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Understanding and Overcoming
Food Addiction

Learn more about food addiction with New Choices Treatment Center and our evidence-based programs that address symptoms through therapy and support.


What is Food Addiction?

Food is a fundamental part of our lives, providing nourishment, comfort, and even pleasure. However, for some individuals, the relationship with food can become unhealthy, leading to a condition known as food addiction.
Food addiction is characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with food, compulsive eating behaviors, and a lack of control over food intake, despite negative consequences.1
Food Addiction

Symptoms of Food Addiction

Food addiction shares many similarities with substance use disorders, as both involve a compulsive need to engage in a behavior despite adverse consequences.
Individuals struggling with food addiction often experience:
  • Obsessive thoughts about food, meal planning, and eating that consume a significant portion of their daily thoughts and mental energy. They may find themselves constantly preoccupied with what they will eat next or feeling guilty about their eating habits.2
  • Compulsive eating behaviors, such as binge eating or eating in secret. This may involve consuming large quantities of food in a short period or hiding their eating habits from others due to shame or embarrassment.3
  • Emotional eating triggers, using food to cope with stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions. Food can become a way to temporarily numb or escape from difficult feelings, leading to a cycle of emotional eating and subsequent guilt or remorse.4
  • Feelings of shame and isolation related to their eating habits. Many individuals with food addiction feel deeply ashamed of their behaviors and may isolate themselves from social situations.5
  • Difficulty controlling food intake, even when full or not hungry. Despite a conscious desire to stop eating, individuals may feel powerless to resist cravings, even when physically uncomfortable or distressed.

Note About Food Addiction

It’s important to recognize that food addiction is not a lack of willpower or a character flaw. Rather, it is a complex condition influenced by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
Just as with substance addictions, there are underlying neurological and emotional components that contribute to the development and maintenance of addictive eating patterns.

Food Addiction By The Numbers

Food addiction affects many individuals in varying ways. Some statistics to take note of include:
  • According to a 2014 study published in the journal Nutrients, the prevalence of food addiction diagnosis in the U.S. was 19.9% across multiple studies using the Yale Food Addiction Scale.6
  • Food addiction appears to be more prevalent among women than men. One study found the prevalence was 6.7% in women compared to 3.0% in men.7
  • Rates of food addiction are higher among individuals with obesity or binge eating disorder. In one study, 37% of obese individuals met the criteria for food addiction.8 In another study, 57% of those with binge eating disorder met criteria for food addiction.9
  • Among children and adolescents under 21 years old in the U.S., the estimated prevalence of food addiction is around 15% based on the Yale Food Addiction Scale for Children.10

Treatment Approach For Food Addiction

Effective treatment for food addiction involves a multifaceted approach that addresses the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of the disorder.
Key components of a comprehensive treatment plan may include:
  • Individualized care plans tailored to each client’s unique triggers, emotional attachments, and nutritional needs
  • Evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based interventions
  • Nutritional education and guidance on balanced eating, portion control, and mindful eating practices

Therapy and Counseling Options

Therapy plays a crucial role in helping individuals with food addiction identify and address the underlying emotional and psychological factors contributing to their disordered eating patterns.
Some effective therapeutic modalities include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This evidence-based approach helps individuals recognize and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to food and eating.
CBT teaches skills to identify and challenge distorted thoughts about food, body image, and self-worth that can fuel addictive eating behaviors. It also helps develop healthier coping strategies and problem-solving skills to manage cravings and triggers.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Even though this approach was originally developed for treating borderline personality disorder, DBT has also proven highly effective for food addiction. It teaches skills for emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness to manage triggers and prevent relapse.
DBT helps individuals become more mindful of their emotions, develop self-acceptance, and build a “life worth living” that is not centered around food.

Mindfulness-Based Interventions

These approaches, such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based eating awareness training (MB-EAT), promote present moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to eating.
This heightened mindfulness helps individuals develop a more balanced, non-judgmental relationship with food and their bodies. Mindfulness skills disrupt automatic patterns of emotional and binge eating.

Additional Therapy Options for Food Addiction

In addition to these evidence-based modalities, other therapeutic techniques may be incorporated, such as:
  • Motivational Interviewing: This client-centered approach explores an individual’s readiness for change and resolves ambivalence about modifying eating behaviors.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): This therapy helps individuals develop psychological flexibility by embracing difficult thoughts and emotions rather than avoiding them through addictive eating.  
  • Interpersonal Therapy: This focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and social functioning, which are often impacted by food addiction.
The specific therapeutic approach and plan is tailored to each client’s needs. It will often draw from various modalities to address the complex psychological, emotional, and behavioral aspects of food addiction for each individual.

Nutritional Education and Guidance: A Cornerstone for Food Addiction

Nutritional education is an essential component of food addiction treatment, as it helps individuals develop a healthy, balanced relationship with food.
This multifaceted approach may include:
  • Learning about balanced eating and the importance of incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all the major food groups. This involves education on macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) to ensure the body receives proper nourishment.
  • Understanding portion control through techniques like using smaller plates, reading nutrition labels, and learning to recognize true hunger and fullness cues. Clients learn how to plan and portion meals in a way that promotes satiety without deprivation.
  • Practicing mindful eating techniques to increase present-moment awareness and enjoyment of food without judgment or guilt. This may involve slowing down during meals, savoring flavors and textures, and recognizing emotional and environmental eating triggers.
  • Exploring the roles that different foods play in addiction and recovery. Some highly palatable foods high in sugar, salt, and fat can trigger addictive responses similar to drugs and alcohol. Nutritionists guide clients in moderating intake of these foods.

Additional Approaches for Nutritional Guidance and Counseling

Other options that may be incorporated into this type of approach is help with planning and grocery shopping guidance to ensure clients have the skills to make nutritious choices when transitioning back to independent living.
Also, cooking classes and demonstrations led by professional chefs or nutritionists can teach clients how to prepare simple, healthy meals they can recreate at home.
The goal is to empower individuals to make food choices that provide adequate nourishment while avoiding patterns of restriction and binging. Proper nutrition supports physical and mental health during recovery.

Holistic Support for Recovery From Food Addiction

In addition to therapy and nutritional education, a holistic approach to food addiction recovery encompasses various aspects of an individual’s life to promote overall wellness and prevent relapse.

Healing Emotional Eating Patterns

Addressing underlying emotional triggers and developing healthy coping mechanisms are crucial for breaking the cycle of emotional eating.
This multifaceted process may involve:
  • Identifying and processing emotions that trigger compulsive eating behaviors through techniques like CBT and DBT. Clients learn to recognize emotional triggers like stress, anxiety, boredom, and loneliness that can lead to using food as a maladaptive coping mechanism.
  • Learning stress management techniques to provide alternative coping skills when faced with difficult emotions or situations that previously prompted emotional eating.
  • Developing a strong support system of trusted friends, family members, and/or peer support groups to turn to during challenging times. Having people to process emotions in a healthy way, rather than turning to food, is vital.
  • Exploring the root causes and childhood origins of emotional eating through therapy modalities. Unresolved traumas and dysfunctional family patterns around food are often drivers of addictive eating behaviors.
  • Practicing self-soothing skills and self-compassion to avoid harsh self-criticism that can trigger shame and emotional eating episodes. Mindfulness, positive self-talk, and self-care activities promote self-acceptance.
  • Utilizing emotion regulation skills from DBT like opposite action and self-soothing through the five senses to ride out intense emotional waves without resorting to emotional eating.
These approaches provide a robust emotional toolbox with healthy, alternative ways of coping with difficult feelings besides turning to food. This disrupts the ingrained cycle of emotional eating.

Body Image and Self-Esteem

Promoting positive body image, self-acceptance, and self-compassion is essential for individuals in recovery from food addiction. Poor body image and low self-worth often fuel disordered eating patterns.
This holistic component may include:

Challenging Negative Self-Talk and Body-Shaming Thoughts

This often happens through cognitive restructuring techniques. Clients will learn to reframe distorted thoughts about their bodies and replace them with more balanced, compassionate self-talk.

Engaging in Activities That Promote Body Appreciation and Self-Care

This can include activities such as:
  • Yoga and other mindful movement practices that cultivate mind-body connection
  • Massage or other therapeutic touch to release tension and promote relaxation
  • Taking a relaxing bath with calming scents to practice self-nurturing
  • Journaling about positive qualities beyond appearance
  • Creating affirmative artwork or vision boards

Surrounding Oneself With Positive, Supportive Individuals

These individuals should encourage a healthy relationship with food and body. This may involve:
  • Joining a body-positive support group
  • Unfollowing social media accounts that promote unrealistic body ideals
  • Spending time with loved ones who focus on inner qualities over appearance

Additional Methods for Promoting Healthy Body Image

Another method that may work for individuals includes learning about the sociocultural roots of body image issues through psychoeducation and how media, family, and peer influences shape body dissatisfaction.
Additionally, practicing mindfulness and self-compassion helps counter harsh self-criticism. Mindful self-compassion helps individuals become aware of negative body thoughts without judgment.
Rebuilding self-worth independent of physical appearance or body size/shape improves body image and supports recovery. It also reduces motivation for restrictive eating or purging behaviors driven by body dissatisfaction.

Our Approach to Addiction Treatment

At New Choices Treatment Center, we provide compassionate, non-judgmental, and client-centered treatment for individuals seeking recovery from addiction. Our team is committed to empowering each client with the necessary skills to maintain long-term sobriety and wellness.

Nutritional Support & Counseling

We understand the importance of nutrition in the recovery process and offer cooking and nutritional classes to help clients develop healthy eating habits and a balanced relationship with food.
Our staff includes experienced professionals who provide guidance and support throughout the treatment journey.

Aftercare Planning and Relapse Prevention

We recognize that recovery is a lifelong journey, and we are dedicated to providing comprehensive aftercare planning and ongoing support to promote sustained recovery and wellness.
Our aftercare services include case management, assistance with sober living arrangements, and connecting clients with healthcare providers and community resources.
We work with individuals every step of the way to ensure that their symptoms and co-occurring disorders are treated comprehensively.
Food Addiction

Empower Your Future Self With New, Healthier Choices

Food addiction is a complex and challenging condition that requires a holistic, individualized approach to treatment.
At New Choices Treatment Center, we are committed to helping individuals break free from the cycle of addiction and embark on a journey of healing and transformation.
Through a combination of evidence-based therapies, nutritional education, and holistic support, we empower our clients to achieve lasting recovery. We work alongside individuals to help them become empowered through substance use and dual diagnosis disorder treatment.

Get in Touch With Our Team Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, know that you are not alone, and there is hope for a brighter future. We are here to provide the care and support you deserve during this time.
Reach out to New Choices Treatment Center today to take the first step towards a life of freedom and wellness. Connection makes recovery possible, and NCTC is ready to connect with you.