8 signs you’re addicted to food

by The Health Sciences Academy — Get free science updates here.

I learned how to count calories when I was 11 years old. But that didn’t seem to stop me from polishing off a pack of chocolate coins back then. Or that big birthday cake followed by a pint of ice cream that nearly sent me to hospital. My sister told me that I needed to work on my willpower. I guess that’s something I lacked. Even today.

I’ve lost and gained a thousand pounds since then. For the most part of my teenage years, I felt out of control and yet deprived, undeserving of anything good.

I would numb my shame with cookies, pastries and cheese, and the day after punish myself with even more food for not being in control – of anything.

A few years ago, on the fifth day of my Soulmate juice cleanse, I snuck out of the office at 4 pm and as soon as I got home I polished off an entire tube of Pringles. The whole thing in one go. Still ravenous yet guilty, it finally hit me. I was at war. Against myself.

It made me wonder, why don’t other people have this issue? What was wrong with me?

But then, when I ‘came out’ with my secret problem, I realised I wasn’t alone. What shocked me the most is that a great number of normal weight people have this issue too.

In the years since my Pringles incident, I’ve learned how to tame my compulsive food cravings and lost my ‘shame’ weight pretty effortlessly. Now, as a food addiction specialist and Research Director at The Health Sciences Academy, I’ve helped thousands of students and clients with their food addiction, including through our Advanced Clinical Weight Loss Practitioner Course.

Here are eight signs that I want to share with you to help you find out if you’re an undiagnosed food addict. If this is you, a Soulmate cleanse will most likely backfire:

1. You can’t stop eating despite a full stomach

I can’t tell you how many times I ate ten KitKats in a row after a humongous dinner. You’re full but don’t feel filled. You aren’t hungry but have this uncomfortable, intense craving. Like an emergency, the world stops unless you can have it.

2. You have Food F.O.M.O

In other words, ‘fear of missing out’… on food! This is when your brain goes ‘This is my last chance to have it!’ It’s now or never, you think. Because you promise yourself that you won’t eat this ever again, you go for the whole thing. Until the pack is empty.

3. You use food as self-medication

Food becomes your Valium when you use it to numb your negative feelings. That soothing carrot cake soaks up the by-products of stress, leaving you relaxed. Conversely, if you lack positive emotions (say, you feel nothing… you’re bored), you use food to give you a positive ‘high’ – just like recreational drugs! Did you know? Research shows that sugar is four times more addictive than hard drugs.

4. You eat in secret

As far as the world is concerned, you’ve got it together. You know so much about nutrition that you could write a best-seller about it. So you don’t want others to really know what you eat. What if they discover that you’re a mess and completely out of control. So you sneak out to eat whatever you want, by yourself, without the judgement and embarrassment.

5. You blame your bloat on your thyroid or a gluten intolerance

Because the world sees only half (or less) of what you eat, what mysterious event can possibly justify those four pounds you’ve gained this week. ‘I have a sluggish thyroid’ or ‘I think I may be Coeliac,’ you tell others. So often that you end up believing it!

6. You cancel social activities and stay home to eat

I used to tell myself, ‘When I’m 20 pounds thinner, I’ll be more adventurous, go to parties and have more friends’. But the reality is that, when it came to choosing socialising versus eating food, the latter would win. Is food your best friend?

7. You need more to feel the same effect

One day, you started by having just one piece of Weight Watchers cake, or just one bar of chocolate. But today, one portion won’t do the trick. To feel the same effect, you now have one after the other. Just like someone with a substance dependence. Somewhere along the line, you became desensitised and ended up increasing your dose!

8. You promise yourself that this was the last time

The day after a binge, you wake up bloated, with a skin rash, or fearful to look in the mirror. So you decide to cut out. For the millionth time. But, as the day continues, you begin craving the same foods. You have a decision to make. To be a nutcase for the rest of the day. Or to break your promise and relief the withdrawal symptoms.

Does any of these resonate with you? Before you start thinking ‘I’m a disaster and will never get out of this’, I want you to know that there’s nothing wrong with you. You’ve just gotten a few wires that need to be untangled. Your attachment to full fat ice-cream, biscuits and Maltesers are behaviours that you learned sometime in your life. They are not who you really are. In fact, you can train yourself to un-learn them. If I did it, so can you.

