Pre-Natal Breakfast

Liking, Craving, and Food Addiction

Perhaps you’ve seen Ricky Ricardo bringing Lucy pickles and sardines to go with her milkshakes on that classic episode of I Love Lucy. That’s a memorable depiction of craving foods that you might not really like. A new study in Appetite tackles the subject in a slightly more scientific way.

Sarah Polk and colleagues set out to see if they could distinguish wanting or craving food from liking it. In a sample of 216 subjects, they collected data on craving and liking for foods, along with other data on eating behaviors and BMI. They found more craving for highly processed foods than for minimally processed foods. Indications of food addiction correlated with craving but not with liking highly processed foods. They conclude:

The current findings support previous research that suggests highly processed foods may be most implicated in addictive-like eating behavior (Schulte et al., 2015), which may warrant the term “food addiction” to be refined to “highly processed food addiction.”

In a new commentary published by Appetite, Caroline Davis describes the divergence between popular and scientific views of food addiction:

Some have argued that the term “food addiction” is misleading – or “just plain wrong” – because food is needed to nourish our bodies and implies health and survival (see Long et al., 2015 for a detailed discussion of the issue). Nevertheless, the label has stubbornly persisted despite a general acknowledgement that the diet items which foster excessive overuse do not derive from our natural environment, and are not necessary for a vigorous life.

The idea of food addiction has a hold on the public imagination that goes back to the 19th century. But scientists have a tough time defining it in a way that holds up under scientific scrutiny. No doubt they will – eventually.

Meanwhile, Davis points out that describing obesity as an addictive disorder is a serious mistake. Such broad generalizations get in the way of better understanding obesity, addictive eating behaviors, and binge eating disorder. Even though they might sometimes overlap, they are separate conditions.

Click here for the study by Polk et al and here for the commentary by Davis. For perspective on distinctions between food and eating addiction, click here.

Pre-Natal Breakfast, photograph © Marc-Andre Lariviere / flickr

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November 14, 2016

One Response to “Liking, Craving, and Food Addiction”

  1. November 14, 2016 at 10:19 am, Allen Browne said:

    Wonderful episode of “I Love Lucy”