Dear Food, I Can't Quit You

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We’ve talked about the question, “What is food?” We’ll be talking about it more, but today the question is, “What is addiction?”

The food addiction paradigm is being taken seriously by many, such as the uncredited author of an article titled “Overcome Food Addiction,” who makes several good points. Food addiction is serious and real, and not just a smart remark to fling at a person who overeats at the annual reunion picnic. In many societies, the writer says, holiday overeating is expected, and most people can overcome its effects and get back to normal.

Food addiction though, ah, that’s something else. It brings the out-of-control cravings that cause a person to behave compulsively, something food addicts have in common with other addicts. The author says,

This is the time when good food becomes bad. Food addiction is a term given when someone makes food the outlet for his or her problems, whatever the cause may be… Food addicts are in dire need of medical and psychological help in order to overcome the disorder.

In fact, bad food is one of the trademarks by which a food addict can be spotted. If somebody will eat stuff that’s half frozen, stale, or otherwise unsuitable, addiction may be in progress. Eating in secret is another sign, as is the compulsive consumption of anything. The author goes on to say,

You can think of food addiction as both a physical and emotional dependence… A lot of obese people who were once thin have undergone physical and emotional stresses that activated the addictive tendency. Food ends up [becoming] their inappropriate ‘best friend.’

People spin endless words about physical addiction vs. psychological addiction, yet, what is the point? In the face of exigent circumstances, namely the childhood obesity epidemic, maybe there is no time to spend on a non-productive debate over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We’ve already accepted that the mind and body work together on these things, or, sometimes, don’t work together. Whether they get along with each other or not, they are inextricably bound. We know that stress causes disease, and disease causes stress.

It’s possible that the discussion about addiction doesn’t have to be limited to, for instance, defining what constitutes physical addiction, and what constitutes psychological addiction. It looks like addiction manifests itself in differently ways, depending. It can be more of a body trip or more of a head trip, but, either way, you’re an addict. Rather than thinking about how many days of abstinence equal the extinguishing of physical addiction, and other things of that nature, we could think about the nature of addiction itself.

We have mentioned how Elizabeth Griffin, in reviewing the book Overweight: What Kids Say,  has picked some excellent quotations from Dr. Pretlow. Here, he addresses one of the difficulties in applying the addiction model to treat childhood obesity:

The tricky problem is that the foods that are addictive are intermingled with foods kids need for life. Food is not a substance from which children can abstain, but what is overlooked is that the foods kids have the most problems with are chocolate, chips, fast food and candy — in that order. Those are not necessary for life and can be abstained from. It’s difficult, but possible.

Can we just accept the fact that individuals are showing addict-like behavior, and they want help? Can we accept that, while substance addicts have a great deal in common, they are still individuals, who react differently? Can we accept that childhood obesity may not be a one-solution-fits-all kind of problem? Can we at least consider the idea that the obese may be victims of a disease, like alcoholics, and take a look at what is known to treat alcoholism successfully? There is probably no known treatment for anything that works reliably for everyone. Cut to the chase. If it works, use it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Overcome Food Addiction,” Overcome Food Addiction
Source: “Website gives voice to teens with obesity,” Journal Media Group, 07/06/10
Image by howieluvzus, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources