Not everyone with a binge, compulsive, or emotional eating problem would say they are a food addict. There are many people who can heal the emotional issues they have with food without ever having to give up a specific food or type of food. This is a highly personal recovery process.
And for others, specific foods may be as problematic as alcohol is to the alcoholic. Even one bite seems to set off a chain of physiological reactions in the brain and body. While someone who labels themselves a food addict may have as many unresolved emotional issues to work through as someone who finds they are an emotional eater, a food addict feels they deal with a physical dependence. Though some people (including professionals) are unsure or uninformed about the theory of food addiction, research has shown that some foods, including sugar, can be just as addictive and harmful as other serious drugs for some people.
It’s not as simple as identifying yourself as either an emotional eater or a food addict. In some cases, you might not know the food addiction is there until you start to unravel the emotional problems. As a first step, you might review Gearhardt’s self-assessment tool, the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS).
Another challenge is that while most therapists are equipped to deal with eating disorders, such as binge and emotional eating, very few therapists have the training and understanding to treat food addiction.
That is a specialty here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, and we take a highly individualized approach to support people through the process of identifying the true nature of their food issues. We also train interns in this area, as well as enlightening other students and therapists with our seminars and presentations.
It’s not easy to face addiction—once you “put the food down” (stop eating the food you’re addicted to), more emotions can come up and you may even feel a sense of loss from giving them up.
On the other hand, it can be validating to realize that your compulsion around food is not due to any lack of willpower; it may be a physiological reaction that’s the same as gluten sensitivity or lactose intolerance. And that can be a real relief after struggling for so long.