Catnip Leaves

Does It Matter if People Believe in Food Addiction?

For many people, food addiction explains obesity. Nevermind that scientists have some problems with the concept. While scientists debate, much of the public is embracing the idea. So what are the implications? Does the idea that people can get hooked on food lead to more or less stigma? Does it help people cope with eating behaviors?

Coping by Means of Food Restriction

In a new review paper by Helen Ruddock and Charlotte Hardman, the authors describe experimental evidence of the response people have when they think of themselves as food addicted. In a randomized study setting, short-term responses were potentially helpful. When people were primed with the idea that food addiction might be a real phenomenon, they were more successful in managing their eating behaviors.

But short-term restraint raises questions about longer-term effects. Restrained eating can lead to cravings for restricted foods. And cravings can lead to binges. Those binges, in turn might reinforce a person’s belief that they are a food addict. This concept needs testing in longer-term research.

More Questions Than Answers

At this point the real effects of popular belief in food addiction are unclear. It might help people cope in the short term. But it might lead to longer-term problems.

Stigma researchers say that it might serve to reduce blame. And in the short term, it doesn’t seem to increase weight bias.

But better answers will come from a more complete understanding of addiction and how it relates to eating behaviors. Public perceptions are getting ahead of the science.

Click here for the review by Ruddock and Hardman and here for related research. For research on the effect of food addiction concepts on stigma, click here.

Catnip Leaves, photograph © Paw Paw / flickr

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May 30, 2017