Can you be addicted to food? Theory on what's fuelling North America's obesity problem gains ground


Category:  Health, Science & Technology

Via:  buzz-of-the-orient  •  2 months ago  •  4 comments

By:    Avery Haines - CTV News (Canada Television News)

Can you be addicted to food? Theory on what's fuelling North America's obesity problem gains ground

BUZZ NOTE: There is a video as part of this seed which may be accessed by clicking on the "SEEDED CONTENT" link just below this message, which will take you to the original source article.  You will have to bear about a minute of commercials first.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Can you be addicted to food? Theory on what's fuelling North America's obesity problem gains ground


The concept of food addiction is not widely accepted in mainstream medical circles, but there is a growing debate about whether people can have a physical addiction to food.

SOUTHAMPTON, ONT. -- Matthew Mahon is 46 years old and fears he won’t see 50.

“The last time I was in the hospital, all my organs were shutting down. My lungs, my heart, my kidneys, my liver. Everything was saying ‘sayonara Slim’, we’re out of here,” he told W5.

When Matthew was last weighed, the scale tipped 760 pounds. It’s a weight he blames not on lack of willpower, but on addiction.

“It’s the same with an alcoholic. They say ‘quit drinking’. Not so easy. Same with a drug addict..’just put down the drugs.’ It’s easier said than done.”


Matthew knows a thing or two about addiction. For 14 years he was a heroin addict. He believes his drug abuse masked a food addiction that he’s had since childhood. It’s an addiction he says came back with a vengeance when he kicked heroin.

His mother, Debi Underwood, says she worries more about Matthew now than when he was addicted to drugs; “I have him text me everyday and say ‘morning mom’ so I know that he’s there. It’s the same as a mother worries about a [drug addicted child]. They are going to get that dose and that’ll be the last one.”

The concept of food addiction is not widely accepted in mainstream medical circles. It isn’t listed as an addiction in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ( DSM ). And yet there is a growing debate about whether people like Matthew have a physical addiction to food.

Dr. Ashley Gearhardt  is a world leader in the study of food addiction. An Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, she has created a first of its kind diagnostic tool called the  Yale Food Addiction Scale . The scale mimics questionnaires used to diagnose other addictions like alcohol, tobacco and drugs.


“We looked at the literature on how we diagnose any other addiction. And so we wanted to apply those behavioral markers of addiction to the consumption of ... highly rewarding, processed foods,” Gearhardt told W5.

The markers for food addiction include intense cravings, loss of control, inability to stop despite knowing the negative impact, and a tendency to relapse. Using that scale, Gearhardt estimates that 15 per cent of people in North America have a physical addiction to food.

Her research has pinpointed certain types of food that, in some people, trigger addictive eating. They are: pizza, fries, cheeseburgers, chocolate, potato chips, cookies and ice cream. The common denominator is that all those foods are stripped of nutrients and then highly processed, just like other addictive substances like cigarettes.

“We all eat nicotine in our foods. Nicotine is in potatoes and eggplants. But it’s not until you take the nicotine and strip it and add thousands of other chemicals to refine it and make it hyper rewarding that people get addicted,” she said.

Gearhardt says the same is true for highly processed fast food. She points to brain scans that show the same areas of the brain light up when eating those foods as when consuming illicit drugs.

Critics argue that food should not be considered an addictive substance because there is no definable “high” or withdrawal or clear risk of overdose.

For Matthew, who has experienced drug addiction, there is no debate. When he eats, he says “it’s like the euphoria high. It’s like I shot up with a big hit of heroin. I’d sit back in my chair, do the hit and enjoy it and I do the same thing with food.”

BUZZ NOTE:  Politics and religion are OFF TOPIC.


jrDiscussion - desc
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Buzz of the Orient    2 months ago

Did anyone notice in the video that his mother was somewhat overweight herself?  I'll bet that was a factor.

I was never obese - nobody in my family was, and in fact I'm now slimmer and weigh less than when I came to China more than 15 years ago.  I suppose that's because I rarely eat anything other than home cooking and we eat a lot of vegetables and fruit.  What I've noticed since coming here is that I see more overweight people now than when I first arrived, and I guess I would put that down to the proliferation of fast food joints and the people are becoming more prosperous.  However the vast majority of people here are still relatively slim.  When one goes to a Walmart here, nobody has difficulty fitting through the door, but seeing photos of Walmart shoppers in the USA I wonder how so many of them can manage to do it.

Professor Principal
2  Kathleen    2 months ago

I have always been thin throughout my life and in the past ten years I have been careful to stay within a healthy weight. As you get older it gets harder to lose weight. I have been keeping it steady by watching what I eat during the week and eating what ever I want on the weekends. My Mom ,Dad and sister was thin and tall too. 

My problem is when you see yourself gaining, then why don't you do something about it before it gets out of control?  I have seen a woman in the grocery store sitting on a scooter and she most have been over 300 pounds and she had her basket full of baked goods. You should spend most of your time in the vegetable and fruit area. Some may just say the heck with it.

Professor Principal
3  JohnRussell    2 months ago

About six weeks I decided to cut what I was eating basically in half, in order to keep sodium intake at 1500 mg or less for the day.  In order to do that you also end up cutting back on fat and sugar intake because you are eating less and eating much less processed foods.  

Its been fairly easy so far although I have semi binged on spicy popcorn a couple times. 

I have lost 20 pounds. 

Can people be addicted to food?   I would say yes, absolutely. 

Jeremy Retired in NC
Senior Participates
4  Jeremy Retired in NC    2 months ago

Can't rule out being non-active.  For many it takes more than just walking everyday to keep weight off.  

When I retired from the military, my diet didn't change.  What changed was how active I was throughout the day.  I stopped the daily workouts and all the moving around I did as a soldier decreased and started to put on weight.  Went back to working out every morning and the weight come off.


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