Let’s Hear It for the Early Adopters

Watermelon Kid

It’s always a pleasure to discover another person who endorses the view that there is such a thing as food addiction; who, in other words, looks at the childhood obesity epidemic through the psychological food dependence-addiction lens. The medical profession tends to resist the idea, sometimes strenuously. Dr. Pretlow’s term for this unfortunate state of denial is the “Medical Science and Food Addiction Barrier.” Today, we congratulate a number of people who broke down the barrier, saw the light, woke up and smelled the coffee, or (in the most secular sense) “got religion.”

Did you know that way back in 1988, self-confessed “sugarholic” Nancy Appleton published a book, Lick the Sugar Habit, in which she offered a checklist so the reader could determine whether she or he was addicted to sugar? Since then, the notion has become more widely accepted, though it is far from being commonplace.

Joan Ifland, of the Refined Food Addiction Research Foundation, has written about her addiction to food and how she has persisted over a period of years to remove sugar, flour, caffeine, salt, and other addictive substances from her life, consequently recovering her health.

Bijal Trivedi, a freelance journalist who specializes in medical, scientific, and environmental topics, has written about the evidence that hedonic, highly palatable foodstuffs can affect the human brain just like dope. Trivedi has written about the work done by neuroscientists Bartley Hoebel and Nicole Avena nearly 10 years ago, where research done with rats pointed to the involvement of dopamine, the brain chemical associated with both hard drug addiction and food addiction.

And then Gene-Jack Wang looked at human brains and found the same connection between drug addiction, food addiction, and the action of dopamine. Eric Stice compared the brain activity of obese subjects and lean subjects, and learned something interesting: dopamine-wise, the brain of a lean adolescent will react to a milkshake with the same dopamine surge that the brain of an obese adolescent shows — if the skinny kid has obese parents. At first glance, this seems to indicate an inherited tendency to fall prey to food addiction, and it’s certainly worth following up on.

Trivedi also wrote about the work done at the Scripps Research Institute by Paul Kenny, who found that food addicts and drug addicts experience the same change in brain chemistry that makes their rewards less rewarding as time goes on, thus leading the person to use even more of the substance in search of the lost feeling. Many thanks to this journalist for helping raise awareness!

We have mentioned how two experts in motivational interviewing, Stephen Rollnick and William R. Miller, have discovered that this mode of therapy is helpful for both “classical” addiction treatment — i.e. the treatment of alcoholics and hard drug addicts — and for the overcoming of obesity. Several self-identified food addicts have written books, like the one by TV personality Jeff Garlin, who told the world that sugar addiction is as hard to kick as alcohol or heroin.

The amazing self-described food addict Michael Prager went even farther and revealed how he stole money to buy junk food when he was a kid. That’s the kind of behavior we more often associate with drug addicts. Prager would like to see food addiction recognized as an actual condition because that would make it easier for people who need treatment to get it. But his won’t happen until the medical establishment acknowledges the links between drug addiction, food addiction, and the obesity epidemic.

Of course, it never hurts to have a famous, prominent person stand up for a cause, which is exactly what megastar Oprah Winfrey did by admitting to her food addiction. Winfrey gives full props to therapist William Anderson, who works both directly with clients and indirectly by teaching other therapists how to deal with food addiction. Ruby Gettinger and others have documented their own histories, including the recognition that food addiction was controlling their lives, and what they did about it.

Maverick nutritionist Zoe Harcombe encourages food addicts to find a 12-step program and never mind the little details such as whether they “believe” in food addiction or not. The successful treatment will be the proof. She also urges everyone to stay away from every kind of processed foods because they all contain hidden sugar.

We have mentioned Heather Whistler, another enthusiast for 12-step programs, who has told her readers about the relief she felt when she finally realized that her problem was addiction. We’ve talked about the movie Lbs, which shows the parallels between drug addiction and food addiction, and the work of therapist Lisa Claudia Briggs, who is worth quoting again here:

I do believe that those of us with a longstanding history of food addiction are indeed addicts. It has taken me years to believe this, chiefly because of my own personal denial. But denial does not usually serve us, it keeps us from knowing what is true and then being free to act on it. I am a food addict, and that informs the choices that I make to stay well and live a happy life of freedom and wellbeing.

All these people have helped in their own different ways to raise the public consciousness of the importance of viewing the problem of childhood obesity through the psychological food dependence-addiction lens. And, of course, some of the most courageous early adopters are the young people who share their experiences through the Weigh2Rock website. They are truly the wave of the future.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Junkie food: Tastes your brain can’t resist,” The Delano Report
Source: “The Irresistible Junk Food,” Childhood Obesity News, 10/04/10
Image by rwkvisual, 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.

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