Food Addicts Tell Their Stories

flour tower (cookies in a row)

The idea that food can be addictive has been gathering momentum for some time now. For a website focused on addiction, Jessica Fargen collected some frightening stories, like the one from a woman whose typical breakfast was a couple of sausage and egg sandwiches from fast food franchises, and who had to be hospitalized to deal with the results of consuming two pounds of candy in one night. (The candy, incidentally, was the brand advertised as melting in your mouth, not in your hand.)

This woman also said the same immortal words that have been heard from so many people struggling with obesity, including children and teenagers:

No matter what I ate, it wasn’t enough.

Philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.” That is exactly what addiction is all about. When a person feeds herself or himself, eventually there is a stopping point. When a person feeds an addiction, it just goes on and on, because addiction is open-ended. There is never enough of the substance of choice, because the substance isn’t what the person really wants. What they want is for an emotional void to be filled, and the substance can’t do it.

Biological parasites like tapeworms and toxoplasma gondii will sap a victim’s strength, but their presence isn’t fatal. They very cleverly see the advantage in keeping their hosts alive to serve another day. Food addiction is like a parasite, but a stupid one, because it often kills its hosts.

Of course, it might do other things first, like get them fired. Fargen quotes another woman, whose employment was terminated:

I would be eating when I’d get upset with something on the job. I’d run to the candy machine, run into the ladies room and I would go in the stall and I’d stuff myself with candy bars and potato chips. I stole co-workers’ food from the refrigerator.

Another of Fargen’s sources said another thing that is often heard from food addicts:

There were no limits or boundaries when I started to eat.

The ABC News video, “Inside a Food Addict’s Brain,” offers live interviews with several food addicts, and emphasizes that the problem is chiefly with a certain class of foods, the highly processed, hyperpalatable kind. In Dr. Pretlow’s presentation, “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food and Childhood Obesity,” Slide 20 reminds us of the substance dependence (addiction) criteria established by the World Health Organization and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual:

Large amounts over long period
Unsuccessful efforts to cut down
Continued use despite adverse consequences
Time spent obtaining substance replaces social, occupational or recreational activities

“Tolerance” is another word for “no limits or boundaries,” or “never enough.” When a person loses a job over food-related issues, that certainly qualifies as interference with occupational activities, leading to adverse consequences.

Addiction is an insatiable trickster that fools a person time and time again into thinking that heroin or nicotine or alcohol or food will fill the empty space. In his novel Zero History, William Gibson puts these words into the mouth of the character called Milgrim:

Addictions started out like magical pets, pocket monsters. They did extraordinary tricks, showed you things you hadn’t seen, were fun. But came, through some gradual dire alchemy, to make decisions for you. Eventually they were making your most crucial life-decisions. And they were less intelligent than goldfish.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Three tales from the dark corners of food addiction,”, 09/30/10
Source: “Inside a Food Addict’s Brain,”
Source: “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food and Childhood Obesity,”
Source: “Zero History,”
Image by psyberartist, used under its Creative Commons license.

6 Responses

  1. Ive dropped 51 lbs over the past eighteen months, going from 229 lbs to 178 lbs through diet modification & exercise. For me food was all about comfort at its very core, leading to over eating on a regular basis. During this time past and going forward there is a re-education about food: What healthful food is and how to prepare and use it effectively-plant based foods especially. This has resulted in proper portion sizes with increased enjoyment & thankfulness for what has been provided.

    This is an issue that has to remain before the eyes of the public. Obesity is no joke, there is much to unlearn about the dysfunctionality of the American diet and replacing it with healthy food alternatives.

  2. Thumbs up for fighting obesity-your clear channel commercials are horrible. Whomever thought of being cruel to kids in order to fight obesity ie.. the carrot made igloo, better rethink their marketing strategy. Totally turned me off to your cause.

    1. Dear Linda,

      Thanks for writing in. While you are certainly entitled to your opinion, neither Childhood Obesity News nor Dr. Pretlow had anything to do with the making of the commercials on Clear Channel.

  3. weird thing, i used to love to munch on junk food growing up but i now no longer feel any cravings i now crave REAL foods. there are few times like in a few days before my cycle i crave salty and sweet foods but thats about it, and thank goodness, my son has no real interest in junk food either. but he eats fattening foods which were processed when he goes to see his daddy. so i try to balance it out by feeding him fruits, veggies and healthy cooked foods.

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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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