Food Addiction: Just Say Cheese?

Close-up of Nathan's Chili Cheese Fries

There are many obvious connections between childhood obesity and the proliferation of fast food restaurants. A large number of fast food meals have one thing in common: cheese. There has been a lot of talk about the possible addictive qualities of that substance. This is not news. Back in 1988, Dr. Douglas Hunt published No More Cravings, in which he described a patient nicknamed Irene the Sandwich Queen.

Irene’s problem food was the common cheese sandwich. She had what Hunt characterized as an extreme food addiction, concealing cheese sandwiches around the house, in her underwear drawer and any other hiding place where they would fit. Hunt discovered that Irene was allergic to yeast, which in turn made her crave bread, so the cheese was apparently not the main factor here. But, over the years, many people have been convinced of their own addiction to cheese.

Apparently, this belief could be based on the misinterpretation of, or over-reliance on, a few studies that need a second look. In an article titled “The Claim and the Call: Addicted to Dairy?,” Leigh Peele puts on her investigator hat and looks into the cheese addiction.

Peele is the author of Fat Loss Troubleshoot, a book that many turn to when their weight-loss programs stop working. A trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Peele has learned from many different experts in the health and fitness industry, and, in turn, she had been able to help many others, including models, athletes, bodybuilders, TV personalities, and “regular” people. Peele says,

My ultimate purpose is to help educate people on the most efficient methods of making yourself become the person you want to be… I get paid to help make people’s dreams come true and change lives.

Peele set out to research whether dairy products have addictive properties, and, if so, how bad is that in itself, and compared to other foodstuffs? The specific component that everybody is worried about is called BCM7, a casomorphin that has been accused of affecting the body and brain like an opiod. What is casomorphin? A peptide or protein fragment that comes from casein. And casein is, of course, found in dairy products.

Peele gives her sources and concludes that the main reason why BCM7 can’t be addictive is that it doesn’t survive its journey through the human digestive system long enough to retain any potentially addictive properties. In order to have any effect at all, it would have to be administered by injection. Peele writes,

Not only has dairy not proven to be addictive, this whole claim is literally cooked up without a shred of validity at this point. While searching online it was amazing what people had come up with using no research at all to back their claims. I feel bad for how scared people are because of the misunderstanding of this topic.

That is Peele’s final verdict, and we invite your comments on it. For ammunition, here’s a resource: Dan Mahony has collected an exhaustive compendium of leads for further research on casein. Either way, does this mean that we should blithely succumb to the lure of mozzarella sticks, fried mac ‘n cheese, or hot dogs filled with cheese and wrapped with bacon, fried, then coated with batter and fried again? No, it most decidedly does not.

Dr. Pretlow Gets Around:

We’ll be bringing more news on the following, but, first, to let you know: Dr. Pretlow is currently out of the country spreading the word on childhood obesity. First stop is Dublin, to meet with his co-investigators in a study. Next stop is London, where he will speak on October 7 at the National Obesity Forum held at the Royal College of Physicians. This is the 10th anniversary conference, attended by government representatives, policy makers, healthcare promotion specialists, health information services, representatives from the from the food, pharmaceutical and leisure industries, and, of course, the media.

Dr. Pretlow will talk about the information he has collected from over 130,000 bulletin board postings from overweight and obese young people, and how very closely their experiences match up to the addiction criteria described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Dr. Pretlow hopes that more health professionals will come to regard the childhood obesity epidemic through the “lens” of psychological food dependence, or addiction. He believes that medical science “needs to get beyond its denial that food addiction is causing the obesity epidemic, and focus on how we are going to deal with this.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Claim and the Call: Addicted to Dairy?,”, 07/06/10
Source: “Casein the Cause of Fast Food Addiction?,”
Image by joanna8555, used under its Creative Commons license.

One Response

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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.

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