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How to overcome food addiction

Tips to overcome a food addiction

Like other addictions, food addiction often requires treatment from trained professionals. This article explains what food addiction is, how it works, and how to overcome it.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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How to overcome food addiction
Last updated on March 5, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on December 31, 2021.

The effects of certain foods on the brain make it hard for some people to avoid them.

How to overcome food addiction

Food addiction operates similarly to other addictions, which explains why some people can’t control themselves around certain foods — no matter how hard they try.

Despite not wanting to, they may repeatedly find themselves eating large amounts of unhealthy foods — knowing that doing so may cause harm.

This article examines food addiction and provides tips to overcome it.

In this article

What is food addiction?

Food addiction is an addiction to junk food and comparable to drug addiction.

It’s a relatively new — and controversial — term, and high-quality statistics on its prevalence are lacking.

Food addiction is similar to several other disorders, including binge eating disorder, bulimia, compulsive overeating, and other feeding and eating disorders.

Summary: Food addiction is a highly controversial concept, though most studies suggest it exists. It works similarly to drug addiction.

How food addiction affects your brain

Food addiction involves the same areas of the brain as drug addiction. Also, the same neurotransmitters are involved, and many of the symptoms are identical.

Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the reward centers of the brain. These effects are caused by brain neurotransmitters like dopamine.

The most problematic foods include typical junk foods like candy, sugary soda, and high-fat fried foods.

Food addiction is not caused by a lack of willpower but is believed to be caused by a dopamine signal that affects the biochemistry of the brain.

Summary: Food addiction is thought to involve the same neurotransmitters and areas of the brain as drug addiction.

8 symptoms of food addiction

There is no blood test to diagnose food addiction. As with other addictions, it’s based on behavioral symptoms.

Here are 8 common symptoms:

  1. frequent cravings for certain foods, despite feeling full and having just finished a nutritious meal
  2. starting to eat a craved food and often eating much more than intended
  3. eating a craved food and sometimes eating to the point of feeling excessively stuffed
  4. often feeling guilty after eating particular foods — yet eating them again soon after
  5. sometimes making excuses about why responding to a food craving is a good idea
  6. repeatedly — but unsuccessfully — trying to quit eating certain foods, or setting rules for when eating them is allowed, such as at cheat meals or on certain days
  7. often hiding the consumption of unhealthy foods from others
  8. feeling unable to control the consumption of unhealthy foods — despite knowing that they cause physical harm or weight gain

If more than four to five of the symptoms on this list apply, it could mean there’s a deeper issue. If six or more apply, then it’s likely a food addiction.

A simple 3-step plan to stop sugar cravings
Suggested read: A simple 3-step plan to stop sugar cravings

Summary: The main symptoms of food addiction include craving and binging on unhealthy foods without being hungry and an inability to resist the urge to eat these foods.

Food addiction is a serious problem

Though the term addiction is often thrown around lightly, having a true addiction is a serious condition that typically requires treatment to overcome.

The symptoms and thought processes associated with food addiction are similar to those of drug abuse. It’s just a different substance, and the social consequences may be less severe.

Food addiction can cause physical harm and lead to chronic health conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

In addition, it may negatively impact a person’s self-esteem and self-image, making them unhappy with their body.

As with other addictions, food addiction may take an emotional toll and increase a person’s risk of premature death.

Summary: Food addiction increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Excessive weight may also affect a person’s self-esteem.

How to know whether avoiding junk food is worth the sacrifice

Completely avoiding junk foods may seem impossible. They’re everywhere and a major part of modern culture.

However, in some cases, entirely abstaining from certain trigger foods can become necessary.

Once the firm decision to never eat these foods again is made, avoiding them may become easier, as the need to justify eating — or not eating — them is eliminated. Cravings may also disappear or decrease significantly.

Suggested read: Binge eating disorder: Symptoms, causes, and asking for help

Consider writing a list of pros and cons to think through the decision.

Write everything down — no matter how peculiar or vain it may seem. Then compare the two lists and ask if it’s worth it.

If the answer is a resounding “yes,” be assured that it’s the right decision.

Also, keep in mind that many of the social dilemmas that may show up in the con list can often easily be solved.

Summary: To overcome food addiction, a person should be sure that eliminating certain foods is the right thing to do. If there’s uncertainty, writing down the pros and cons may help make the decision.

First steps in overcoming food addiction

A few things can help prepare for giving up junk foods and make the transition easier:

Additionally, don’t go on a diet. Put weight loss on hold for at least 1–3 months.

Overcoming food addiction is difficult enough. Adding hunger and restrictions to the mix is likely to make things harder.

After taking these preparatory steps, set a date in the near future — like the coming weekend — from which point onward the addictive trigger foods won’t be touched again.

Suggested read: 15 helpful tips to overcome binge eating

Summary: To overcome food addiction, it’s important to plan. Make a list of trigger foods and know what is going to be eaten instead.

Consider seeking help

Most people with addiction attempt to quit several times before they succeed in the long run.

While it’s possible to overcome addiction without help — even if it takes several tries — it can often be beneficial to seek help.

Many health professionals and support groups can aid in overcoming your addiction.

Finding a psychologist or psychiatrist who has experience in dealing with food addiction can provide one-on-one support, but there are several free group options available as well.

Summary: Consider seeking help for food addiction. Try support groups or book an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in food addiction.


Food addiction is a problem that is rarely resolved on its own. Unless a conscious decision to deal with it is made, chances are it will worsen over time.

The first steps to overcoming the addiction include listing the pros and cons of quitting trigger foods, finding healthy food alternatives, and setting a fixed date to start the journey toward health.

Consider seeking help from a health professional or free support group. Always remember that you’re not alone.

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