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Research Results on Food Addiction

Recent evidence suggests that palatable, high-calorie foods, think comfort foods like mac&cheese or burgers with fries or steaks cut half the size of your head, may have an addictive potential that can contribute to overeating. Impulsivity, obesity and overconsumption of such foods have been associated with addiction-like eating behavior. (I say addiction-like, because as of present, food addiction is not fully recognized as an addiction by treatment professionals.)

Current data demonstrates that impulsivity is a trait that predicts the development of food addiction-like behaviors, including excessive intake, heightened motivation for food, and compulsive eating of foods with high fat, salt, and/or sugar content. Is the problem then impulsivity or lack of impulse control, or does something in the food cause impulsivity? Compulsivity is a behavioral trait frequently seen not only in drug-addicted individuals, but also in individuals who pathologically overeat. In this study, researchers hypothesized that a high impulsivity trait precedes and confers vulnerability for food addiction-like behavior.

Working with 4000 food addicts over twenty years, research scientist Philip Werdell found “bingeing clients reported “having to eat” and “bingeing on” the same foods scientists find most “addictive”: sugar, fat, flour, wheat, salt, artificial sweeteners, caffeine and volume.” Food-addicted individuals reported more frequent food cravings, higher eating disorder psychopathology and more depressive symptoms than non-addicted people. Furthermore, evidence indicating food abstinence relieves physical craving, enables sustained weight loss and supports internal recovery, provides a strong argument for the existence of both physical craving and food addiction.

A large 2013 study using a US-based population of women, documented the prevalence of food addiction by using a novel measurement scale in middle-aged and older women. Overall, 7839 (5.8%) of the women surveyed met the criteria for food addiction. The prevalence of food addiction was 8.4% in the younger cohort of women aged 45–64 years and 2.7% in the older cohort of women aged 62–88 years. The scientists hope the results may provide insight into the strong association between behavioral attributes of food consumption and the development of obesity.

Out of control consumption of food is related to pain reduction centers, which focus on the serotonin mechanisms in the brain, according to another study. This research showed malfunctions in serotonin processing correlates with an addiction to sugars and flours. Therefore, struggle with food addiction may have biological influences.

Existing evidence needs critical evaluation and food addiction should be considered for recognition as an addiction, no different than drugs or alcohol. There is now sufficient evidence to suggest that addiction, at least to sugar, is real and deserves treatment. Many holistic approaches help control other addictions, and food addiction warrants a more in-depth discussion for appropriate treatment options, to help those who struggle with this issue and the comorbid diseases of obesity, diabetes, and other disorders. Discuss concerns you may have with a medical professional for advice and development of a personal treatment plan for any addiction.