In the comments below I really want to know:
1. What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to eating?
2. What’s your number one ‘forbidden’ food (i.e. the one you can’t stop buying)?

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  • eileen

    Reply Reply May 3, 2014

    dont have any of these problems…very occasionally I need to eat ice cream.

    • Katherine

      Reply Reply May 3, 2014

      Great to hear, Eileen! I must confess I’m may have issue #4 :-)



    • Alex

      Reply Reply May 3, 2014

      You’re a true healthista, Eileen :-)

      But I’m curious, why do you feel that “YOU NEED” to eat ice cream?

  • Melanie

    Reply Reply May 3, 2014

    I am pleased to say I have more control not to eat junk food. Maybe I am more aware the downside of the corn syrup (fractuse) eg soda, energy drink, dessert, soda, eating too much fried food, high salt intake, etc also I still have my leptin hormone to tell me when I am full. Losing one’s leptin hormone and no exercise on top of this then one becomes enslave to food addiction.

    • Katherine

      Reply Reply May 3, 2014

      Thanks for sharing, Melanie! Great to hear that you’ve got this piece of the puzzle covered :-)


      • Alex

        Reply Reply May 3, 2014

        As Katherine says, leptin is one piece of the puzzle… as a recovered food addict, I’ve realised that there’s a LOT going on behind our food cravings… and it starts with the brain :-)

        Exercise really helps, so keep it up Melanie!

  • Emma Goodson

    Reply Reply May 20, 2014

    My biggest struggle when it comes to eating is late evening, when i am relaxing and watching TV, i have had dinner and then out come the crisps, chocolate and then i get annoyed that once more i have fallen into the trap and feel guilty and hate myself when i look in the mirror at my 2 spare tyres. I slipped my disc in 2010 for the second time and was put on medication and since then i have gained 4 stone plus. My doctor doesn’t care he says as long as my mental health is fine. I practised yoga to help, which it did, i stopped eating at night as i knew i couldn’t eat before my practise, but i slipped the disc again a month ago and yoga has gone out the window as i feel too fat to continue on with it as i have read it doesn’t help you loose weight, and the thought of being this size forever makes me deeply unhappy , as i cannot do any vigorous exercise to loose the weight. I make myself move around as much as possible to aid my back, i walk, garden to the specialists advice and practise yoga strengthening for the back when i can but i still eat at night. My number 1 forbidden food is peanuts, dry roasted peanuts. This is where my weight gain has come from, i blamed the sciatica medication and the contraception i am taking but really i know it is the peanuts and the evening snacking. I guess this is my first step to recovery, leave the chocolate box in the kitchen and hide the peanuts.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply May 21, 2014

      Hey Emma! I’m curious… when did you start loving peanuts? I ask because this is a behaviour that you can definitely “unlearn”. When I moved to London all I did was eating dry roasted peanuts… I gained 30 lbs in probably 2 weeks… I just stopped buying it. For good. By the way, you can go back to a normal weight without exercise. In our case it starts with a little bit of brain training :-)

      More to come, so stay tuned!

  • Victoria

    Reply Reply May 20, 2014

    I resonate with #4

    I can surely could write a best-seller on nutrition… but from “knowing” to “doing”, there’s a long way!

    P.S. You kept the Pringles episode in secret all these years Alex!!! ha ha :-)

    • Alex

      Reply Reply May 21, 2014

      Vicky, my Pringles episode is just the tip of a humongous iceberg :-)

      Regarding #4, I think helping others puts pressure on us to “behave”, isn’t that great?!

  • Rebecca

    Reply Reply April 17, 2015

    This is me through and through! All of them! I’m so ashamed of that too, but maybe by identifying with some or all of these, it makes you/us a better person because you/we can more easily relate to others. I am still struggling with my food addiction so I would really like to read how you overcame your addictions. Or if there was another article on this, but for going forward (so to speak). I’ve tried the whole ‘replace the bad habit with another less harmful habit’, ‘still have my snack after dinner but just less’, ‘read’, ‘exercise’ etc etc. I know that it all starts from the mind, but I would love to read what others did to overcome/help/lessen their addiction.

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