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Are You a Food Addict? How to Evaluate Your Eating Habits

From the Show: HER
Summary: An increasing number of scientific studies suggest that food, like drugs or alcohol, can have addictive qualities.
Air Date: 12/11/14
Duration: 10
Host: Michelle King Robson and Pamela Peeke, MD
Guest Bio: Vera Tarman, MD, MSc, FCFP
Vera As founder and spokesperson for Addictions Unplugged, Dr. Vera Tarman has focused her medical practice over the past 17 years on addiction treatment and recovery.

Along with serving the addiction community through her own private practice, she has been the Medical Director at Renascent since 2006 and the Staff physician with Salvation Army Homestead since 2004.

A specialist in addiction behavior and treatment, Dr. Tarman is internationally recognized for her education in and publications on various areas of addiction and, more specifically, food addiction. She has been applauded for her speaking at conferences across the globe.
Are You a Food Addict? How to Evaluate Your Eating Habits
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There may be a certain local restaurant that has burgers so good you’re “addicted” to them. Or, perhaps you enjoy planning events around food, or just overindulge once in a while ("cheat day").

While you may appear to be a food addict, these examples can exist as totally normal behavior. Real addiction is a serious and potentially life-threatening problem, and scientific studies are continuing to find that food, like drugs and alcohol, can be addictive.

Food Addiction Can Lead to Dangerous Behavior

So, what exactly is food addiction? Addiction treatment and recovery specialist, Vera Tarman, MD, best describes it as a “continuum of desire,” where people obsess and think about food continuously throughout the day. Food is engineered to be hyper-palatable, and for some, it’s too good to resist.  It can get to the point where it begins to affect everyday life just like any other addiction.  

Food addiction truly starts to become a problem when it leads to irrational behavior -- such as stealing food because it’s getting too expensive -- or lying to others about food so you have more for yourself. Compared to alcoholism, it’s the difference between a heavy drinker and an alcoholic; a heavy drinker does not take more drinks when it’s time to go home. An alcoholic, on the other hand, cannot say no and continues to seek drinks.

Even when your health is at stake, excuses are constantly being churned out to justify and rationalize your behavior. If you are diabetic for example, you may continue to eat unhealthy foods because it doesn’t directly affect your symptoms.  

Are You a Food Addict?

A new test called the Yale Food Addiction Scale was created to determine how severe a food addiction is. It’s still being fine-tuned for clinical use, and is currently only used as a research tool. In lieu of the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a common test administered to potential food addicts involves asking 20 questions, similar to those presented at 12-step programs. Like the Yale Food Addiction Scale, this method is a great way to identify addiction and determine the level of denial, craving, and obsession.  

Questions include:
  • Do you eat in secret or hide food so you may eat it later?
  • Do you eat even when you’re not hungry?
  • Do you exercise excessively just so you can control weight without changing diet?
  • Do you throw away food and eat it from the garbage at a later date?
It can be hard to tell the difference between binge eating and food addiction (although it’s possible to be diagnosed with both), but there is an important distinction. Binge eaters are able to learn how to eat in moderation, while food addicts cannot limit food quantities, and they continue to reintroduce potential trigger foods that may be causing cravings in the first place.

In this segment, Dr. Tarman defines food addiction, how it differs from binge eating, and questions to ask yourself if you think you're addicted to food.

Alonso is a long-time health and wellness advocate who loves to write about it. His writing spans the scope of blogs, educational magazines, and books, both on and offline.

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