More on the Early Adopters of the Food Addiction Paradigm


Food addiction is misunderstood but real, says Cheryl Williams, in a piece called “Food Addiction: Similarities and Differences to Drug and Alcohol Addiction.” As so many others have noted, one of the differences is that we need food to live, but not drugs or alcohol. (Dr. Pretlow always points out another difference that is especially important in the area of childhood obesity — drugs and alcohol are harder for children to get hold of.)

Williams stresses that food addiction is easier to hide, and, if the person is not able to hide it, at the very least, it’s more socially acceptable. Of course, that depends on your definition of society. There are plenty of enclaves where it’s more acceptable to be a lush or a crackhead than to be a fatty. To members of the church-knitting society, overweight is definitely more acceptable than drunkenness or shooting up. But in grade school, where alcohol and hard drugs aren’t much of an option yet, being fat puts a kid at the top of the Social Pariah list.

Williams points out that obesity and food addiction are not synonymous. There are non-addicted obese people, and non-obese food addicts. But when real food addiction shows up, it needs to be taken seriously. Of course, in some ways, all addictions are the same. Williams says,

Everyone who has an addiction is trying to fill a void. Sometimes that void comes from a past trauma. For me, my food addiction stemmed from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. The food numbed the pain, and became a friend that I believed was safe and could not hurt me. In an unconscious way, I believe that the weight also served as a barrier to keep people away from me. After all, if nobody got near me… then nobody could hurt me.

Not surprisingly, Williams has written a novel on the themes of body image and self-esteem in teenage girls. She is on a mission, and part of that mission is to promote healthy ways of losing weight. She knows all about vicious cycles, and the tendency of an obesity problem to affect all other areas of life. Williams urges people to seek help, starting with a support group.

One such group is Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, or FA, an international organization for people who suffer from food obsession and uncontrollable eating. The goal is to recover from the food-addiction disease, stop treating food like a drug of abuse, and replace the addiction with a fulfilling life. This program is based in every respect on traditional Alcoholics Anonymous principles.

Overeaters Anonymous also follows the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of AA. There are many faith-based efforts, like the one that inspires a blogger known as Marvin, who says,

Food addiction is one of the most difficult addictions to overcome. In my opinion, there’s not enough emphasis placed on the dangers of food addiction… With food being an integral part of living we’re less likely to perceive the possibility of even having an addiction to food in the first place.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Food Addiction: Similarities and Differences to Drug and Alcohol Addiction,” Associated Content, 05/10/10
Source: “Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous,”
Source: “A Food Revolution,” Getnfree, 05/07/10
Image by colros, used under its Creative Commons license.

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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