FooD Addiction

Is food addiction real?

Food addiction is not (yet) recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the two manuals that clinicians use to diagnose conditions. But it can be diagnosed through self-assessment questionnaires such as the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), and mounting research shows that food addiction is a reality for many people.

Below are the YFAS questions to help you understand if you may have a food addiction.  

Do these food addiction symptoms resonate with you?

In the last year...
• I ate to the point where I felt physically ill.
• I spent a lot of time feeling sluggish or tired from overeating.
• I avoided work, school or social activities because I was afraid I would overeat there.
• If I had emotional problems because I hadn’t eaten certain foods, I would eat those foods to feel better.
• My eating behavior caused me a lot of distress.
• I had significant problems in my life because of food and eating. These may have been problems with my daily routine, work, school, friends, family, or health.
• My overeating got in the way of me taking care of my family or doing household chores.
• I kept eating in the same way even though my eating caused emotional problems.
• Eating the same amount of food did not give me as much enjoyment as it used to.
• I had such strong urges to eat certain foods that I couldn’t think of anything else.
• I tried and failed to cut down on or stop eating certain foods.
• I was so distracted by eating that I could have been injured (e.g., when driving a car, crossing the street, operating machinery).
• My friends or family are/were worried about how much I (over)eat.

Eating Disorders

In my experience, many people who have food addiction will identify as also struggling with some forms of disordered eating, for example binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia, or other eating disorders. Obesity is also often present when somebody presents with a food addiction.

Research now confirms that there is a clear overlap between food addiction, eating disorders and obesity.

Do you identify with having disordered eating?

Here are just a few questions from the EDE-Q questionnaire that will help you to identify a possible eating disorder, such as binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa or anorexia:
• Have you been deliberately trying to limit the amount of food you eat to influence your shape or weight (whether or not you have succeeded)?
• Have you gone for long periods of time (8 waking hours or more) without eating anything at all in order to influence your shape or weight?
• Has thinking about food, eating or calories made it very difficult to concentrate on things you are interested in (for example, working, following a conversation, or reading)?
• Has thinking about shape or weight made it very difficult to concentrate on things you are interested in (for example, working, following a conversation, or reading)?
• Over the past 28 days, how many times have you made yourself sick (vomit) as a means of controlling your shape or weight?
• Over the past 28 days, how many times have you taken laxatives as a means of controlling your shape or weight?

How do we work with food addiction & How do eating disorders play a role? 

A journey towards sustainable lifestyle shifts…

There are no quick fixes and we focus on steady progress and long-term sustainability. The way we work together will be tailored to what you need. Everyone is different.

Psychotherapy is usually a weekly or fortnightly and long-term process. You may just want to start with a few sessions to work through a particular aspect or get you started on your journey. 

A peer support network, such as a 12-step group, can be a great support network outside of therapy. 

Finding your unique recovery truth…

There is one crucial difference that I see in my clinical practice regarding food addiction and eating disorders:
Those of us who have food addiction often recover well when abstaining from certain foods and food behaviours entirely.   

Those of us who have an eating disorder without a chemical dependency may be able to, once inner conflicts have been resolved, eat all foods in moderation. In that case, using an abstinence approach is too restrictive and reinforces the eating disorder.   

Many of us have both so we explore what came first and take a very nuanced way of addressing recovery. This is a trial and error process which can take months or years as you are embarking on your journey towards a peaceful relationship with food. 

 The Key is to stay Patient, open And curious in Finding your own Personal Truth And Recovery Path.

Taking a 'Two Lane Approach'

We might find ourselves working in a ‘two-lane approach’, looking at practical issues and in parallel, the deeper underlying issues around the addiction and/or eating disorder.

Lane One

When we look at the practical matters that are absolutely necessary for us when we want to recover from addictive behaviours. For example, I can support you to: 
• Learn about addictive and disordered eating patterns  
• Understand your triggers 
• Establish your own food plan 
• Establish accountability and daily recovery actions 
• Learn how to eat mindfully  
• Develop strategies for dealing with cravings 
• Deal with difficult emotions 
• Prevent relapse 
• Establish a support network 
• Consider issues around weight and body   

Lane Two

My experience has shown that so many of us already know what to do but are finding it difficult to stick to those ‘healthy habits’. That’s where psychotherapy comes in - helping us to go deeper through compassionate inquiry informed by Internal Family Systems therapy, a wonderful modality that helps us meet ALL of the parts of us involved in the addictive process.
Questions we might ask are:  
• What parts of me are needing to eat addictively and for what purpose?  
• What is their positive intention?  
• What other parts are critical of those addictive and impulsive parts?  
• What parts want to eat healthily and what other parts absolutely do not want to give up the sugar?  
• What parts feel hopeless and discouraged and exhausted?  
• What parts are unhappy with our body and weight and are seeking to restrict our food?  
• What internal pressures and polarisations are created by all of these warring parts?
• Is there a way we can curiously get to know these parts, and help them meet their positive intentions in other ways?  
• Are there underlying wounds outside of current awareness that might seek healing to ease the addictive processes?
• To what extent is biology involved, and to what extent have my parts learned this behaviour, and what is the best way to move forward based on this learning?  
• Will I need to completely abstain from specific foods and ways of eating?  
• Or will I be able to eat all types of foods in moderation?  
• Is restricting food necessary or harmful for my system?
We will only be able to find those answers by listening to all of our parts, and through trial and error of different eating guidelines. Internal Family Systems is a wonderful approach to explore addictions and set up food and recovery plans that work for us.

Acknowledgement of Country
I recognise the history, culture, diversity and value of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and acknowledge their Elders past and present.

I acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded, and support reconciliation, justice and the recognition of the ongoing living culture of all First Nations people by providing welcoming and culturally informed services. 

Embracing inclusivity and diversity,  I also support a culture of inclusion, respect, choice, voice and diversity and am committed to supporting all people to be mentally well and engaged in their communities.