Food Addiction Vs Eating Disorder

Food Addiction Vs Eating Disorder

Guess what guys, I learned some important things in the past few weeks. The first one being that living on autopilot is a waste of time, and that there is quite a bit of misleading information when it comes to understanding food addiction versus eating disorders.

This came to my attention when I started doing more research on eating addiction. Most times my keyword searches would be changed from “eating” to “food”.  Alas, you can imagine my frustration.  I would grumble at the computer that I don’t have a FOOD addiction, I am addicted to EATING.   Here’s the rub, while they are two distinctively different things, they often go hand in hand.

What Is Food Addiction

Let’s take a look at what Food Addiction actually is. Food addiction is a chemical reaction in the brain, triggering pleasure chemicals such as dopamine, that increase pleasure and reward sensations. Highly palatable, extremely rich foods tend to be the center of these addictions. Foods such as sugar, fat, and salt. 

Yep, you read that right. It’s a CHEMICAL reaction.  What that means is certain foods that you put in your body chemically change the way your brain thinks about food.  The more pleasure you receive from those chemicals, the more your brain overrides your body’s natural “full” or “satisfied” sensations.  Just like with any other drug, IT WANTS MORE! 

 Want to know something else that is a little scary? Ever hear people say that if you abuse highly addictive drugs such as crack or meth, that it will hijack your brain? Changing and rewiring how the neural pathways work in order to amplify the craving for more of the drug? It’s true with food addiction as well.

Several studies, such as the one published at  Neurosci Behavior Rev  have shown that food addictions are the results of changes in the neurochemistry and neuroanatomy of the brain. Furthermore, the cravings for these foods is not caused by a lack of willpower but by a dopamine signal that alters the brain’s biochemistry.  Pretty shocking huh?

stop living life on autopilot

So what is an Eating Disorder?

So what is the difference between that and eating disorders? Particularly in regards to binge eating. Well to understand food addiction vs eating disorders we need to take a second to look at what an eating disorder really is.

Eating disorders are becoming more commonly known. The most recognizable are: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and the one I’m most familiar with, Binge Eating Disorder. 

According to the dictionary, an eating disorder is “any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits”.  There it is, right there. It’s a psychological disorder.  The American Psychiatric Association describes it as “Eating disorders are illnesses in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become preoccupied with food and their body weight.”

Anorexia Nervosa

This is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder with symptoms such as abnormally low body weight, extreme fear of gaining weight, and forms of body dysmorphia.

Methods include excessively limiting calories and using other extreme methods of weight loss. Including but not limited to, excessive exercise, using laxatives or diet aids, or vomiting after eating

Bulimia Nervosa

This is a serious, possibly fatal, eating disorder.  Bulimia is characterized by episodes of binge eating and purging. In an effort to show some control, people with bulimia also restrict their eating during the day, but this often leads to another binge/purge episode.

During one of these episodes a person would eat a large amount of food in a short time, and then try to “purge” the calories. This leads to guilt, shame, and fear of weight gain from overeating. Forced vomiting, excessive exercise and use of laxatives are the most common purges

Binge Eating Disorder

This is when a person regularly eats too much food. Creating a feeling of loss of control over your eating. Signs are quickly eating or eating more food even when you are not hungry.  Continuing to eat long after you’re uncomfortably full.

Feelings of guilt, disgust, or shame from your behavior often follow a binge.  These feelings can also cause you to hide your eating episodes from others.  Binge eaters don’t try to compensate their behavior with vomiting, exercise, or laxatives as with bulimia and anorexia.

How do the two work together?

I have noticed there is very little on how the two work together.  While it may seem very obvious I don’t think people really connect the two in a proper way.  So let me break it down for you, as it pertains to my world.  The mental problems I deal with, including anxiety and insecurity, plague me. They bring me to these low places inside my mind where my worth feels at an all-time low. I feel guilty and ashamed for being what or who I am. 

In comes food. The salty, sugary, fatty drug that once I put in my mouth whispers seductively “shh there, there, baby girl, everything is going to be ok”  My pleasure centers kick in and suddenly the bad feelings are gone, at least for a little bit.  Unfortunately, they never stay away. My brain wants that sweet drug again, my mind tells me I was bad for indulging in those cravings and putting all my desires for a healthier body in the trash. I cycle back to guilt, shame, and hopelessness.   See how this works? See how they go hand in hand to keep a person trapped?

The good news is, there are ways to overcome both food addiction and eating disorders.  Both have roads to recovery, even if they can be very different paths at times.  For me, the first step is understanding food addiction versus eating disorders.  The knowledge of how the two functions and work empower me to take back my control. To find that foothold that allows me to stand back up again and push forward. 

So Now What?

As we go further along in The A Word series,  I will talk about recovery and gaining those footholds. Steps to take to strengthen your resolve and battle those cravings.  For now I’ll leave you with some starter steps.  Have a conversation with yourself, and hold yourself accountable for what has been happening in your life.  Start researching for therapists in your area.  It was one of the first things I did when I realized I could NOT do this alone.  I searched for someone who specialized in my two major issues: anxiety and emotional eating.  My therapist has been a huge blessing.  It’s with her help that I’ve been able to come forward and share my world with you. 

I know it feels daunting and where you are starting from may feel so far behind, but trust me you are not.  Your journey started the minute you decided to search for help. You being here is you starting! My biggest desire is to let you know that no matter what you are going through, no matter how hopeless or lost you feel in your addiction, You are never alone!


***Disclaimer – I am not a medical professional, all the technical information was through research with attached links. The views expressed in this post are my experiences and opinions.  If you feel you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder please know that there is help available.  You can seek professional help here.

You may also like…

Living a Life of Accountability

Living a Life of Accountability

Why Accountability is Important  Living a life of accountability is probably one of the most important steps you can...


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The following two tabs change content below.


Tired of battling low self-esteem, zero self-worth, and an emotional eating addiction, Amber created Amberable to share her journey with those who may be struggling. Hoping to empower, inspire and heal others like herself