Many people have trouble developing a healthy relationship with food. But can it be an “addiction”?

It’s common to have complicated emotions when it comes to food and eating.

Maybe you feel like you’re out of control around food, or you think about it all the time. Maybe you feel certain foods aren’t “safe” to keep at home because you’ll eat them all.

Your lived experience with food can feel like an obsession, and it might take on properties that seem like a “food addiction.”

The psychiatric community typically reserves the term “addiction” to refer to substances, such as alcohol and drugs, or certain behaviors like gambling addiction.

Nonetheless, many researchers recognize that some components of food may have addictive-like qualities. And, some people may experience a behavioral addiction to the act of eating.

For someone who is concerned about their relationship with food, the technicalities may be less important than finding solutions. Treatment can include talk therapy and nutritional counseling.

Food addiction is not a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). There is debate in the medical community about how to define what people think of as food addiction.

While the medical community does not include food in the substance-related and addictive disorders section of the DSM-5, it does recognize a category of feeding and eating disorders. Binge eating disorder was formally recognized as a separate condition for the first time in the DSM-5, published in 2013.

If you feel you may be experiencing food addiction, in some cases, your symptoms could be explained by an eating disorder that has elements of bingeing or feeling out of control around food. These include:

A 2014 review found that food addiction was detected in 57.6% of people with a disordered eating diagnosis, compared with 16.2% of people without a diagnosed eating disorder.


To develop a healthy relationship with food, it can be helpful to identify behaviors that may resemble a food addiction.

People who are concerned they might have a food addiction may have the following behaviors or symptoms:

  • feeling a loss of control around food or when eating
  • binge eating, or consuming an unusually large amount of food with a feeling of loss of control
  • craving certain foods
  • eating certain foods despite wanting to avoid their effects
  • eating when they’re not hungry
  • thinking about food constantly
  • feeling guilt or shame around eating
  • experiencing food withdrawal
  • developing a tolerance to certain foods

For some people, there may be a difference between a compulsion around the act of eating — or “eating addiction” — and extreme cravings for a particular food.

People of all sizes can feel a loss of control around food, but diet culture and fatphobia can make people in larger bodies more prone to feeling shame around food.

Some researchers, including in a 2017 commentary, have made a link between the potentially addictive nature of certain food substances and addictive behaviors.

According to a 2021 review, there is scientific consensus that addictive-like eating exists, while disagreements within the scientific community question the addictive potential of specific foods.

Food is meant to be rewarding, and our bodies need food to survive. While there is significant debate, a substantial body of research indicates that specific foods (such as sugar) have addictive-like properties.

There are three common viewpoints among researchers, says a 2019 review:

  • Certain foods contain ingredients with addictive potential, so food addiction is a form of substance use disorder.
  • Food addiction is a behavioral addiction.
  • There is no need to identify food addiction as a distinct disorder, as it could be a symptom of disordered eating.

Developing a healthy relationship with food is important for your physical and mental health. If you want to change your relationship with food, there are a number of ways to get started.

Talk with a doctor

A primary care doctor can be your first point of contact. They can refer you to a mental health professional who will work with you to examine the root causes of your eating habits and your relationship with food and eating.

Consider treatment

Your healthcare professional may offer various strategies for creating a new relationship with food. These options could include:

  • talk therapy
  • nutritional information and counseling
  • medication
  • ongoing medical care to monitor your physical health

Consider seeking out one or more of the following:

  • an eating disorder specialist
  • a body image expert
  • a registered dietitian (RD) who practices nondiet concepts

A therapist or RD may explore the possibility that you are dealing with an eating disorder or another underlying condition. This may help frame your experience.

For example, sometimes eating changes are a symptom of a mental health condition like depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

There are various effective treatments for eating disorders.

Getting better can often involve your wider support system, including family and friends.

Try to eat enough and avoid restriction

Following a regular eating pattern can make you less likely to overeat. Try eating meals and snacks throughout the day to make sure you don’t get too hungry.

According to a 2014 study, food addiction is associated with both frequent dieting and weight regain, which can result in higher weight.

Though it may help to limit exposure to triggering foods until you know how to manage distressing feelings and urges, it’s best to partner with a professional to work toward allowing all foods.

Reach out for support

Sometimes the best resources for support are others who share your experience. Consider peer support programs or support groups like Overeaters Anonymous to find community and understanding.

Food is essential for life and can bring us a lot of joy. So, it can be especially frustrating to feel out of control with food.

While the concept of food addiction is debated among experts, many people experience what they believe to be an addiction to specific foods or food types.

It’s important to know that you don’t have to feel addicted to food forever. Finding peace is possible.

Try to remember that no matter what size body you’re in, you deserve to heal, eat enough food to serve your body, and have a good relationship with food.

A doctor can help you find a mental health professional or RD who can work through the causes of your difficult relationship with food.