Is there such a thing as food addiction?
Dr. Nora Volkow, psychiatrist, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, believes there is. She’s made it clear that it’s still a controversial notion, however.
When you think about it, the notion isn’t far-fetched: Drug addicts continue to take drugs, in increasing amounts, even though they’d often like to stop (at some point) and in the face of negative consequences and the common loss of other important life functions (like family, work, etc.). Obese individuals are quite the same, eating more and more food regardless of their desire to adopt a healthier diet and in-spite of ridicule, low self-esteem, and decreased functioning that often accompanies extreme weight gain.
Well-known nutritional specialist Dr. Joel Fuhrman also believes that food shares with drugs the ability to get us hooked. Whether it’s “chocoholism” or sugar addiction or carb addiction or the umbrella term encompassing all of the above, food addiction, Fuhrman explains in “‘Just One Bite” of Junk Food Fuels Food Addiction and Obesity” how our brains can succumb:
The science on food addiction has now established that highly palatable foods (low-nutrient, high-calorie, intensely sweet, salty, and/or fatty foods – those that make up the majority of the Standard American Diet) produces the exact biochemical effects in the brain that are characteristic of substance abuse.
Junk food is ubiquitously available, legal, cheap, and socially accepted; therefore, it becomes the drug of choice for many of us.
These concepts go way back. Dr. Andrew Weil co-authored From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs (1983; updated in 2004) with Winifred Rosen. The title says it all. Another book that addresses chocolate’s strong appeal is Dr. Neal D. Barnard‘s Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings—And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (2004). The Amazon.com Review capsulizes Barnard’s take: “…(C)hocolate triggers the release of natural opiates in the brain. It’s a drug ‘strong enough to keep us coming back for more’.”
Relatedly, the 2014 documentary Fed Up, directed by Stephanie Soechtig, found the culprit of obesity-related illness to be sugar. Adds Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post: “…(T)he real problem isn’t sugar, but sugar education. If consumers only knew that the stuff is not just addictive, but poisonous — one of the film’s experts calls it a ‘chronic, dose-dependent’ liver toxin — they might make better choices at the checkout counter.”
Do you have issues with food addiction? Psychologist and nutritional expert Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., outlines six possible signs to look for when considering whether or not you are addicted to food and then eight steps toward overcoming the addiction. Click on her Psychology Today article to assess your own eating tendencies.