Food addiction

Food addiction is a real and dangerous addiction that affects many people across the UK. Its symptoms include an ungovernable urge to eat, feeling out of control around food, and experiencing guilt or shame after eating. When you are addicted to food, your condition can make you feel totally helpless but there is help available.

Person with a bowl of chips

What is food addiction?

Food addiction is a behavioural addiction, characterised by an uncontrollable urge to eat, regardless of hunger or nutrition. If you are addicted to food, you may binge eat (eat large amounts of food in a short period of time), compulsively overeat or eat secretly so that others don’t see how much you’re consuming.

Food addiction is a serious condition that affects around 2% of people with only one in four sufferers seeking food addiction help. Food addiction is three times more prevalent than Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa combined and is both a cause and symptom of mental health disorders, as well as a disorder in its own right.

How does food addiction develop?

On a physical level, when you eat food, particularly food with high levels of sugar, salt and fat, it triggers a release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Much in the same way as taking drugs or having sex, those with an addiction to food chase this dopamine high and the associated pleasure that comes with it.

On a psychological level, there are many different routes to food addiction. For some people, their relationship with food begins in childhood when they use food as a way to cope with emotions such as sadness, anger or boredom. For others, emotional eating can develop in adulthood as a way to cope with stress or other difficult life circumstances.

The problem with food addiction is that, unlike other activities that release dopamine, eating is essential for survival. This means that you can’t just give up food altogether as you could with other addictive substances. Instead, you need to learn how to develop a healthy relationship with food and your body.

What are the effects of food addiction?

Scales stating obese weight

The negative impact of food addiction can be far-reaching, affecting every aspect of your life from your physical health to your mental well-being, relationships, work and social life.

Physical health effects:

  • Weight gain
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Increased risk of stroke

Mental health effects:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of shame, guilt and hopelessness

Food addiction can also lead to social isolation and exacerbate various mental health disorders which lead one in three sufferers to consider suicide at some point.

In terms of other aspects of your life, food addiction can also have a negative impact on:

Your relationships: When you are addicted to food, you may find it difficult to be honest with loved ones about your eating habits or may isolate yourself from social activities because you’re ashamed of your weight or body.

Your work life: Food addiction can lead to absenteeism as well as issues with concentration, motivation and productivity due to the mental and physical effects of the addiction.

Your social life: Food addiction can also lead to social isolation and feelings of shame which can make it difficult to go out and socialise, particularly if there is food involved.

Your finances: Food addiction can be expensive, both in terms of the cost of the food itself as well as any associated health problems. It can also lead to issues with debt and money management.

Who is most at risk of becoming addicted to food?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question as food addiction can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or background. However, there are certain factors that can make you more vulnerable to developing a food addiction and many of the people who undergo food rehab will have some or all of these factors. The most common include:

A family history of addiction

If you have a parent or other close relative who is addicted to food or another substance, you are more likely to develop an addiction yourself.

A history of trauma or abuse

Experiencing trauma or abuse, either in childhood or adulthood, can also make you more likely to turn to food as a way of coping with the pain.

A history of mental health problems

Underlying mental health disorders can also increase the chances of you developing a food addiction as a way of self-medicating.

A history of dieting

If you have been on multiple diets, you may be more likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with food as a result. This is because dieting can lead to feelings of deprivation which can trigger binge eating.

Am I addicted to food?

If you are worried that you may be addicted to food, there are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do I continue to eat even when I’m not hungry?
  • Do I feel out of control around food?
  • Do I feel guilty or ashamed after eating?
  • Do I spend a lot of time thinking about food?
  • Do I eat to cope with my emotions?
  • Have my eating habits caused problems in my life?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, you may need professional food addiction help. At Sanctuary Lodge, we offer a comprehensive food rehab programme which can help you break free from your addiction and develop a new and healthier relationship with food.

Lies your food addiction will try to tell you

Lies sign

Food addiction is a powerful and destructive force but it is also very cunning. It is important to understand that your food addiction doesn’t want you to get better, it wants you to stay addicted so that it can continue to control you. As a result, your food addiction will try to convince you of a number of lies in order to keep you trapped and prevent you from going to food addiction rehab. Some of the most common lies your food addiction will tell you include:

“You’re not really addicted to food, you can stop anytime you want”

This is perhaps the most damaging lie that your food addiction can tell you. It is designed to convince you that your addiction is not real and that you are in control. The truth is, food addiction is a real and serious problem and if you could stop anytime you want, you already would have when your condition began to cause issues.

“You don’t need help, you can do this on your own”

This is another harmful lie which is designed to prevent you from reaching out for food addiction help. Your addiction wants to isolate you from all the people who want to help. Alongside this lie, it will try to make you feel embarrassed about your addiction in order to stop you from speaking to your loved ones or entering food rehab.

“Treatment won’t work; you’ve tried before and it didn’t help”

This lie is often told to people who have been through food addiction treatment before but relapsed. Your addiction will try to convince you that rehab for food addiction doesn’t work so you don’t seek help. The truth is, food addiction rehab does work but it takes time, effort and commitment. Just because you relapsed before doesn’t mean that treatment wasn’t effective or that it can’t be successful in the future, it just means that you need more time to recover.

How can food addiction be treated?

At Sanctuary Lodge, there are two main stages in our food addiction treatment programmes: food addiction: rehab and aftercare.

Food addiction rehab

During food rehab, you will undergo a range of different addiction therapies, recovery activities and other treatment sessions while staying as a resident at our food addiction centre. This intensive treatment will help you to get to the root of your food addiction and start to develop new, healthier coping mechanisms.

Some of the different treatment approaches include:

We also provide a bespoke diet and exercise programme which is designed to help you develop a healthier relationship with food.


After you have completed our food addiction rehab programme, you will be supported through our aftercare programme. Aftercare can take a number of different forms but at Sanctuary Lodge it includes weekly group therapy sessions which are designed to help you through difficult moments and achieve long-term recovery from food addiction.

If you are struggling with food addiction, we urge you to reach out for help. Our food addiction treatment programmes could be the key to helping you overcome your addiction and start living a healthier, happier life.

Frequently asked questions

Can food addiction be cured?
There is no magic cure for food addiction but there is effective treatment available which can help you to overcome your addiction and lead a healthy, happy life. Through a comprehensive food addiction recovery programme like Sanctuary Lodge’s, you will develop the skills and knowledge you need to manage your food intake in the long term which can benefit your life in every imaginable way.
How long does it take to recover from food addiction?
The length of time it takes to recover from food addiction varies from person to person. Some people may need longer treatment than others while some may require multiple rounds of treatment before they achieve full recovery. The important thing is to trust in the process and never give up fighting. At Sanctuary Lodge, we offer a range of different-length food rehab programmes to cater for everyone’s individual needs.
How can I help a loved one who is addicted to food?
If you have a loved one who is struggling with food addiction, the best thing you can do is encourage them to seek professional help and provide emotional support and understanding as they go through treatment. If they are not ready for help, it is very important that you don’t enable their food addiction by buying them food, making excuses for them or covering up their binge eating. This will only make their condition worse and prevent them from seeking food addiction help.
Can teenagers undergo food addiction rehab at Sanctuary Lodge?
While Sanctuary Lodge does not treat under-eighteens, our sister food addiction rehab centre, Banbury Lodge, specialises in treating teens with food addiction. Located in the peaceful Oxfordshire town of Banbury, it is the perfect location to undergo food rehab.
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Who am I contacting?

Calls and contact requests are answered by admissions at

UK Addiction Treatment Group.

We look forward to helping you take your first step.

0203 811 7325