste and the more your brain is flooded with the feel-good chemical, dopamine.
Dopamine is highly rewarding in the brain – pleasurable. The more you eat compulsively, the greater likelihood the number of dopamine receptors decrease, which means you need more to get the same feelings of pleasure.
Your body has learned to crave junk foods.
Research also shows that people who are impulsive tend to develop cravings, binge eating symptoms, and loss of control over junk food when exposed to a high sugar diet. (People who were less impulsive did not show those symptoms when exposed to the sugary diet).
How is Food Addiction Treated?
Food addiction treatment means increasing pleasure.
When there is a deficit in naturally pleasurable activities, food becomes the go-to. Food is comforting, accessible and quick.
So to overcome compulsive eating, one step is to increase other forms of pleasure in your life.
Activities such as socializing, playing games, exercising, sex, discovering new things, finishing tasks and accomplishing goals (yes, write down your tasks and check them off for a dopamine boost!), creativity, meditation, and listening to music also increase dopamine in the brain.
Excessive stress, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, lack of sleep, vitamin and mineral deficiency and more, can all lead to dopamine depletion.
To overcome sugar addiction or compulsive eating, avoiding foods isn’t the answer, but rather, increase other rewards in your life. Meaning, the most effective protection against food and sugar addiction is working towards rewarding actions, activities, and ultimately, a lifestyle of fulfillment.
As you can imagine, issues such as anxiety, depression and trauma can make it difficult to pursue dopamine boosting activities. Thus, addressing these factors and healing from trauma in particular, is an essential component of recovery.
Highly processed foods are easy to overindulge in for anyone. We can shift our taste buds over time and change our habits and neural pathways, which can help you overcome cravings for junk food.
Therapy for Food Addiction
Our approach to food addiction recovery is to get to the root of the issue and focus on strategies to help you regain your power and feel in charge. The goal is ultimately to be able to enjoy foods without feeling addicted or out of control.
There is not really one cause for compulsive overeating nor is there one solution. A combination of factors are more likely to help you overcome compulsive overeating:
- Increasing pleasure
- Identifying physical, mental, and emotional triggers and underlying needs
- Coping with emotions
- Reducing and responding effectively to stress
- Mindfulness vs numbing or distracting
- Compassion vs judgment and fear
- Balanced eating behaviors vs restrict-binge
- Increasing confidence and trust in self
- Reducing black and white thinking
- Balancing hormones, blood sugar, and vitamin/nutrient deficiencies
- Learning to set healthy boundaries
At the heart of recovery is self-acceptance and the willingness to experience (and cope effectively with) painful feelings in service of a bigger life for yourself.
Food Addiction Treatment FAQ's
For a small percentage of the population, genetics and lifestyle factors can lead to physical food addiction. True food addiction can be defined as, “clinically significant physical and psychological dependence on high fat, high sugar, and highly palatable foods.”
This means addictive eating behavior. This is not the same as binge eating or binge eating disorder though it shares some similarities and may be a more extreme form of binge eating disorder.
Food addiction is not currently a medical diagnosis in the diagnostic and statistical manual.
Here are criteria that may indicate food addiction.
- Craving (all food issues have this symptom)
- Persistent unsuccessful efforts to control eating
- Continued eating despite physical or psychological problems
- Food consumed in larger amounts over a longer time than intended
- Great deal of time spent to obtain food or recover from its effects
- Increased amounts of food needed to have same effects
- Failure to fulfill major role obligations – i.e., leaving young child at home alone to go out and seek food; having to quit job due to eating all day long
- Social or interpersonal problems – i.e., stopped connecting with people you care about
- Use in physically hazardous conditions/failure to “cut back” – i.e., eating out of the trash
When a person struggles with food addiction, there is significant impulsivity and compulsivity. For example, having difficulty thinking through long-term decisions; once focused on a thought, it becomes obsessive and intrusive and can only think about food.
Those coping with food addiction also have less preoccupation with shape and weight unlike most other food issues including binge eating.
It's not a matter of will power, your body has learned to crave junk foods and this typically starts at a young age.
Addiction, in the context of alcohol or drugs, implies a physical dependence on a substance. This includes withdrawal symptoms, physical symptoms, tolerance and intense cravings.
Medically, there is a difference between physical dependence (withdrawal) and psychological dependence (compulsive use).
In some ways, food or sugar addiction is not the same as drug addiction.
- We all experience cravings (the most commonly craved foods in women is chocolate and in men is pizza), yet they generally occur later in the day vs earlier as they would in a drug addiction withdrawal (smokers don't usually experience their first craving after dinner while watching TV!).
- Children like intensely sweet tastes, which generally declines in adolescence, which is the opposite of tolerance.
- Binge eaters who restrict foods often experience a reduction in cravings after a period of time of allowing those "forbidden foods."
Compulsive eating develops in response to social (culture/media/peer influences) or psychological (criticism, low self-esteem, uncomfortable emotions) factors.
People become dependent on the process that happens – the good, soothing feelings and pleasure that go along with eating – rather than to the food itself.
Appetite Hormones Are Different
In obesity, ghrelin (an appetite stimulating hormone) does not decrease with food intake. Typically, ghrelin decreases after eating, which lets your body know you’ve eaten and are now satisfied.
Similarly, obese individuals have decreased leptin receptors and thus, chronically elevated leptin levels. Leptin is the satiety hormone. A lack of leptin sensitivity means it takes more food to feel satiated, which also increases cravings.
This makes it extremely difficult to eat when hungry and stop when full as the body cues aren’t working properly.
Brain Chemistry & Food Addiction
Studies have shown that people who were more impulsive tended to develop binge eating symptoms when exposed to a diet high in sugar. They also tended to show heightened cravings and loss of control over junk food. Conversely, participants shown to be less impulsive demonstrated the ability to appropriately control impulsive behavior and did not show abnormal eating behavior when exposed to the sugary diet.
Another study showed how consuming rapidly digesting carbs led to an initial surge in blood sugar levels, followed by sharp crash four hours later. This decrease in blood glucose was associated with excessive hunger and intense activation of the nucleus accumbens, a critical brain region involved in addictive behaviors.
Contact a Food Addiction Specialist in Houston & Sugar Land, TX to Start Healing
If you’re tired of feeling out of control or compulsive with food, it may be time to seek help! Our counselors understand how frustrating, exhausting and shame-inducing the struggle with food can be.
Your therapist will assess your food addiction symptoms in your initial appointment. Depending on the severity of compulsive eating, your therapist may recommend a more intensive food addiction treatment program to begin with, such as intensive outpatient or residential. We are an outpatient counseling center so we do not have these treatment options, but if appropriate, they can be a great way to reduce addictive eating behaviors.
Online therapy can also help with food addiction.
There are many ways to get help for food addiction. If you are struggling with food addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You can overcome your addiction and lose weight. Most importantly, you can learn to heal the deeper imbalances contributing to compulsive eating and emerge more whole, confident, and deeply connected to yourself.
You deserve nothing less! Contact us for more information about how we can help or participate in our make peace with food program.
Get Help From a Specialist in Food Addiction Treatment
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