Is Food Addictive?

  • Of course food is addictive. Anyone who has ever craved chocolate, cookies, pizza, or ice cream can tell you that the urges can be intense and irresistible. Cravings are commonly experienced with addictions or abuse behavior according to the new diagnostic criteria used by medical professionals called the DSM V. But don’t take my word that food is addictive, let’s look at some science.


    Comparing obesity to other addictions helps to put this discussion into perspective. Like addiction, in obesity, the control and reward centers can be impaired. Those with impaired signaling systems feel like they cannot stop eating because the signals for fullness are not working properly. The body has two main signals to that tell the body to stop eating. One is called leptin and the other is insulin. Leptin signals the brain that “I’m full” and insulin tells the brain to stop eating too. However, insulin also blocks the leptin signal. When neither signal works very well, the insulin resistant leads to high levels of insulin which, in turn, blocks the leptin signal. So the brain is always hungry. Add sugar on top of that mess, and then the insulin levels skyrocket even higher, further impairing the signaling partner, leptin. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves a person constantly hungry, craving more food, yet never feeling full.

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    Obesity also has other similarities to other addictions like emotional drives, ritualistic habits, and intense rewards. Maybe you’ve experienced some of these similarities when stress drives you to eat; or maybe when you feel hooked on foods that make you feel incredibly happy while eating them; or when you have a particular way that you eat a cookie. Any of these feelings are similar to what happens when you are addicted to a chemical. And yes, sugar is a chemical.


    Sugar is an original drug that used to be only available by prescription from apothecary’s of old. Now it’s available in every kitchen, restaurant and school. You can binge on it any time you like. You might crave it all the time. And you can also feel withdrawals from it when you suddenly stop eating it. Binging, cravings, and withdrawals; all of these components form the basis of addiction. Yes, food is addictive. Scientists see the evidence in lab rats. And we see the evidence in the real world. Let’s stop denying the addictive power of sugar.


    Let’s tell the food industry to stop lacing our food with sugar. We’ve told the tobacco industry to back off. It’s time to turn our attention to the worst offenders, the food industry, which wants nothing more to addict everyone to their products. Just look at what Red Bull and Starbucks has done with the combination of caffeine and sugar. They created highly addictive and profitable products that hook children and adults alike. Shame on them and shame on us for letting this continue.


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    Other Articles of Interest:

    1. Nutritional Controls of Food Reward; Can J Diabetes. 2013 Aug;37(4):260-8.
    2. The Next Generation of Obesity Treatment; Front Psychol. 2013; 4: 721.
    3. Stress and Eating Behaviors; Minerva Endocrinol. 2013 Sep;38(3):255-267.
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Published On: October 25, 2013