The addictive properties of caffeine are widely known but researchers now believe that people are driven to eat sugary, fatty or salty foods, and this is now being recognized as food addiction or compulsive eating. Being a food addict means dealing with uncontrollable cravings for extra food after eating refined carbohydrates (sugars, fatty or salty). Food addicts can be men or women and can often be overweight.
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For some compulsive eaters, food is used as a way to self-medicate in order to deal with negative feelings about him/herself, to avoid an inner emptiness, as a way to deal with external stress or to curb cravings for validation from others. The experience of comfort eating is extra pleasuring due to endorphins that are released in the brain making us happy and satisfied. These chemicals are also known to help to reduce anxiety and stress. This sense of a false satisfaction does not last long as dopamines are then released in the brain leaving the food addict more stimulated to eat more of the same. This creates an addictive cycle of needing to eat more of the same to bring about a sense of calm and satisfaction again.
The cause of food addiction is thought to develop in childhood and adolescence and is usually linked to low self-esteem; poor body image, childhood trauma, and prolonged stress can also be common features. There also appears to be a link with body dysmorphic disorder where people are obsessed and preoccupied with their body image. This means that when seeking treatment it is not just about working with the addiction but also about addressing what is causing it and finding alternative ways of coping and managing.