Food Addiction Can Only Be Broken When Taken Seriously

Plan and support must take into account the serious effects of a withdrawal

 Liptak HSTROY, Ohio (January 13, 2015) – Unrelenting headaches, tremors and increased anxiety. These are common symptoms linked with substance withdrawal. But what about when that substance is a half-gallon of ice cream instead of a nicotine-packed cigarette or a bottle of scotch?

According to Stephen Liptak, PsyD, a psychologist with Upper Valley Outpatient Behavioral Health, addictions can come in many different forms, but we tend to associate addiction primarily with drug and alcohol (substance) use. Furthermore, the body’s reaction can be very intense when someone attempts to withdraw from their dependency on it, whether “it” is a drug like cocaine, or the high a person experiences from gambling or shopping. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t always see it that way, and have been reluctant to look at food as an addictive substance.

“We need to educate people about the realities of food addiction. We know through research, that food addiction is very real and so far the biggest culprit seems to be sugar,” said Dr. Liptak, a Premier Health Specialists’ physician. “But, sugar doesn’t conjure up the same negative connotations as, say, heroin. In fact, it can be linked to positive thoughts like celebrations, and is marketed quite heavily. However, an addiction to sugar can have the same negative effects on a person’s life as an addiction to gambling, video games or pornography.”

Dr. Liptak said any activity or substance that creates pleasure has the potential of becoming an addiction in a person’s life. Usually, the substance activates the pleasure centers in the brain and strengthens as a person experiences it over time. Addictions are often compulsive and uncontrollable behaviors that are pursued at the expense of other things in a person’s life such as finances, relationships and health.

Research published by the National Institutes of Health said that studies done on rats that were given sugar and food intermittently showed the same constellation of behaviors and parallel brain changes as rats that voluntarily self-administered addictive drugs. These behaviors included cravings, bingeing and withdrawals.

How someone becomes a food addict is not always easy to know, however, many institutions have developed the definition of food addiction in an attempt to help those who might struggle with it. The Food Addiction Institute said that if someone eats when they really do not want to or if they persistently eat more food than their body needs, or eat in a way that they know is not good for them, they may be a food addict. Unfortunately, it can be a long road between the recognition of such an addiction and the desire to do something about it.

Tebbe HSJoyce Tebbe, ACNP, a nurse practitioner at Covington Family Care, said food addiction can often begin as a result of a deeper issue such as depression or the need to be comforted by food. Food addiction leads to numerous health issues, with obesity being the most prevalent. Other health conditions include diabetes and heart disease. According to a 2013 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, sugar, for example, can affect the pumping mechanism of one’s heart increasing their risk for heart failure.

Those who suspect they may have an addiction to food should not be discouraged. It is something that can be addressed and controlled by taking the following action:

  • Seek Support – Begin by seeking support from friends and finding a plan that can be followed. Support groups – like structure weight loss groups – can help provide that.
  • Evaluate Behavior – Tebbe suggests to her patients that they keep a journal for a few weeks to understand their eating patterns and help discover what triggers binges. This will help in forming a plan for behavior change.
  • Be Prepared – Withdrawals are very real and can be extremely difficult during the first couple weeks of following a plan. Dr. Liptak said many individuals can fail a plan simply by not being prepared to face withdrawal symptoms.
  • Set Realistic Expectations – Decide on a good time to tackle the plan. Trying to withdrawal from a substance when stress is high – due to a job loss or relational strife – will only make it harder.

For more information on food addiction or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit

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