Binge eating and so-called ‘food addiction’
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Is it possible to be addicted to food?

The team of dietitians in our nutrition counselling practice regularly provide nutrition support for eating disorders such as bulimia and binge eating disorder. We also work with many individuals that are struggling with their weight due to a significant amount of emotional eating and a poor relationship with food.

Some of the questions our clients ask us include…

“Is it possible to be addicted to sugar and should I avoid it completely?”

“Should I avoid certain foods like carbs that trigger binge eating?”

The short answer to these questions is no.  Read on to find out more about why.

can you be addicted to food?Dietitian Andrea Holwegner on Global Calgary

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Is it possible to be a food addict?

While the term “food addiction” is often casually used, there is currently little scientific evidence to suggest you can be addicted to food. Food cannot be placed in the same category as drugs or alcohol since we require food to live and can abstain from drugs and alcohol.

Many researchers propose that “eating addiction”, rather than “food addiction”, is a better way to explain addictive-like eating behavior.  

What is the difference between binge eating and substance abuse?

There are some similarities between binge eating and drug/alcohol abuse behaviors:

  • cravings to engage in the behavior
  • feeling a loss of control over the behavior
  • relentless thoughts about the behavior
  • denial or secrecy of the problem
  • may seek the behavior in response to negative emotion
  • repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop

There are also some core differences:

  • The key challenge is the amount of food consumed (not what foods are eaten). If bulimia or binge eating disorder was an addiction, people would consume only so-called “addictive” foods and this is not the case.
  • There is a desire to avoid bingeing (not a drive to continue). Most people that struggle with bingeing want to stop while those who abuse alcohol or drugs have no inherent drive to avoid alcohol against the background of which their excessive use takes place.

Can an addictions model (such as a 12 step program) help binge eating issues?

While different programs work for different people, the most common and well researched treatment for binge eating problems is psychological treatment known as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). CBT is very different than an addiction model in the following key ways:

  • Recovery is possible.  Full recovery is possible and not uncommon with appropriate treatment. (on the other hand an addiction model is based on the premise that the disorder has no cure).
  • Stopping bingeing takes time.  Recovery from binge eating issues often takes weeks, months or years (on the other hand an addiction model is based on the premise that immediate abstinence is possible and realistic).
  • No foods need to be avoided entirely. Research shows that attempting to avoid certain foods usually makes people more vulnerable to binge (an addiction model model often focuses on the view that certain trigger foods are toxic and must be avoided).

If you are struggling with binge eating and using food in a way that is negatively influencing your wellbeing, don’t struggle alone. Supportive help is available. Seek both the help of a Registered Psychologist and Registered Dietitian that both specialize in eating disorders and emotional eating.  

Want to see more? ALSO, watch Andrea’s Facebook LIVE here: Click Link

If you are looking for additional supportive information related to this topic you may also be interested in our free resource: 


For more information on establishing a healthy relationship with food and your body or to book an appointment with a dietitian that specializes in eating disorders, weight management or emotional eating visit www.healthstandnutrition.com. Connect with Andrea on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at @chocoholicRD.  

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Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

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I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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