Addictions in general aren’t considered a new phenomenon in our world; however, it appears that a new addiction is rising: food addiction. New research that was conducted in this field has shown that food addiction meets all the criteria of a known substance addiction.

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The “overeating” phenomenon has listed the availability of food, a sedentary lifestyle, and economic constraints as explanations.

And yet, none of these explanations answers the main question: why do people consistently over eat, despite repeated efforts to change this behavior? Or, in other words, is there such a thing as a food addiction?
A team of researchers led by Dr. (first name needed) Ifland, recently published an article in the medical journal, Medical Hypotheses, l that proposed a possible answer to this question.  The researchers are examining food addiction and overeating while in relation to processed food with high concentrations of sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine;an addictive substance. Processed food leads some of us to lose control of our ability to balance our diet (food addiction), similar- to alcohol and nicotine addictions.

The researchers’ assumption was that in some cases, overeating results in an addiction to processed food. This assumption developed through critical reading of professional literature in the fields of weightgain, eating behaviors, and drug addictions, and by working with people who described themselves as processed-food addicts.

Lack of  hard evidence doesn’t allow  labeling all ingredients found in processed food as  psychoactive drugs, though observations do indicate a considerable similarity between behaviors linked to eating processed food and consuming addictive substances.

As in addictive drugs, sugars and flours are substances found in nature in smaller amounts than those that can usually be found in pharmaceuticals or food respectively.  Like addictive drugs  they’re not addictive until they become concentrated together through modernized industrial processes.  The combination of these food components in higher concentrations than those found in nature creates foods with high addiction potential such as: sodas (sugar and caffeine), doughnuts and other pastries (white flour, sugar, caffeine in some cases, chocolate, salt, and fat), and French fries (fat, salt, and dextrose in some cases).

What is addictive substance dependency?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or in short DSM-IV) defines substance dependence when 3 out of 7 symptoms appear  in a year:

  1. Tolerance
  2. Withdrawal symptoms
  3. Substance being ingested in larger amounts or for longer periods than was planned.
  4. Attempts to reduce the consumption
  5. Extra time dedicated to persuasion, use, or quitting
  6. Reducing or stopping important activities due to usage
  7. Continued use in spite of negative results

These criteria were validated regarding different materials and in different populations.

Food addiction hypothesis

Overeating can be described as a processed-food addiction according to the DSM-IV criteria  on substance use disorder.
The researchers presented the concept of processed food addiction, referencing  the definition of substance addiction. Arguments establishing their hypothesis were derived from two sources:

A.  Observation and working with people who describe themselves as processed food addicts.

B.  Critical reading of professional literature.

1. Food addiction: the appearance of tolerance brings on progressive usage over time
Two scenarios are noted: the need to raise the substance amount to achieve the desired effect; the  compulsion  to consume  larger amounts of a specific food over time to achieve the desired effect.
The type of food people report causing this need exists in variable and growing amounts – fast food, ice cream, salty snacks, soda, and popcorn.
For example, “If I tell myself I’ll only have one cookie, and it leads to eating another one and then another one, until I stop at the fifth or sixth cookie. In the past I used to be able to only eat one or two.”
Three levels of research support the progressive abuse of food: lab animal studies,  MRI studies of neurotransmitters  related to people’s eating, and  consumption statistics of food ingredients.

2. Food addiction: withdrawal symptoms
This is when  the substance (or a similar substance) is consumed in order to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
This is based on reports of people eating when feeling tired, anxious, depressed and/or upset, and irritated.  Also, eating processed food to avoid weakness and a bad mood.  One eats  even though  there is no conscious feeling of hunger, and the fact that eating will not alter mood.  There are reports of repeated behavior such as walking towards snack and soda vending machines in the afternoon, roaming the kitchen restlessly while searching for a processed snack, or eating ice cream at night.

The negative feelings described are psychological expressions of withdrawal that are “fixed” by consuming processed food, similar to smoking cigarettes.

For example, “Reducing amounts of bread makes me jitter.” Or “When I don’t dring coffee for a whole day I become agitated.” Or “I eat food high in sugar to ease my fatigue and/or my depressed mood.”
People’s testimonials describe withdrawal symptoms from salt as nausea and from caffeine as headaches, weakness and dizziness.

