Understanding Food Addiction

Obesity is a national health problem today. But, is a person’s weight a matter of personal willpower, genetics, proper or insufficient exercise, or could being overweight be a result of a food addiction? There is new discussion on the causes of being overweight and obesity as the nation’s health professionals look for ways to address the nation’s growing waistline. Could food be addictive to certain people? If so, what biological or psychological factors might contribute to the problem? Studies done on both animal and human subjects have led to the postulation that food could in fact be addictive. Brain imaging studies performed on humans also seem to indicate the possibility that food could be a source of addiction. Research which centered on the brain’s pleasure and reward center found that when the area is not functioning properly it could lead to compulsive eating and from there to obesity. It has been noted that some people experience a compulsion to eat that is so all-consuming that it effectively mirrors the fixation of the drug addict. Just as people take drugs to deaden unpleasant emotions, people can use the pleasure of eating food to stifle unwanted thoughts and feelings. People may spend significant time contemplating food and consuming food even when it brings undesirable results. This too is a behavior shared with the drug addicted. Whether it is unattractive or downright unhealthy weight gain, some people will continue to over-eat and make poor eating choices in the face of known negative consequences. Further resemblance is mentioned in the pattern of drug addicts who may try to stop taking the substance on their own, met with repeated failure and finally give in to the lie that they are unable to overcome addiction. In a similar fashion, overeaters and the food-obsessed may experience repeated cycles of dieting and weight gain before giving up the effort entirely. Nonetheless, not everyone agrees with the suggestion that food addiction is a true addiction. One expert commenting on the proposition said that the differences likely outnumber the similarities between food obsession and drug addiction. This same expert further suggested that the influences on a person’s eating habits are too numerous to narrow down to the brain’s pleasure/reward center alone as an explanation for over-eating. In fact, some see the suggested inclusion of food addiction as a diagnosis as taking away from the seriousness of the term addiction. Yale University has recently sponsored a symposium where experts in the field could debate the possibility of food addiction further. With a population prone to obesity and eating-related health risks, expect the discussion to continue.

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