Is it a case of depression causing food addiction or food addiction leading to depression? Experts say that it works both ways, there is a strong connection between depression and food addiction. There are foods that can cause addition that will lead to depression while many people who are depressed turn to food as one way to feel better. Eating is associated with social and celebratory activities; they are encouraged especially for people who are feeling lousy. Eating out and enjoying good food is considered memorable events so when a person starts feeling depressed, the tendency is to search for something to do that would mimic happier days. Thus, food becomes an addiction and depression and food addiction become conditions that are closely knitted together.
Unfortunately food addiction is a straight path to more serious problems like obesity, heart conditions, bulimia, and compulsive eating, among others. The controversy about food addiction is that many people not addicted to eating tend to think that “it’s all a matter of stopping” but it isn’t. Being addicted to junk food, chocolates, and fast foods involves brain activity and its neurotransmitters so no matter how hard an addicted person tries; it isn’t possible to just stop craving food.
How the Brain Works to Promote Food Addiction
Composed of specific amino acids, neurotransmitters like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are responsible for sending messages to the brain and the rest of the body that affect our moods and appetite. Serotonin, for example, comes from amino acid known as tryptophan. Once the level of this amino acid is low, we become depressed, aggressive, or anxious. Unfortunately, tryptophan is not common in many foods in amounts that would replenish the amino acid levels and if a person goes on a diet, its level can drop very fast. This is how depression and food addiction cause many people on a strict diet to be grumpy and moody. It also explains why when people come out of a diet and try their favorite foods, they have that “Aahh” moment.
Similarly, if serotonin can be depleted, its levels of amino acids can also be overproduced. When this happens, the neurotransmitters become desensitized and our cells receptors resist the information they get from the brain and stop producing the serotonin. Doctors prescribe drugs to people with depression that treats this condition but it also explains why doctors change medication every so often. With natural herbal remedies, the same is recommended. Experts also advice people not to take herbal remedies continuously for long periods.
Symptoms of Depression and Food Addiction
The symptoms of food addiction are seen in one’s behavior while symptoms for depression can be diagnosed through a physical exam and certain lab tests like blood tests, ECG, CT scan, and EEG to rule out other possibilities.
The most common symptoms for food addiction are:
- Frequent cravings even after eating
- Excessively stuffing yourself past the point of feeling full
- Hiding your eating episodes especially junk food and other unhealthy food
- Experiencing guilt after eating certain foods but buying them just the same for the next craving
- Weight gain
- Preferring to eat alone
- Ordering more than what is necessary for one meal
- Making excuses for your eating habits
- Hiding evidence of a food binge
Food addiction is a substance addiction just like drugs and alcohol because it suggests loss of control over eating. Compared to drug addition, food addiction is not very specific. A person can be addicted to many types of foods while a drug addict prefers just one type of drug like cocaine or heroin. This makes it difficult to diagnose food addiction although a good clue to find out if you are a food addict is to look at your cravings. If they are consistent for food high in fat, sugar, or salt, then the chances increases that you are a food addict.
Depression and food addiction are closely connected. However, it is important to find out which the cause is and which the effect is. Treating the effect will not solve the problem however when there is a co-occurring diagnosis, treatment should include addressing both conditions. Depending on the severity of the cause, treatment can include
psychotherapy, prescriptive drugs, physical exercise, counseling, a support group, or herbal solutions. In addition, in case of a relapse, the same dual strategy must be considered.