Food addiction

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Faye Hatch
Last updated 17th April 2024 | Next update due 17th April 2027

Food is something we all need to survive. It nourishes us, fuels us and contributes to our health and well-being. Ideally, we would eat a varied, balanced diet that is fulfilling physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, food is a complicated topic. 

Some of us can develop unhealthy relationships with food. This can mean using it in unhelpful ways and, in some cases, forming a behavioural addiction. Here we’ll explore the idea of food addiction in more depth and how hypnotherapy can help you create a healthier, happier relationship with food.

What is food addiction?

There is a lot of debate as to whether or not food addiction is real. Brain imaging and other studies have shown comparable results in those with ‘food addictions’ to those with drug addictions. Unlike drug addiction, food addiction is not a chemical dependency, it’s a behavioural addiction. Research suggests that some foods (mainly sweet or highly processed) activate reward transmitters in our brains that may lead to compulsive eating. For this reason, people are not addicted to food per se, but more to the act of eating and the feeling they get after eating. 

You might find yourself focusing on or distracted by thoughts of eating. You may also feed shame after you eat. Certain foods can make us feel guilty when we eat them, thanks to social pressure and diet culture. This can make it more difficult for us to develop a neutral or healthy attitude towards food.

Read more about the importance of saying no to diets in hypnotherapist Martina McKeough’s article: Eliminate binge eating by saying no to diets.

What causes food addiction?

As with most addictions, there is rarely one single cause. Instead, a combination of things can lead to addiction. These can include biological, psychological, or social elements.

Biological factors

There can be a number of different biological factors. These can include hormonal imbalances, differences in brain structure, or the side effects of some medications. Having a family member who has struggled with addiction can also have an impact. 

Psychological factors

Psychological factors may include experiencing trauma or abuse, difficulty coping with negative emotions, low self-esteem or dealing with grief and loss. Often food is used as a comforting measure or coping tool when we’re struggling psychologically. If this is at the root of your addiction, it’s important to address it if you want to change your relationship with food.

Other mental health conditions can also lead to unhealthy eating behaviours. Such conditions can include depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Be sure to speak to your doctor or a counsellor if you are worried about a mental health condition. Sometimes, treating other mental illnesses can help to improve your relationship with food.

Social factors

Different social factors can contribute to food addiction. This can include family problems, peer or societal pressure, or feelings of isolation. If you are feeling stressed or do not have a support network, this can also have an impact. Reaching out and talking about how you feel can be a helpful starting point for making social changes. 

Effects of food addiction

Over time, food addiction can have a big impact physically and mentally. If you eat large quantities of food high in sugar and salt, it can lead to physical problems including:

  • heart disease
  • digestive problems
  • sleep disorders
  • headaches
  • increased risk of stroke
  • general lethargy

Psychologically, this kind of relationship with food can affect your self-esteem leading to conditions such as depression and anxiety. 

Signs of an unhealthy relationship with food

Recognising that you have a problem with eating is the first step to getting support. Here are some questions to consider if you think you may have an unhealthy relationship with food.

Do you:

  • Find you eat more than planned when it comes to certain foods?
  • Continue eating certain foods even if you’re not hungry?
  • Eat until you feel unwell?
  • Worry about cutting down or not eating certain foods?
  • Worry when certain foods are unavailable or go out of your way to get them?
  • Find eating gets in the way of other activities, such as time with family or hobbies?
  • Avoid social situations where food is present for fear of overeating?
  • Find it difficult to function at work/school because of food/eating?
  • Feel low, anxious or guilty after eating?
  • Need to eat increasingly more to reduce negative emotions or increase pleasure?

If something has become a big enough problem to affect your daily life, seeing professional support is always advised. Keep reading to find out how hypnotherapy may be able to support you.

Hypnotherapy for food addiction

The nature of food addiction and the many complicated factors contributing to it means that willpower alone is often not enough. Understanding what could be causing your behaviour and recognising unhealthy coping mechanisms is often needed before work can be done to change your behaviour.

Hypnotherapy is very helpful when it comes to changing habits. Your hypnotherapist will help you into a deeply relaxed state where your subconscious is more susceptible to suggestion. Your hypnotherapist may work with you to uncover the underlying cause of your addiction before offering suggestions to your subconscious to help you change habits and behaviours.

Hypnotherapists who can help with food addiction

The relaxing nature of hypnotherapy can also help you become more self-aware and mindful around food. Learning to recognise hunger cues and when you are full up is important and something many of us struggle with.

Your hypnotherapist should not recommend you go on a diet or offer nutritional advice (unless they have nutrition training), instead, they should work with you on mindset, getting to the root of the problem and helping you to make lasting change.

Hypnotherapy will greatly help you feel more positive about yourself and help you to break the cycle. By relaxing and working through your behaviours with a therapist, allows you to gain greater control over your eating and helps you to reduce any stress and anxiety.

- Hypnotherapist Vanessa McLennan in 'How to overcome your food addiction'.

How can I find a hypnotherapist?

When you are ready to make a change, the first step of your journey will be to find a hypnotherapist that resonates with you.

On Hypnotherapy Directory, we have a proof policy in place to ensure all professionals listed on our site have provided proof of qualifications and insurance or are members of a professional body. We also encourage our members to fill their profiles with plenty of information. This way you can learn more about how they work and if they are the person to help you.

You can find a hypnotherapist near you using our advanced search tool. When you find someone you believe can help, simply send them an email to book a consultation.

Further reading

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