Part I: Food addiction: The silent disease

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of the series. To read this part in the future, go to

We are a nation of peoples with obsessions and compulsions, more so than any country in the world. Although for most people the obsessions and compulsions they have are not pathological (they do not create psychological or physical problems), for a growing number of individuals obsessions and compulsions create major life problems, among them being alcohol and other drug dependency for example.

Yet, even in this age, there exists an addiction of compulsive and obsessive behaviors at its core that consumes approximately 6 percent of our population, and that kills around 500,000 individuals each year; one that only in the past 25 years has been brought to the forefront: food addiction.

Food Addiction is the loss of control over food. Food is used as “medication” to control and suppress negative feelings such as sadness, anger, anxiety, depression, boredom and loneliness.

A major contemporary concern is our relationship with food. Terminology in vogue, such as being a “foodie,” has permeated our culture. We take pictures on our cell phones of food, we describe our relationships with others surrounding their likes and dislikes of food, food is usually involved in our social interaction with family members and others, we “quiet” and reward our children with food — food as never before in history permeates our culture. And, as it has done so, there are now an increasing amount of negative consequences.

A primary example is the growing rise of obesity in our nation, in which, the Rio Grande Valley is now deemed to have the “most obese individuals in the nation.” But obesity is not the only problem associated with food addiction. There are many more that are not less serious.

Besides the obvious reason for eating food, there are a variety of other reasons as well, which do not necessarily lead to problems. We eat in celebration, for enjoyment, for social acceptance, or to relieve boredom. We also eat to win affection, and often ritualistic (such as hot dogs at sporting events, popcorn at movies, snacking in front of the TV, etc.) Ritualistic eating can often result in over-eating, such as that occurring at Thanksgiving or other holidays. Eating patterns also vary; some may eat when they feel stress or to avoid painful feelings, while others may restrict their intake under the same circumstances. Most all of us eat for reasons other than to survive.

But it is our preoccupation with food and its relationship with success that has often been cited as a cause of the increase in the incidence of eating disorders.

Food addiction is the loss of control over food consumption; it is the craving that centers on food. Although food addiction is not considered to be a pathological problem with the psychology and medical community, the associated diseases, classified as “Eating Disorders” are (this is to change however with a revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that is being considered now).

Like addiction to alcohol and other drug substances, there are foods that are high in salt, sugar, and/or fat that can trigger the pleasure neurochemical receptors in the brain (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, etc.), creating strong feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. When a person becomes addicted to the “high” that results from eating particular types of food, the person suffering from the addiction will continue to eat even when they are no longer hungry — thus the ensuing addiction, not unlike the cocaine or heroin addicted person continuing to use the drug in order to feel the high. Food addiction is the most complicated form of addiction, as the major source of the addiction, food, is necessary for survival; one cannot just go without food for any length of time. It, unlike alcohol and other addictive chemical substances, is necessary for survival; and subsequently the hardest form of addiction to treat and takes the form of many diagnosis; Chronic Obesity, Chronic Binge-eating, Anorexia Nervosa, and Bulimia Nervosa.