Helping your clients overcome food addiction
Food addiction is not a commonly discussed eating disorder and is often overlooked. However, this addictive disorder requires professional help to put your client on the road to recovery. As a dietitian, you can help your clients overcome this disorder by practicing mindful eating, keeping journals, and encouraging a support system.
Unfortunately, nutrition professionals see many different disorders when it comes to food. One that is not commonly discussed, and is often overlooked is food addiction. This addiction can be similar to other addictive disorders, as it requires similar treatment and care from professionals.
As a dietitian, you can work closely with your client to help improve their relationship with food, be more mindful of their eating behavior, and improve their quality of life. From food journals to mindful eating tactics, here’s how you can help your clients overcome this disorder.
Understanding food addiction
This type of addiction is defined as having unhealthy habits toward highly palatable foods, particularly those that are processed and high in trans- or saturated fats, sodium, and/or added sugars.
Interestingly, studies show that food addiction is similar to general eating disorders (like binge eating disorder) and substance use [1,2].
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You need to base your diagnosis on the clients’ behavior and how they feel, so here are some common signs to look out for.
- They feel guilty after overeating, but continue to do it.
- They have cravings frequently even if they are full or have already eaten.
- They eat a larger serving of the food they were craving than they intended to.
- They hide what, when, and how much they eat.
- They find it difficult to control themselves when they begin eating.
- They repetitively give reasons or excuses as to why their overeating makes sense to them.
- They eat to the point of feeling nauseous or throwing up.
- They have continuously tried to stop being addicted to food but with no success.
How to help your clients overcome food addiction
The first step to counseling clients with this disorder is to encourage them to also work with a therapist or psychologist. Not only will this benefit your clients, but you can then communicate regularly with these providers about your client’s progress so you can work together to determine an action plan.
Here are some ways you can help your client overcome food addiction and improve their relationship with food.
- Keep a journal. It can be helpful for your client to write down any goals and milestones that they wish to achieve and then identify any trigger foods that may be an issue.
- Practice mindful eating. This technique can help your clients learn to eat without distractions, chew slower, and savor each bite. Learn more about how you can use intuitive eating principles to help in recovery.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine have been proven to trigger poor eating choices, as they can cause the body to crave sugary drinks and processed foods (both of which can be addictive) . As such, you may want to limit your client’s consumption of these foods until they are further down the road to recovery.
- Don’t abide by rules. By putting a restriction on “good” versus “bad” foods, it can bring up feelings of guilt and might hinder your client’s relationship with food. To combat this, you can work with them on how to enjoy all foods in a healthful way that doesn’t trigger any addictive tendencies.
- Have a support system. In addition to working with other healthcare providers, it’s important to make sure your client has a healthy support system to aid in their recovery journey.
Food addiction is often overlooked and not commonly discussed, but this disorder needs to be addressed by a team of healthcare professionals to help your client fully recover. As a dietitian, you can use certain strategies to help your clients overcome this addiction and improve their relationship with food.
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- Gordon, E. L., Ariel-Donges, A. H., Bauman, V., & Merlo, L. J. (2018). What Is the Evidence for "Food Addiction?" A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 10(4), 477.
- Adams, R. C., Sedgmond, J., Maizey, L., Chambers, C. D., & Lawrence, N. S. (2019). Food Addiction: Implications for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Overeating. Nutrients, 11(9), 2086.
- Escrivá-Martínez, T., Herrero, R., Molinari, G., Rodríguez-Arias, M., Verdejo-García, A., & Baños, R. M. (2020). Binge Eating and Binge Drinking: A Two-Way Road? An Integrative Review. Current pharmaceutical design, 26(20), 2402–2415.