Dark Chocolate Cookies

The Problem with Cookies and Meth

In the New York Times Friday, psychiatrist Richard Friedman tells us that cookies and meth have a great deal in common. He’s taking up a popular, simple explanation for obesity:

Contemporary humans did not experience a sudden collapse in self-control.
What happened is that cheap, calorie-dense foods that are highly rewarding to your
brain are now ubiquitous. Once you’ve had a glass of orange juice, you are not likely
to be as satisfied with a healthier and less caloric orange that you have to peel.

The processed food industry has transformed our food into a quasi-drug, while the drug industry has synthesized ever more powerful drugs that have been diverted for recreational use.

A Popular Explanation That Doesn’t Quite Fit

The idea that addictive junk food explains our global pandemic of obesity is wildly popular around the world. In Italy, for example, 70% of the public believes that obesity results from getting hooked on addictive junk food. Even in the U.S., food addiction is nudging ahead of irresponsibility as the most popular explanation for obesity.

But, like many other simple explanations for obesity, food addiction has a few holes in it. The neuroscience is fascinating and it helps to explain a lot about how the brain governs how we eat. Food is not a drug. Meth is not essential for life, but food is.

Writing in Nature Reviews Endocrinology, Graham Finlayson explores the problems with this popular concept. In the end, he finds a risk of stretching the definition of addiction so thin that it will become meaningless.

Equating cookies and meth makes a sensational headline. But it doesn’t explain the problem of obesity.

Click here for Friedman’s commentary in the New York Times and here for Finlayson’s commentary.

Dark Chocolate Cookies, photograph © jamieanne / flickr

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July 2, 2017

4 Responses to “The Problem with Cookies and Meth”

  1. July 02, 2017 at 9:56 am, Christina Frazier said:

    There absolutely is a connection between drug addiction and sugar. Addicts who go clean often will move to junk food, especially sugar and overeat because modern processed food and drugs up-regulate dopamine and serotonin and catecholamines.

    American food is designed to be addictive so why are you critical of this idea? Obesity is good for business. Processed food is not food and is not necessary to life but necessary to our economy.

    Addicts and obese people ( myself included ) have amino acid deficiencies and this contributes to them seeking sugar ( processed carbs ) and/ or drugs and defiantly keeps them addicted.

    • July 02, 2017 at 10:55 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. July 02, 2017 at 1:51 pm, David Macklin said:

    Thanks Ted,

    Really important to better understand overeating as a condition of spectrum. Maybe helpful to characterize struggle with weight as being mild moderate or severe like we do with all of the medical conditions.

    Was great seeing you in Banff
    David Macklin

    • July 02, 2017 at 3:40 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, David. It was a privilege to meet you.