What is gourmand syndrome
Gourmand syndrome is both a brain disorder and an eating disorder. A person with this disorder develops food and eating compulsions after a brain injury caused by a stroke, seizure, tumor or, physical head trauma. Usually, the person becomes interested in food quality and produces a sudden taste for fine dining.
Diagnosing gourmand syndrome
There are three main factors a medical professional will consider when diagnosing gourmand syndrome. One is significant changes in a person's eating behaviors, in which a sudden interest in food quality and compulsive behaviors around fine dining develop. (1) The second factor is a brain injury, such as a stroke, seizure, or head trauma that causes changes to the brain's right frontal hemisphere. The last observation made when diagnosing gourmand syndrome is a person's medical history. People diagnosed with gourmand syndrome usually have no eating disorder signs or symptoms before their brain injury.
Signs & symptoms of gourmand syndrome
The signs and symptoms of gourmand syndrome can vary in each person and range from mild to severe and can include:
- A sudden interest in fine foods
- A sudden disinterest in certain foods
- Cravings for specific foods
- Impulsive eating behaviors
- Preoccupation with fine dining
Effects of gourmand syndrome
The effects of gourmand syndrome can also vary in each person and may include a variety of physical and emotional impacts on a person's life.
The short-term effects of gourmand syndrome are often benign. A person with gourmand syndrome may experience a change in their palate and prefer more refined foods and eating experiences. They may also enjoy talking, writing, or sharing their newfound interest with others.
The long-term effects of gourmand syndrome may develop into obsessive-compulsive behaviors. The individual may experience obsessive thoughts or urges related to eating and food, leading to compulsive eating behaviors that are hard to control. These behaviors may interfere with a person's daily activities and can lead to work, school, or relationship troubles.
Gourmand syndrome is also characterized by a distaste for foods the individual considers to be of lower quality. In some cases, they avoid foods they may need to nourish their bodies properly. For example, if a person develops a taste for caviar and only eats caviar, their body is not receiving the nutrients it needs to function.
Some people with gourmand syndrome may also experience challenges in their lives beyond their eating behaviors. Eating high-quality or gourmet foods and dining out can get very expensive and lead to financial struggles.
Some people living with gourmand syndrome show more extreme obsessive-compulsive symptoms around food and fine dining, similar to those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Symptoms typically consist of repeated thoughts and urges and uncontrollable repetitive behaviors in response to their obsession. (2)
Treatment for gourmand syndrome
There are several therapies a person with gourmand syndrome can try in order to reduce the symptoms caused by their eating disorder. A couple of these include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, that helps individuals with an eating disorder build awareness of their thoughts and feelings about eating. (3) For someone with gourmand syndrome, a therapist can help them understand why they view certain foods as better than others. They can also learn to manage their obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
- Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP): ERP therapy consists of exposing an individual to a trigger for their obsessive thoughts and teaching them how to not respond to their compulsive behaviors. For gourmand syndrome, the therapist works with the individual to not act on every thought about food.
Medications for gourmand syndrome
There are no known medications to treat gourmand syndrome. But some individuals with gourmand syndrome may take medicines to treat their brain injury, leading to reduced gourmand syndrome signs and symptoms. Others may take medications to treat obsessive-compulsive or manic behaviors seen in those with gourmand syndrome.
Understanding gourmand syndrome
Gourmand syndrome is still a relatively new discovery, and researchers and medical professions are learning about the eating disorder. There is a common misconception that people with gourmand syndrome simply enjoy higher-quality food, but the condition is complex and affects more than a person's food preferences.
Living with gourmand syndrome
For some people living with this eating disorder, their change in food taste informs their decisions about eating. Instead of ordering a burger from a fast-food restaurant, they’ll go to a fine dining restaurant for a gourmet burger cooked by a well-known chef. While fascinated by fine food, the individual may still be able to control their thoughts and eating habits.
For others, the new attraction may feel like an obsession. They may fixate on food and eating and find it hard to think about or do anything else. These obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors may feel overwhelming and can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression.
History of gourmand syndrome
The first mention of gourmand syndrome was in 1997 by Marianne Regard and Theodor Landis. (4) They presented gourmand syndrome as a new eating disorder after observing clinical data of 36 patients who displayed a unique preoccupation with fine food and eating. Of the 36 patients, 34 had a right anterior brain lesion.
The eating disorder was named gourmand syndrome, as a gourmand is a person who enjoys eating and is often a connoisseur of good food.
How to help someone with gourmand syndrome
For those living with gourmand syndrome, treatment options are available to manage the eating disorder's obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
The experts at Within Help understand the complexity of eating disorders and offer compassionate evidence-based treatment personalized to each individual's unique case. It takes incredible courage to seek treatment for an eating disorder, and the admissions team at Within Health is ready to help. If you think you or someone you love may be struggling with gourmand syndrome, call us today.