Burger Addiction: Why Consumers Eat


Burger Addiction is a new restaurant chain starting up in Australia. Some highlights from online reviews: A woman who went on opening day waited half an hour, from order to first bite, and was disappointed by the meal. The burgers come with all sorts of trimmings, among them garlic aioli, kim chi, cucumber, pulled pork, blue cheese, caramelized onion, tomato, greens, and whiskey barbecue sauce. Despite the exotic ingredients and combinations, customers have found some flavors indistinguishable or insipid, and other flavors unpleasantly overpowering.

The best thing one person could find to say was that Burger Addiction burgers are not as greasy as McDonald’s. But then, another review, which references grease dripping from the wrapper, kind of cancels out that one. And there seems to be a general feeling that the product is a bit pricey for food-court fare.

But it’s the name that really wins a place in the annals of infamy. As Dr. Pretlow says, “The food industry obviously understands why consumers eat.” The definition of addiction seems still to be largely a matter of semantics, and the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders doesn’t shed much light. Binge eating disorder is now recognized as a clinical entity, and the criteria for mild substance abuse disorder now require two or three symptoms instead of one. But more on that another time.

Whether it’s called compulsive eating, or a type of body-focused repetitive behavior that just happens to involve moving a handful of food to the mouth many more times than is necessary, or whether you go with the easily understandable tag of food addiction, something very real is going on. Let’s just throw in a quotation from Dr. Douglas Hunt, author of the 1988 book No More Cravings:

One cannot deny the pleasurable sensations that one receives when indulging, but this is the benefit, not the cause, of overeating.

In other words, the root of food addiction is in the person, and the hyperpalatable concoctions invented by food companies are standing by, ready and willing to aid and abet the tendency. It’s not new, of course. For just one little example, here’s a Pinterest page that combines burger addiction (not the restaurant, the plain old English phrase) and food porn!

Exactly how addictive are burgers, anyway? Can beef patties really be a substance of abuse? Decades ago, Dr. Hunt linked food allergies with food cravings, and cravings are indicative of addiction. Beef, he said, is something that people are commonly allergic to. People are often both allergic to, and hooked on, the same foods. For some reason, many anecdotal accounts name beef jerky as particularly and literally addictive.

George Pamplona-Roger, in Foods That Heal, writes:

The stimulant hypoxanthine, not any special properties of its protein, vitamins, or minerals is responsible for the satisfying and stimulating effects of meat… Hypoxanthine and other similar substances […] are present in meat… They are central nervous system stimulants. They are addictive. Hypoxanthine explains the stimulating effect of meat and it’s capacity to create a certain level of addiction, which manifests itself when meat is given up abruptly.

Here is an interesting testimonial from the website MeatJunkie.com, from a man whose doctor laughed at him:

My name is Tyler Cole, and I’m a recovering meat addict… [M]y own first attempt at quitting wrecked me… Again and again I tried to quit, but for several years breakfast meats in particular continued to get the best of me. Finally in early 1999 I kicked the habit for good, and just this past year I realized that my repeated failures were nothing more than the agony of withdrawal followed by the joy of relapse. And upon recognizing this classic cycle of addiction, I finally knew something for certain. Meat can be just as addictive as any other drug.

Health journalist Robert Rister has advised readers to “Kick Your Meat Addiction“:

The proteins in beef blood […] activate the same receptors in the brain and spinal cord that respond to oxycodone, hydroxycodone, opium, and heroin. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers […] are literally addictive… The way these foods trap our appetites is through their action on specialized sites known as mu-opioid receptors on cells in part of the spinal cord known as the substantia gelatinosa of Rolando… This part of the spinal cord transmits poorly localized, vague aches and pains. When these cells are activated, we feel bad, but we don’t know why… The rush of happiness we feel after we eat is so strong that our brains start looking for more of the meat (more specifically, beef blood)…

And one more, from troubled citizen Steve Heilig:

I am a meat addict. […] Our ancestors were able to eat more animals 80,000 years ago, and the increased protein allowed our brains to grow bigger. With that meat, we also got heavy hits of amino acids like l-tyrosine, needed to synthesize dopamine — the neurotransmitter that controls our brain’s reward and pleasure functions. Addiction experts say it’s all about dopamine. And meat is one way to get that rush.

Burger Addiction offers “grain-fed cattle” as a selling point. We won’t go into the whys and wherefores of the grain-fed versus grass-fed debate here, but rest assured, plenty of researchers stand prepared to give multiple reasons why stuffing beef cattle with grain is a bad idea. While “grass-fed cattle” would be an attractive and meaningful selling point for many people, “grain-fed cattle” is a big yawn.

Burger Addiction’s corporate logo depicts what appears to be a burger, consuming a stylized heart. Huh? The reasons behind that artistic choice shall remain forever obscure, but might be worth giving some thought.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Foods That Heal,” Google.com
Source: “What is Meat Addiction?,” Meat Junkie.com
Source: “Kick Your Meat Addiction,” SteadyHealth.com, 08/17/11
Source: “Confessions of a Meat Addict,” The Huffington Post, 05/08/12
Image by Stephen Allison, M.D.

2 Responses

  1. My friend and I had Burger Addiction for the first time today: can confirm they are pretty average, and we both felt awful for the rest of the afternoon! No better than Maccas…actually, I’d say Maccas are better!

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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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