3. Food addiction: eating more than plan
The substance is usually eaten in larger amounts or for a longer period of time than was planned.   This is based on reports of people planning to go to the bakery to buy one cookie or one snack and leaving the store with a dozen; then, eating it all within a couple of hours or less.   It’s also based on reports of  expressions  of wonder and disbelief  at what happened.
For example,“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”   Or “It seems that one bite of chocolate led to a frantic and out of control stuffing chocolate into  my mouth.  It was like trying to put out a fire.”

There is  general scientific agreement supporting  the existence of binge eating.

4. Food addiction: attempts to reduce consumption
There is an  irrepressible desire or unsuccessful attempts to reduce or control the consumption of the substance.  This may be: reducing amounts of food, hypnosis, food substitutions, group therapy, surgery, medical treatment, acupuncture, “special food,” prayer groups,  or exercise. The common theme is failing at all those attempts.
For example, “Yes, I tried to reduce or stop, but it’s always in my head and I find ways to defeat myself, I even find time to buy a snack or something sweet.
The foods that should be targeted  to  reduce are processed foods.

5. Food addiction: taking the time to convince, use or recover from using
A lot of time is devoted to acquiring the substance,  use it, or to recover from using it.
This is based on reports of multiple entries and exits of the kitchen, the living room, and the bathroom, and even reports of getting up at night to eat.  Other consistent reports were of weariness after meals and dedicating the whole weekend for shopping, eating and sleeping afterwards.
For example, “I can feel hungover from chocolate.”  Or, “I can have a lot of  plans for the weekend, but instead, I’ll spend  it shopping at the supermarket,  then eat what I bought and sleep it off.”

The main ingredient related to overeating here is the weariness and fatigue accompanying the frantic food consumption.  This response to eating processed food  is similar to watching television and/or using the internet and  a decline in exercising.

6. Food addiction: missing out on important activities
Social, employment, or vacation activities are cancelled or reduced because of substance use  Reports of being alone because of feeling ashamed of being fat, or  weariness and fatigue.  Another common reason for abstaining from activities is feeling uncomfortable  about eating around other people.
For example, “I don’t go out anymore because I don’t like how big I am, and I just don’t have the energy for it.”Or, “I get home and eat, and then I don’t have the strength to exercise.”

7. Food addiction: overeating despite knowing the results
This criterion is described as continued substance usage, despite the knowledge that persistent and repeated physical and psychological problems are caused and will  be aggravated by such substance usage.
For example, “The thought of it being better for me to not eat something occurred to me, but I still do it.   Or“I think I should eat something because:

Someone made it for me
Just this one time can’t be harmful
I’ll start a diet tomorrow
I think about being overweight and lazy but eat it anyway.”

Obesity is a health situation, which  leads to being medically advised to lose weight.  Research shows that people usually have a hard time  heeding that advice.  To that, many men and women  also report  being in the process of losing weight, or trying to maintain their weight.  The lack of success does not reflect a lack of knowledge of the health consequences  of obesity.

In conclusion

It  appears that those who describe themselves as food addicts  have behaviors that verify the DSM-IV criteria for substance addiction.  Many attempts to lose weight don’t respond to existing treatment approaches.  Processed food addiction can be a significant explanation for this failure, which  applies to a significant number of people suffering from obesity.  The existing experience in treating people  addicted to tobacco and nicotine can  influence changes in the clinical-therapeutic  regimen for those people addicted to processed food.

 Learn more about how the Trim Down Club can help you lose weight.

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Comments 11

  1. Finally! Proof that compulsive overeating/food addiction is a disease not too different from any other addiction. Society has compassion for those addicted to smoking, drugs or alcohol but when it comes to the overweight we are looked down upon. How many of us grew up with our parents rewarding good behavior with food and punishing us by withholding it? No wonder there are so many of us who are emotional eaters!

  2. I have to agree with JMaurno & teresamary…after all said & done only the wealthy population which is in smaller percentages can afford the personal training, training gears & healthy food without worrying about their budget.

    We all know too well that the healthier you go the more it costs you & with economy today people just can’t afford it & yet many have waisted so much of their money for products & trends that don’t work.

    Furhtermore because of the high focus on looks as media has bombarded the world with Hollywood & music industry i.e what is hot or not look, so many have fallen to the deception of what is acceptable in society & what is not. Naturally many that didnt even have problems with their body started to because the natural God made was not up to the wordly standard. What allot of crap.

