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Brian Odlaug received a PhD from the University of Copenhagen in Public Health. He is knowledgeable about and conducts seminars on the topic of behavioral addiction. His new book, Why Can’t I Stop, takes a closer look at behavioral addiction.
When it comes to eating and nutrition, many people wonder if they’re actually addicted to sugar. If so, this addiction is more of an emotional and behavioral issue than simply a lack of will-power. In fact, behavioral addictions are remarkably common. They are under recognized when compared to substance addictions. Often times, there is shame and secrecy involved, and the addiction will go unnoticed and untreated. Many people will continue to function normally in their work and relationships. Over time however, their lack of presence and financial or health consequences may become evident.
So how is a food addiction diagnosed? It’s actually not a formal diagnostic set, but there are certain questions to ask and specific behaviors to look for. Typically, it’s not just the quantity of food consumed, but it involves food consumed over a longer period of time. The individual knows there are consequences to consuming the food and they have a desire to cut back, but they are unsuccessful in attempts to limit themselves. They may even give up other activities to prioritize eating. Cravings and urges are common. Those addicted to food can even become irritable or restless when they are unable to eat. Essentially, if you don’t have the ability to control your urges, you may have a problem.
So how can one overcome a food addiction? Key strategies include eating only at specific meal times, not eating alone, and removing unhealthy foods from the home. Understand your triggers and fill your time with other fun activities. Family members can also get involved by modeling healthy relationships with food, helping with cooking and controlling meals, and encouraging fun and healthy activities.
If you are struggling with a behavioral addiction, you are not alone. Though the solution may require seeing a physician and taking medication, the addiction can be addressed.