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Can food be addictive? Symptoms and Treatment

Development of the food industry allowed creation and modification of food, leading to its increased “rewarding properties” (its palatability) in order to enhance sale. In addition, this food is rich in calories, saturated with fat, sugar, additives, have low nutritional value, easily accessible and there is abundant. Researchers say that it is this type of food (sweet, salty, oily) which has the potential to be addictive

Food addiction is often described as an extreme preoccupation with food and eating periodically huge quantities in a short period of time. In such situations, compulsive eating patterns can be seen as a result of ineffective self-control (e.g. “emotional overeating”, i.e., food consumption in order to modify the negative sentiment caused by depression or stress). In addition, studies have shown that such behavious is frequently related to self-discrepancies as well as negative body-related attitudes, in women.

The literature also point out similarities between brain processes that occur during the use of both drugs, and through the consumption of food which emphasize the role of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is part of the motivation and reward systems of the brain. Next to him, the use of drugs or food (sweet, salty, fatty), activates endogenous opiates (another group of participants in the ways of rewarding),


in children:

· Consuming a large amounts of food over a long period of time;

· Unsuccessful attempts to stop or reduce the amount of food intake;

· Continuing consumption despite harmful consequences.

In adults:

· Persistent desire or repeated failures to reduce the amount of food intake;

· Continued consumption, despite harmful consequences of food;

· A lot of time spent in trying to reduce the amount of food consumed, as well as a lot of time spent on recovery from overeating.


· We should not starve!

Hunger stimulates cravings and uncontrolled entry if it's available.

· Eat only when you feel hungry!

One of the tools used by nutritionists is ten-degree hunger scale where 0 means starvation, and 10 overeating. In the treatment of food addiction goal is to stay out of the two extremes, eating when feeling hungry (2 to 3) and stop when you feel satiety (5 to 6).

· Avoid stress, control emotions!

It is necessary to find “healthier” strategy for tolerating feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, etc.

· Regular exercise!

Pleasure could not be found only in consuming chocolate, pizza, “big mc”, but also in regular exercise.

To deal with the problem effectively, one should first identify the cause of it. Sometimes the usual approach to weight loss (healthy diet and physical exercise) is associated with poor adherence rates and overall weight gain. One possible reason for the ineffectiveness of dieting is that it is treating the outcome of overeating and not the underlying cause

The proposed cycle of ‘food addiction’. Initial vulnerability for the over-consumption of palatable food is marked by increased impulsivity and reward sensitivity, as well as a diminished capacity for inhibitory control. As a consequence of overconsumption, individuals experience tolerance, craving and withdrawal, along with a range of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties such as weight stigmatisation and feelings of guilt and shame. With repeated consumption of these foods, the individual is likely to habituate to the hedonic properties of the food, resulting in reduced enjoyment or liking. These changes are also accompanied by an increased desire or ‘wanting’ for the food. In an attempt to relieve these symptoms, the individual ‘self-medicates’ by increasing food consumption, which can result in compulsive or binge eating behaviour, thus creating a cycle of addiction. It should be noted that the extent to which each of these mechanisms is experienced varies considerably across individuals. In particular, initial vulnerability to addiction may be related to individual differences in reward sensitivity, impulsivity and inhibitory control

The proposed cycle of ‘food addiction’ including the role of dopamine. When palatable food is consumed, the brain releases the hormone dopamine (alongside other neurotransmitters such as opioids). Over time, this increase in dopamine leads to the downregulation of dopamine receptors, causing individuals to experience a reduction in pleasure during palatable food consumption. This decrease in pleasure, combined with symptoms of tolerance, craving, withdrawal and other social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, results in the individual engaging in compensatory behaviour by increasing food consumption. As a consequence, food consumption may become compulsive, thus creating a cycle of food addiction.


  • Dimitrijević, I., Popović, N., Sabljak, V., Škodrić-Trifunović, V., & Dimitrijević, N. (2015). Food addiction-diagnosis and treatment. Psychiatria Danubina, 27(1), 101–106.

  • Adams, R. C., Sedgmond, J., Maizey, L., Chambers, C. D., & Lawrence, N. S. (2019). Food Addiction: Implications for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Overeating. Nutrients, 11(9), 2086.

  • Lindgren, E., Gray, K., Miller, G., Tyler, R., Wiers, C. E., Volkow, N. D., & Wang, G. J. (2018). Food addiction: A common neurobiological mechanism with drug abuse. Frontiers in bioscience (Landmark edition), 23, 811–836.

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