There’s a current debate among healthcare professionals who study food and addiction about whether there is such a thing as food addiction. Some would rather call it food obsession, or refer to conditional names such as problem eating, emotional eating, or overeating to describe variations on eating problems.
Regardless of the debate, the idea that one can become addicted to food is gaining traction because the science is starting to point in that direction. Recent experiments conducted on both animals and humans indicate that, for some, the same ‘reward and pleasure’ centers of the brain that are activated by addictive drugs — ex., heroin and cocaine — can also be triggered by foods rich in sugar, fat and salt. Highly palatable foods can increase brain chemicals like dopamine in the same way addictive drugs do.
Clearly there is a “feel-good” factor here. When someone eats certain foods and experiences the pleasure associated with rising dopamine levels in the brain, they may quickly feel the need to eat again. In fact, the reward signals created by consuming highly palatable foods may even supersede other important signals — like the ones that make you feel full or satisfied. Some have also suggested that people can actually develop a ‘tolerance’ to food. When that happens, the more a person consumes the less they are satisfied.
So can food be an addiction or not? Well, the signs are certainly pointing to YES. It is after all true that individuals with eating problems DO continue to eat despite negative consequences — ex., obesity, weight gain, and damaged interpersonal relationships — and there is no doubt that this behavior is strikingly similar to the actions of those who have drug or gambling addictions. My Addiction Physician ™ can help individuals cope with food addiction. Two main conditions that stem from food addiction — and for which we offer comprehensive addiction treatment plans and guidance — are obesity and being overweight.