The Need for Food Addiction Recovery Programs


Childhood Obesity News has been talking about the importance of awareness, specifically, awareness of the phenomenon of food addiction. Such organizations as National Public Radio, to give but one example, have worked hard to raise consciousness of the possibility of being pathologically dependent on food, or on certain foods.

“Okay, fine,” people might say. “We’re aware already. The question is, what do we do about it?” That is an excellent question.

One of the people NPR spoke with, in a series episode called “Battling Back from a Food Addiction,” was Libby Bier of the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery where she is a food addiction counselor. Like Dr. Pretlow and many others, Bier has noted that, for the hooked person, food is different from any other substance of choice. To live an entire life insulated from contact with alcohol or nicotine, for example, is difficult but not impossible.

But it is impossible to go without food. Food addicts are, as Bier says, in “constant interaction with their drug.” For this reason, eating disorders are much more difficult than some other problems to deal with, and this holds true for both the therapists and the patients. While all recovering addicts are to be congratulated and appreciated, this suggests that people who get over their food addiction might be just a bit more heroic than the rest.

Bier reminds us that people with eating disorders tend to be secretive. Indeed, those who are too eager to talk about their problems might be even more difficult for the professional to treat, because whatever else their psyche contains, it’s all overlaid by the exigencies of attention-starvation, which is in itself a very demanding condition.

At any rate, the folks who don’t like to talk about it are unlikely to be attracted by the idea of an inpatient rehabilitation facility, which is the one thing they need most. There is no longer a discreet way to disappear for a spell in a clinic. The fact of someone being in rehab is accessible, these days, to anyone with a computer. For already troubled people, that is a very big stumbling block. To a person who doesn’t like to talk about it, group therapy just doesn’t seem like an answer, and neither does the outpatient choice of going to Anonymous meetings and declaring “My name is _____ and I’m a food addict.”

For another NPR episode, “From Overeating to a Full Blown Food Addiction,” novelist Farai Chideya also interviewed the executive director of the Milestones in Recovery Eating Disorders Program, Marty Lerner. Farai asks about the line between overeating and food addiction. Lerner gives the example of how someone might be a heavy social drinker, yet still be in control of the alcohol. There is an element of choice, based on risk assessment.

For an alcoholic, on the other hand, the drug is definitely in control. No matter how dire the outcome, the addicted person is compelled. Still, there is a sliding scale or, as Dr. Pretlow calls it, a continuum. Lerner says:

I would prefer to define an addiction in terms of someone continuing to engage in a behavior despite consequences, and also despite the fact that they may want to stop but feel that they’ve crossed a line where they’re not in control.

He also talks about the question of whether changes in the brain cause addiction or addiction causes brain changes, or both.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Battling Back From A Food Addiction,”, 09/18/2008
Source: “From Overeating To A Full Blown Food Addiction,”, 09/18/08
Image by daniellehelm, 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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