Ponds on the Ocean

Food Addiction: Does Thinking Make It So?

Food addiction is a very real concern for a significant population of people who find that certain foods have addictive properties for them. Yet careful scientists who study addiction are sharply divided on this subject. Some argued vigorously for the inclusion of food addiction in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders released two years ago. Others argued against it and it was omitted.

Now a new study in Appetite examines a fundamental question about the reality of food addiction: does thinking make it so? This well-designed study will surely raise as many questions as it answers.

Charlotte Hardman and colleagues from Liverpool and Bristol conducted a randomized, controlled study of the effects of exposing people to health reports suggesting that food addiction is real versus reports that suggest it is a myth. They found that people who were told it is real were more likely to assess themselves as being food addicts. But they weren’t necessarily more likely to eat more indulgent foods as a result.

Though this study doesn’t resolve the vexing questions of how to deal with food addiction, it does shine a light on the importance of unbiased reporting about it. Health media — and for that matter advocates — who speak with absolute certainty can do real harm. Both extremes are unwarranted. Food addiction is neither bogus nor is it a biological certainty.

Beware of zealots at both extremes.

Click here to read the study and here to read more on the subject from ConscienHealth.

Ponds on the Ocean, photograph by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / flickr

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July 14, 2015

8 Responses to “Food Addiction: Does Thinking Make It So?”

  1. July 14, 2015 at 6:43 am, Mary-Jo said:

    What’s also concerning is that there are unqualified ‘therapists’ (quacks)’diagnosing’ (labelling)people as having a food addiction and creating more damage — physiological, mental, psychosocial.

    • July 14, 2015 at 7:14 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Mary-Jo! You are correct. Extremes at both ends are undermining people who want to follow a reasonable course. Some people clearly have a functional addiction to certain foods, but this phenomenon is poorly defined and understood. Gaps in knowledge are dangerous blind spots unless they’re acknowledged.

  2. July 14, 2015 at 8:31 am, Dr Vera Tarman said:

    As on of the ‘quacks’ who believes In Food addiction, let me correct you – food addiction advocates at the DSM were not rejected, they were put off until there is more substantiating research. This research is still pre-clinical. No food industry money to support the research so it is slow going and for many is unpaid work.
    People who get this diagnosis are usually people who have lost control of their eating and are relieved by the diagnosis. Those who do accept the diagnosis are the most likely to sustain significant weight loss over years….I have not seen such successes long term elsewhere.
    For more info, see my book ‘Food Junkies: the Truth About Food Addiction”.

    • July 14, 2015 at 9:07 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for taking time to comment. I don’t think you will find the word “quack” or the word “rejected” in anything that I wrote.

      Your observations about clinical outcomes are interesting. I would encourage you to publish them in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

  3. July 14, 2015 at 12:10 pm, Mary-Jo said:

    I used the word quack but this wasn’t intended for legitimate professionals who use proper assessment and technique in identifying and diagnosing food addiction — as Ted described and identified in his first paragraph. I was thinking more of fringe providers and, perhaps, self-professed celebrity experts, who throw this term out to anyone and everyone who overeats typical junk foods or may be overweight and/or obese, thus, creating the strong suggestion that a food addiction exists, when, in fact, in many of the people who hear and absorb that message, then, go on to believe they have a food addiction when, genuinely, they do not.

    • July 14, 2015 at 6:05 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Mary-Jo, for clarifying.

  4. July 22, 2015 at 6:23 am, Elena said:

    Having spent most of my life with eating disorders, and other addictions I would, coherently, say: food is an addiction and should be treat as one.
    Overeating, undereating, and the behaviors around foods are highly similar to the one with alcohol or drugs.
    The biggest problem with food is that you can’t stop doing it, you have to find a balance that is the hardest work to do.
    Exp.: Explain to a heroin addict, that he/she has to get three balanced doses per day, and have two snacks of substance in between.
    Be a food addict doesn’t mean you are justified to have bigger portions, it means you should be treated as a proper “ADDICT”.

    • July 22, 2015 at 7:43 am, Ted said:

      Elena, thank you for sharing your experience and your perspective.