Food addiction is real. “Hello, my name is {blank}, and I’m a food addict.” Sound far-fetched? It may not be.  A symposium aimed at deciphering the research surrounding food addiction found that consumption of certain foods (those high in sugar and fat) are more associated with “addictive behaviors” than others.

Sugar leads to the release of dopamine in the brain; a chemical that produces euphoric feelings, and is also released after taking addictive drugs such as nicotine or heroin.  Our taste buds can also be wired to crave fat, sweet and salt over time.  So the more sugar, fat and salt we eat, the more we want it.

So, how can the food addict get on the road to recovery? An alcoholic is told to stop drinking and avoid alcohol forever, but a food addict can’t use the same logic. Everyone needs to eat.

Any addiction treatment starts with regaining control, and treating food addiction is no different.  Here are a few tips if you’re feeling out of control:

  • Stop mindless eating.  This includes eating in front of the TV, or grazing at a party.  Eating without thinking often leads to overindulging.  Have set mealtimes where food is the only focus.
  • Wean your taste buds off salt, sugar and fat.  This is a gradual process, going cold turkey generally doesn’t work in the long term. So this week reduce the amount of sugar in your coffee by one spoonful.  Next week, make it two. Before you know it, you might be drinking it black.
  • Find support. Whether it”s and or a therapist get the emotional support you need. Any addiction is a difficult thing to tackle, and seeking the help of a professional is a step in the right direction.

Finally, psychologically it”s important to not ignore various stressors in your life. Part of breaking an addiction is learning to deal with cravings. According to a recent study out of Penn State, those cravings can actually multiply and cause a relapse if an addict ignores stress. The addicts in the study who dealt with stress by avoiding it had twice as many cravings in a stressful day, compared to those who worked through their problems.