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Is Food Addiction a Real Thing?

  1. THANK YOU!!! This is such an important myth to expose! Great blog! Thank you for all your blogs and please keep writing!!!

  2. mmapes2 says:

    This is such a great post. Thank you for sharing! I look forward to each post you make. Thanks for being you & sharing it with the world =)

  3. Bronwyn says:

    Great post! You so eloquently said everything I find wrong with the food addiction model. I get so frustrated when people report on how food lights up the same neural pathways as drugs… I’m no, it’s the other way around: drugs light up the neural pathways of food. We needed food to survive so food= pleasure.

  4. Andi says:

    Oh man I needed this post. Thank you.

  5. Fern Ghauri says:

    So, so true! I would bet anything that if “they” started to forbid and/or place a high danger/ pleasure value on brussels sprouts and kale (or ended up placing taboos around them, if not outright forbidding them), and these taboos became part of the punitive underpinning of the anti-food and anti-pleasure culture, we would end up with conversations like this:

    “Oh god, please hide the kale. Just looking at it makes me drool.”

    “No! I am not putting brussels sprouts on the shopping list.”

    “No, doctor, I have not eaten kale for several weeks.”

    “So you think that my potassium/sodium balance/ratio would become better if I cut out brussels sprouts?”

  6. Ruth Flett says:

    You have lots of great ideas. Isn’t food addiction just a way that the body is telling you that you are deficient in a nutrient?

    • GlenysO says:

      Well, we don’t really have any evidence to say that. I would say no. I think if a person feels “addicted” around food, they might want to check their level of physical restriction (actually denying themselves adequate calories, creating excessive hunger, and/or denying themselves certain foods) or their level of emotional restriction (eating the foods but feeling guilty about them, labeling foods good/bad, feeling bad about their bodies and using food as a proxy). But in general, nutrient deficiencies tend to have their own set of distinct symptoms, but food addiction is not one of them.

  7. Sabrina says:

    I’m so glad you brought this up! I have long been skeptical about the validity of the food addiction model for a few reasons: 1) food is necessary for life, and therefore is unlike addictive drugs, which are not; 2) models of food addiction seem to vilify pleasure, which I would argue is actually one of the most important aspects of eating; and 3) because, like you point out, nobody is talking about the underlying restriction that is almost certainly causing the “addiction”-like behavior.

    I also know a woman who is a member of OA. She brings her own food with her to social events, so she doesn’t inadvertently eat off her very rigid plan. How can this be recovery? After simply sustaining life, the next most important role of food is to bind us together as social beings. We need it to live, and we need it to thrive. I can’t see how bringing your own salad to a baby shower at which the hosts all cooked from scratch for days ahead of time represents any kind of “recovery.” In all honesty, I think OA is contributing to the problem it purports to solve.

    Just for the record, I have close family with extensive experience in AA. Their involvement in that 12-step program was and still is nothing short of life-saving. So I have nothing but support for 12-step programs for true addictions. But I’m not convinced that food addiction is a true addiction.

    • GlenysO says:

      Couldn’t agree more with all your points! Definitely agree the 12 step program is so helpful for many people. You’ve hit it on the head with OA – and the big problem with them is that they also have a focus on weight loss. Like, if you are fat, it’s from some food addiction. That assumption is so flawed.

      • Sabrina says:

        I agree! I have read blog posts by a woman who believes she is a food addict. Her “answer” is currently a highly restrictive so-called “whole-foods, plant-based” diet that excludes any flours (even whole grain flours), oils, salt, sugar, and nuts and seeds. Basically all that is allowed are unadorned starchy and nonstarchy vegetables, cooked whole grains (no flours), beans, and fruit. The idea is to eat foods with very low calorie density and to avoid lighting up those pleasure pathways at all, so as not to trigger a binge. She’s answered letters in which people say they are eating pounds and pounds of these foods and still not feeling satisfied. Her answer is that they need to address the emotional reasons for their overeating. So close, but misses the mark. I would argue that 1) the diet is the problem– attempting to remove pleasure from eating actually makes it harder to achieve satiety, and 2) that what these folks really need to examine is the need to be thin at all costs, even to the extent of social isolation (because they can never share a meal with friends and family) and total lack of eating pleasure. Their bodies and their brains are not the problem, and the food isn’t either. It’s the idea that thinner is always better and that being fat is a moral failing that is the problem. It’s so sad to think of these probably otherwise healthy people damaging their emotional and mental health by buying into this food addiction model.

  8. I know a woman who keeps candy all over her house because when she wanted it all the time she ate it ask the time. She doesn’t say to herself, ‘No, fatty, you can’t have that’ and she almost never craves candy. It’s interesting. I know her mother constantly and how she can “restrain” herself in such an environment.

  9. Amy says:

    “food addiction tendencies are more likely driven by high dietary restraint, weight stigma, and a toxic culture of food-fear than a chemical dependency on food.” I LOVE THIS LINE! Perfect, perfect explanation to people who insist that they are addicted to sugar/salt/whatever. Thank you Glenys for giving me the perfect line to use with clients and other folks 🙂

  10. jodietitian says:

    Great post! This topic has always fascinated me…. I also am not a fan of the word “addiction” applied to food. Over the close to 4 decades that I have been a dietitian, most of these years working with eating disorders and weight issues, while I do agree that most of these feelings of “addiction” are due to the restriction and crazy culture we live in when it comes to food, I have encountered some people who have not dieted, know nothing about calories or nutrition, yet can’t stop eating certain foods (usually salt and sugar and fat). These people however don’t label it as “addiction” but may say “oh I love that, but I don’t buy it because I just eat the whole thing!”. Some actually enjoy eating the “whole thing” without guilt (rare), but there are those who won’t buy it (for example, ice cream) because they eat it all. Even when they don’t diet. So, I feel while most of this kind of eating is a consequence of dieting/restriction there may be some who also overeat some foods even without a dieting history. I would not call it addiction but clearly something is going on when somewhat “normal eaters” who don’t restrict can’t seem to stop. Maybe they don’t have enough pleasure in their life?! I know it is rare but I still would love to know what that is about….wonder if anyone else has encountered this type of person?

    • GlenysO says:

      That is interesting and I have met a few people like this. I wonder if it’s a consequence of dieting culture being so normalized in our society, so that even people who don’t diet still feel some foods are foods they shouldn’t eat? I’m not really sure. Or like you said, maybe they aren’t getting enough pleasure in their other foods? They probably are pretty exceptional cases, as I don’t feel like I even know any non-dieters (aside from HAES RDs and a few friends) anymore.

      • jodietitian says:

        That could be part of it,good food/bad food thinking is definitely normalized! I do know some acquaintances who don’t diet or know much about nutrition yet still think that way….could be a big part of it!!! crazy

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