Food addiction is elusive; it doesn’t always ‘look’ the same. It affects both men and women, and it can occur at any age.

People addicted to food are not always overweight; in fact they can be underweight or normal weight. This is because weight can be controlled with over-exercising or restricting or purging food. Those who suffer from food addiction can lose control despite their best attempts to stop overeating.

To determine if someone has a food addiction, clinicians can use the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), which describes the symptoms of substance dependence. If the patient answers “yes” to three or more of the following seven criteria, a medical professional would likely refer the patient for further evaluation:

1. Tolerance: The person needs increased amounts of the substance over time to achieve the same desired effect or feeling.
2. Withdrawal: When the substance is stopped, the person experiences physiological and/or psychological withdrawal symptoms—or the individual takes the substance again to relieve or avoid such symptoms.
3. Unintentional overuse: The person often takes more of the substance than intended, or takes it over a longer period of time than intended.
4. Persistent attempts at cutting down on the substance are unsuccessful.
5. Preoccupation with the substance: A great deal of time is spent on obtaining the substance, using the substance, or recovering from its effects.
6. Important social, occupational or recreational activities are abandoned or reduced in order to use the substance.
7. Use of the substance continues, despite the knowledge of having persistent or recurrent physical and/or psychological problems that were likely exacerbated by the substance.

To assist with diagnosis of food dependance, researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity developed a food addiction scale. The following is a sampling of questions from the Yale Food Addiction Scale that require “yes” or “no” answers:

1. I find that when I start eating certain foods, I end up eating much more than I had planned.
2. I find myself continuing to consume foods even though I am no longer hungry.
3. I eat to the point where I feel physically ill.
4. Not eating certain types of food or cutting down on certain types of food is something I worry about.
5. I spend a lot of time feeling sluggish or fatigued from overeating.
6. I find myself constantly eating certain foods throughout the day.
7. I find that when certain foods are not available, I will go out of my way to obtain them. For example, I will drive to the store to purchase certain foods even though I have other options available at home.

How do I know if I’m addicted to food?