More Food Addicts Tell Their Stories


My name is Jessica, and I’m a processed food addict. A little dramatic, yes… but lately I’m kind of feeling like I need AA for high fructose corn syrup…

The rest of Jessica’s blog post is a fairly ordinary declaration of good intentions, but that first bit is probably more true than she realizes. Jessica may even think she is kidding about being a food addict. But the condition is all too real. Dr. Pretlow says:

Based on what tens of thousands of overweight kids have written on my website over the past 11 years, I am firmly convinced that actual addiction to certain foods, especially highly palatable foods such as junk food and fast food, is the main cause of the childhood obesity epidemic.

Last time, Childhood Obesity News talked about the reason why an addict can never get enough of the substance of choice. Dr. Jeanette Thornton confirms this, reminiscing about the days of her own food addiction, and her relationship to bags of cookies:

You don’t stop eating until it’s finished and once it’s finished, you feel guilty… We have to look at it as an addiction. Once you do that, it starts to makes sense.

Dr. Thornton holds a doctorate in psychology as well as a medical degree, and is board-certified in addiction psychiatry. She was interviewed by Cathleen F. Crowley about the parallels between food addiction and alcoholism. There are some moderate and even heavy drinkers, she says, who can stop with one drink if they choose to, and who can even decide to stop drinking altogether. But without specialized addiction treatment, the alcoholic or addict can’t simply decide to quit. An addict of any kind is not even capable of having a little, and then saying, “That’s enough for today.” There is never enough.

Crowley says:

In 1990s, the Albany doctor could hear her thighs rubbing as she walked. She weighed 225 pounds and couldn’t reach her feet to tie her own shoes… Thornton’s trouble started in during her medical residency when she turned to food for comfort from the long work hours and stress… She’d fall asleep eating and wake up with crumbs on her chest.

Scott McCann believes that although environmental factors are responsible for a certain amount of obesity, many people are just plain addicted to food. Like many other writers, including health professionals, he makes the comparison between food addiction and alcoholism. McCann says:

The moderate and heavy drinker can stop or moderate their drinking when the alcohol affects their daily living. The alcoholic cannot. They develop a physical, mental and emotional phenomenon of craving and a chemical addiction to alcohol. Similarly with obesity, many overeaters can moderate and reduce their weight through a change in their diet and exercise. The food addict cannot.

He talks about the characteristics that addicts have in common, such as insecurity, denial, lethargy, and multiple fears and warped perceptions of reality. Like any other hooked person on a binge, a food addict might even experience a blackout. Addicts will hide liquor or food, steal either the substance itself or the money to get it, lie to loved ones, screw up at work, and engage in other socially unacceptable practices to maintain their habits.

All addicts need treatment thorough enough to insure that the addiction will not recur, and, equally important, to preclude the chance of addiction transferal or cross-addiction; in other words, to heal the patient enough so the problem will not break out again in some other form. In his novel Zero History, William Gibson characterizes addiction as:

[…] like having a Nazi tank buried in the back yard. Grown over with grass and dandelions, but then you noticed its engine was still idling.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “My name is Jessica, and I’m a processed food addict,”, 08/25/11
Source: “When food becomes an addiction,”, 11/03/11
Source: “What is Food Addiction?,”
Source: “Zero History,”
Image by Modern Relics (Andy Paterson), 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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