The concern about what we eat, how and when, the proliferation of restaurants that are committed to healthy menus added to the increase in self-care and the reference to do more and better physical exercise means that we are at a time of great awareness in terms of good habits refers. However, parallel to this situation, another trend makes the expression “food addiction” frequently heard. Can we be addicted to food? What foods create more addiction?
“Psychiatry manuals still do not include it within addiction disorders, but they do begin to relate similarities with other addictive behaviours, so we will probably soon find this diagnosis within this category,” says Marta Comas, nutritionist at Hospital Quirónsalud Barcelona, who points out that food addiction could respond to the same components as addictions to other substances so that impulsive and uncontrollable behaviours towards food could be observed.
If we focus on the symptoms that would alert us, Comas describes that in these situations, the most common manifestations would be the consumption of large amounts of food, very frequently or in a specific period; the persistent desire or constant thought of food, the abandonment of responsibilities or tasks to eat, as well as dispensing with social activities. “This lack of control of intake can occur even knowing the negative effects it can have on health. All this generates a feeling of dysphoria (restlessness, anxiety, etc.) that only calms down with food”, he adds.
On the other hand, we must not forget that different circumstances can cause us to eat more at specific times and not present food addiction behaviours. For this reason, Luján Soler, director of the Nutrition Unit of the HM Madrid University Hospital, insists on the importance of the multidisciplinary team, specifically the psychologist. “In my professional experience, I see many cases where people have a lot of anxiety, anguish, depression, for various reasons that lead them to eat certain products/foods, without control; where they gain weight, that generates these sensations even more and ends up being a vicious circle: the person feels more and more desperate and frustrated,” ” she points out.
Most addictive foods
Why do we find some foods more flavorful than others? What makes most people eat a chocolate palm tree with more pleasure than a chorizo sandwich? The answer is in our brains. Comas explains that food rich in fat, sugar and salt favours the secretion of certain substances that activate parts of the brain that predispose to create addictions or cravings for specific products.
Soler delves deeper into this topic: “if you ask me what the most voraciously consumed foods are, they are those that have fat (mainly saturated) such as pastries, sausages, chocolates, sweets, etc. Also salty as snacks such as chips, fried nuts, cold cuts, and sauces. And, of course, also with a high content of simple sugars”. The specialist warns that the problem in these situations of food addiction is that these people do not usually consume foods rich in fibre, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish or whole grain cereals, nor do they exercise. Hence, the situation becomes even more complicated.
What can we do in these situations?
On the one hand, Comas highlights the importance of prevention. In this case, it would have to go back to the first years of life. “One way to try to prevent food addiction is to promote healthy dietary habits and lifestyle from a very early age and bet on attractive presentations within the Mediterranean diet pattern recommendations, ” he recommends.
But if we are already in a situation that could be defined as food addiction, both bet on the intervention of the multidisciplinary team.
“With the psychologist, you will learn tools to avoid relapses, with the graduate in physical activity, what exercises are recommended for your current situation, age, sex and tastes; and with the dietitian-nutritionist, you will see nutritional education, it will be explained to you how many meals a day to eat, how to shop properly, what foods should be in the day to day, how to prepare/cook them, healthy snacks, healthy desserts, how to hydrate etc. It is about removing fears, removing false myths and finally learning to enjoy food!”
Binge eating disorder: how to distinguish it
Binge eating disorder is included within eating behaviour disorders, and its diagnosis responds to specific criteria. It has to do with factors such as obesity, eating large amounts of food and addiction to certain types of food. Still, there are many eating behaviours that, although they are inappropriate and can be very harmful, do not constitute a binge eating disorder.
What is not a binge eating disorder
Mental health experts help us to distinguish that behaviours linked to eating cannot be classified as binge eating disorders.
A very abundant punctual meal
The ingestion of a large amount of food on one occasion could be considered a binge, but what characterises the disorder is the repetition of binge eating. In this sense, Montse Basques, director of Outpatient Consultations at ITA Urgell, clarifies that excessive intakes, “common in adults at certain times such as vacations, are not associated with loss of control or feelings of guilt or disgust and, therefore, should be differentiated from binge eating disorder.
The snack at night
As pointed out by Marina Díaz-Marsá, president of the Madrid Psychiatry Society and deputy secretary of the Spanish Society of Biological Psychiatry, she indicates that “binge eating disorder generally occurs in the afternoon-night, or is triggered as a reaction to a conflict” at another time of day. The psychiatrist specifies that something else is “nocturnal eating syndrome, in which the individual wakes up at night and goes to eat.” She points out that “it is not the same profile, although many times they coexist”.
I am eating unhealthy food after a personal problem.
Díaz-Marsá explains why this behaviour would not fall into the category of binge eating disorder: “In American movies, the protagonist has a large tub of ice cream when her boyfriend leaves her, but that is not a binge. And in addition, it is something punctual before a concrete situation, not a recurrent behaviour that is maintained over time and that, in addition, produces discomfort as significant as that generated by binge eating”.
The psychiatrist gives an example of a large amount of food an affected person can eat in a single binge: two packages of cookies, sliced bread, a box of cereal and a litre of milk.
Eat a lot regularly.
Most obese people do not suffer from this disorder because, although they eat a lot of food, they do not do so episodically but throughout the day.
Practising intense exercise or vomiting after a binge
Fernando Fernández Aranda, head of the Eating Disorders Unit at the Bellvitge University Hospital in Barcelona, emphasizes that compensatory behaviours after ingesting a large amount of food corresponding to another eating behaviour disorder: “Unlike those with bulimia, people with binge eating disorder do not induce vomiting and do not use laxatives or diuretics or engage in vigorous exercise.
What is Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is characterized by episodes of recurrent binge eating large amounts of food.
Binge eating usually takes place in the evening, in solitude, and generates a feeling of discomfort and guilt.
To diagnose the disorder, binge eating must occur at least once a week for three months.