The Tara Treatment Center Blog

A Lifestyle of Extremes: Are Eating Disorders Addictions?

Those in addiction recovery often ‘wake-up’ to a variety of poor coping skills and unhealthy habits.  In active addiction, our diets often go neglected. How can we find balance in a lifestyle of extremes?

A lifestyle of Extremes

“I have observed that food is the last thing a person cares about when they are in active addiction.  Once they get a little sober-time, you see a corresponding weight gain of 7-14 kg”, explains Mike Denton.  “In the big picture, our favorite drug is more”

The process of quitting substances can affect other aspects of our life, making it hard to find balance in early sobriety. 


Are eating disorders addictions?

Most people think of eating disorders and drug addiction as separate and distinct issues, but as many people who suffer with these maladies know firsthand, there is often significant overlap between the two. 

Carolyn C. Ross M.D., M.P.H, MD, MPH, CEDS, Eating Disorder and Addiction Medicine Specialist.

We asked Carolyn Coker Ross to explain the relationship between eating disorders and addictions.

“The overlap between substance abuse and eating problems is quite high. Up to 50% of those with eating disorders also have substance use disorders. Thirty-five percent of those with a substance use disorder, also have an eating disorder (this is 11 times what is found in the general population!!). This makes sense because of shared factors such as genetics or family history, brain chemistry, anxiety and depression and a history of adverse childhood experiences. For those with substance use disorders who are not addressing their eating addiction or the underlying causes of both, it may be difficult to maintain sobriety. The first step is to deal with these underlying root causes, such as the adverse childhood experiences or trauma so that you are more able to regulate emotions, deal with stress and also not have to “self-medicate” with food or substances.”

Brooke Farrington is a local expert on eating disorders, and her views differ from Carolyn’s.  Brooke agreed to speak with us for upcoming NEDAwareness Week 2019:


 There are many who view it as an addiction. I am one however, that does not consider it an addiction in the traditional sense. There are similarities and a high rate of co-occurring addictions in those with ED’s. There is a connection genetically as well, and many of the underlying issues are often similar. However, the biggest piece that I think we have to be cautious of is that food is not a substance but something that is required to sustain life.

Food is something we are designed to need as well as enjoy. The dangers of treating those with Eating Disorders as an addiction is maintaining the rigidity that is such an ingrained part of the illness. If we must look at it through the lens of addiction, it must be considered a process addiction. Meaning it isn’t having an addiction to a mind altering substance. Instead, it is a compulsion to continue to engage in patterns of behavior. The recovery process is also considerably different. Food is not the problem, how we use it is. Recovery from an eating disorder means letting go of rigid rules, allowing all foods, and finding pleasure in food and movement.

I think the biggest thing I want people to know is that you cannot look at someone and tell they have an eating disorder. ED’s are deadly disorders that effect individuals of all sizes, shapes, races, genders, and ages. Sufferers can often present functioning optimally, while inside they are battling a darkness that can be all consuming.”

Brooke’s description of ED is similar to that of any other mental illness; like the disease of addiction, ED does not discriminate and affects all kinds of people in all walks of life.  Be sure to #ComeAsYouAre this #NEDAwareness Week, help is out there!