On the Early Adopters of the Food Addiction Paradigm

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Back in 1975, William Dufty published Sugar Blues, a book that garnered quite a lot of attention by making the claim that sugar can be as addictive as alcohol or hard drugs. Since then, the idea has been accepted by many, and is still being discussed. Adrienne Turner, Nutrition Correspondent for AskMen.com, takes a look at this desirable substance that is so closely connected with childhood obesity.

We don’t stand a chance against sugar. Whether we start on breast milk or formula, we’re introduced to it at the vulnerable age of less than one day. Remember the ruckus in the press, when pictures were sent around the world of a toddler smoking cigarettes? What a big fuss was made of that, compared with the minimal attention that the sugar addiction gets. In reality, it has the same effect as morphine derivatives.

It’s all about the opioids, of course — nature’s own drugs, which the brain produces, and which not only alleviate pain, but produce pleasure. Turner says,

Researchers have identified that there are certain areas in the brain (specifically, the hippocampus, the insula and the caudate) that are activated when one craves sugar. There is also scientific evidence that shows that these same areas of the brain are activated when drug addicts crave drugs; which proves how ‘real’ a sugar addiction can be.

Millions of parents have sabotaged their own child-rearing efforts by using sweet treats as incentives and rewards, only to watch their kids fly out of control behind a sugar rush. Now, the average American ingests 160 pounds of sugar per year, and what do we get in return? Not vitamins, minerals, or even fiber, but a short-lived and ultimately deadly surge of energy. And, of course, the never-failing pleasure.

Another writer on nutrition, Liz Brody, puts it like this:

The same way that a raw cocoa leaf (a mild pick-me-up) becomes junkie-making when turned into crack, a bland cob of corn thwacks an intensely sweet hit when it becomes high-fructose corn syrup.

Writer Vickie Britton identifies food as one of the five most common addictions, the other four being gambling, sex, drugs, and alcohol. The trouble is, children can pretty much be kept away from the other four, while food is readily available to youngsters, especially the kind of pseudo-food that causes the most difficulties.

Some scientists don’t believe in food addiction at all, while others believe they have isolated the gene that causes it. Some “users” are so desperate for understanding, they go on TV and out themselves, like a man called Aaron whose story was told under the title, “How food can enslave: An addict’s account.”

It’s encouraging when, rather than arguing about the existence of food addiction, someone just mentions it in passing, as if it were an accepted and non-controversial fact. For instance, in an Edmonton Journal article about vehicles and the environment, the author speaks of “the tendency to disparage driving as if it were an addictive behavior, like eating junk food…” In another casual mention, a coffee defender rather touchingly tries to take the heat off caffeine by deflecting attention to another problem instead:

The real epidemic in Western society isn’t caffeine addiction but food addiction… The only reason I bring this up is because of perspective, as it seems that anti-caffeine proponents try to make mountains out of molehills when the real mountain is looming overhead.

Yale University’s Rudd Center has developed the Yale Food Addiction Scale as a tool to measure the extent of the problem in individuals, while Michael R. Lowe and a team at Drexel University have formulated a 15-question test called the “Power-of-Food Scale,” which can indicate how vulnerable a given person is to the lure of hedonic eating.

In Dr. Pretlow’s book, Overweight: What Kid Say, it would be difficult to pick one quintessential quotation that sums up the whole issue, but this message from an early adopter, a teenager who goes by the handle “Motivated,” does a pretty good job:

Sugar and over eating is an addiction, so, you need to treat it like an addiction — you need to stop the physical part by dealing with the mentality behind the addiction. Work on your issues with food. Meditate on it. Also, the addiction is physical — your body is used to getting fed so many calories and so much sugar and processed foods. You need to cut back on all of the very sugary, processed foods and fight through the cravings — they will subside after some time. Even two weeks of a strict, no processed-sugar diet will do wonders for not only your weight, but your physical addiction to food, and also build your self-confidence in your ability to take care of yourself and get your life under control. You can do this. You will do this. Take it one mouthful at a time.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Do You Have A Sugar Addiction?,” AskMen.com
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,” Amazon.com
Image by Paul Holloway, used under its Creative Commons license.

4 Responses

  1. I used to think that fat was the key to long term weight loss results but six months ago I cut out chocolate, candy, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream and anything that had large amounts of refined sugar. I have gome from 200lbs to 167lbs and still dropping. How did I do it? I replaced all those sugar filled foods with fruits and vegetables. I had forgoten how much I like strawberries, blueberries, bananas, grapes, honey doo melons, cantelopes and apples. You can kick your sugar habit – do it today.

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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.

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