The Nature of Food Addiction

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Relatively speaking, one of the disadvantages of food addiction is that obesity often follows. Plenty of alcoholics are able to hide their condition. People who are hooked on street drugs or prescription meds are often able to function in society without being recognized as addicts. But food addiction shows. Picture a 400-pound guy on a nightclub stage:

Hey, I can give up chocolate-covered bacon any time I want! I’ve already quit 20 times!

We laugh because we recognize ourselves in what the comedian says. But in real life, it’s not so funny. We know this from confronting our own unbreakable habits. As one of the kids said, quoted in Overweight: What Kids Say,

I keep trying to lose weight, but it keeps finding me.

We see hundreds of references to the lengthy and public struggles of certain celebrities who are determined to overcome an unhealthy dependency on food as a substance of abuse. We have mentioned Carrie Fisher in this context, and Kelly Osbourne, Valerie Bertinelli, and, of course, Oprah Winfrey. Month after month, we observe the changing kaleidoscope… big Oprah, skinny Oprah, ballooning Oprah, svelte Oprah… Why is this such a difficult battle? Here is Dr. Robert Pretlow on the subject:

Combating any addiction, whether to food, alcohol, or other substances is tricky, to say the least. It seems that the emotional (central) brain is at odds with the rational (cortical) brain. If the individual can just detach from that aberrant emotional part of the brain and regard the incessant thoughts and urges to consume the substance as being like a bad back, perhaps that might be a solution. Like a bad back, the incessant thoughts will likely always be there, but the person just goes about his/her life in spite of it. This is particularly hard during stressful times, when the comfort of the substance is most yearned for. As new coping strategies and distraction techniques are learned, the nagging urges should become less problematic.

Dr. Pretlow became convinced that obesity is an addiction, in the full sense of the word, with brain changes, devastation of lives, wrecked health, and all the other negative consequences that stem from the more traditionally recognized addictions. Reading the responses of children and teens to his Weigh2Rock website, he became increasingly angry to see so many desperate kids going without help or hope.

Of course, not every food is addictive. Not surprisingly, the culprits are highly pleasurable foods like junk food and fast food. This is very clear from the results of Weigh2Rock surveys, such as Poll #62. The question was, “Do you think that high pleasure food (junk food) is addicting, like drugs or cigarettes?” Losing weight was equated with going through withdrawal by 56% of the kids who answered.

Another poll question was, “Do you think that you are addicted to foods?” 28% checked, “Yes, I’m addicted to most foods.” 38% said, “Yes, but only to certain foods.” Only a third of the respondents said they are not addicted. As part of the same poll, 86% of the kids responding say that talking about food addiction doesn’t bother them. In the discussion boards, many of the Weigh2Rock kids use the term “addiction” spontaneously without any specific question having been asked.

Dr. Pretlow recommends “Conquer Your Food Addiction,” a helpful page that has received favorable responses from actual kids.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: Overweight: What Kids Say by Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
Source: “Poll #62,” Weigh2Rock
Image by gruntzooki (Cory Doctorow), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

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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