    All deception & money making scheme. If you really care about people & their well being why charge them, how come no one creates a non profitable Organisation to assist society for their health & well being without cost. 

    Stats state Top Industries
    Nutrition consultants could be employed in a variety of industries, with the largest number working in hospitals, according to the BLS. Those workers are paid an average of $55,240.
    Nutritional consultants may also be hired by individuals to help them with dietary and other health needs. Those in the home health care services industry make $62,800 on average, while those considered part of the personal care services industry make a mean wage of $59,820 per year. Finally, those who are employed in the special food services industry make an average of $54,000 per year.

    Ive learned that the only free thing in this world is the Love of God & He alone can helps us realize that there is more to us then how big r small our bodies are. Healthy is attractive. Just be Healthy even if you size differs.

  3. I am absolutely tired of being overweight. I have been advised y my doctor to lose weight as I have had hip replacement surgery. I have lost weight before and have gained it back. I hope the trim down club will help me to achieve my goal to a healthier happier me.

  4. In response to JMaurno’s post that ‘they all just increase the focus on food’ is correct, and I hate that also. But if we are focusing on food all the time anyway, why not try this way with the good information, and NEVER quit trying to change our eating habits. It seems to me, like if we quit trying to change our eating habits, the only option is getting BIGGER, and more unhealthy ,and welll, giving up is not an option for me. I am enthused and hopeful,about what lies before me. All of these helpful tips from the Trimdown Club and people like you, who encourage me, even if no great success story, makes me wan to keep on. I want and need to be successful at this, otherwise gonna face real health issues!!!

  5. Years ago I found that eating a sweet roll in the morning “opened my appetite”. When I ate toast instead I was not as ravished for more food. I have stayed away from morning sugars for a long time and feel much better. It is easier to stay on a healthy diet since then.

  6. This article was very informative for me. What I learned today is that food addition comes in all shapes and sizes…one does not have to be obese to have a food addition.My problem lies in the high carbs,sugar and calorie category .
    I do not smoke and have my glass of wine on occasion but ohhh, my sweets…anytime, anywhere, anyhow! ( a bag of chocolate chippits is my best friend at midnight)
    Thanks to my career, family, and outside activities, weight was never a problem in my younger years.However now in retirement, those added 6-7 year pounds each year have crept up on me unannounced even though I continue to have a busy lifestyle.
    I had to do something fast!….WeightWatchers helped me loose 30lbs over 6months yet my frustration was with those last 10 pounds!…. I lost interest in their meetings…..
    Horrah,TrimDownClub !…you are affordable and manageable right from my own home 24/7……a big plus for sure.
    The word ‘Diet’ no longer exists in my vocabulary…it has such a negative tone( a last resort,a punishment, etc etc)
    The true success to my weight loss ( I can only speak for myself) is a lifestyle change in eating and enjoying it along the way.
    I am new to TDC ..I am just reading all about tips and recipes and meal planning as well as appreciating their philosophy that weight loss takes time and patience and it takes planning yet they do the planning for me with what I like to eat from healthy food choice as well as enjoying my treats too.
    Once again, it will take me awhile to get re-motivated( which is normal) but not long, I know.
    I enjoy the ‘pep talks’ of encouraging words.
    Looking forward to saying goodbye to my last 10 pounds forever!…thank you TDC for being there.

  7. I consider myself to be a healthy eater. In fact when I look at what I eat in comparison to the diet that trim down has laid out for me I can see I really don’t eat that well at all. It may be way better then the “average” american, but that isn’t saying much. I look forward to starting this diet today and seeing how I feel in 2 months.

  8. With all of the research on proper diet, processed foods, too much caffeine, too little caffeine, too much sugar, but it’s OK after a workout, carbs are good, carbs are bad…etc. etc. etc. is it any wonder that people are addicted to food? I am focused on food all the time and I haven’t lost a pound. I am never hungry but eat purposefully to get enough protein and work with a personal trainer. According to what they want me to eat I have too little protein, too many calories and I have not lost a pound. I go from constipation to diarrhea and I feel like crap all the time. There are millions of organizations like Trim Down Club, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem etc. and they all just increase the focus on food. I feel like I am on a food treadmill that never stops.

  9. After reading the info re addiction, I think I am addicted to processed foods. I have tried every diet there is
    and regained my weight. I am sick of being so overweight and unable to do many things. I am hopeful
    the trim down plan works for me.

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