Food Junkies, a Book

When Food Junkies was published, it was reviewed by Dr. Arya Sharma, who founded the more than 10,000-member Canadian Obesity Network. At the University of Alberta, he is Professor of Medicine and holds the Obesity Research and Management chair. The book’s author is Vera Tarman, M.D., a self-identified food addict whose practice specializes in addiction.

The first thing to know about Dr. Tarman’s worldview is that she divides people into three categories: normal eaters; people with eating disorders; and food junkies. Normal eaters may have their bad habits and their bad days, but they are capable — through education, coaching, and practice — of pulling themselves into the safety zone.

Eating disorders are driven by emotion, and might be as extreme as binging. By handling their psychological difficulties, for instance, via cognitive behavioral therapy, people can abolish their disordered eating patterns. Then in the third category, there is such a thing as addiction to certain foods that people get strung out on just like drugs:

[…] with the same clinical signs that range from denial and loss of control, to physical symptoms on “withdrawal” and relapse that can be prompted by minimal exposure, even years after being “clean” or “sober.”

The bad news for these folks is that the condition is permanent, with the only answer being complete and perpetual abstinence from the problem foods, preferably under the auspices of a 12-step program. Dr. Sharma’s summation is full of quote marks but the meaning is clear:

For the true “food addict”, no amount of education, psychological counseling or attempt at “moderation” will ever lead to success. Any attempt to get the “food addict” to learn how to “use” their “drug” in moderation will be as futile as trying to get a drug addict to learn how to use alcohol or heroin (or any other drug) in moderation (the vast majority will fail).

More than likely, a person’s trigger foods or problem foods will contain sugar, flour, fat, or salt, or a combination of those ingredients, or even a grand slam of all of them.

Dr. Sharma calls Food Junkies a “compelling treatise in support of the existence of a discrete and definable subset of obese (and non-obese) individuals who may well be considered ‘food addicts’.” The book contains case histories of the co-authors and various patients who succeeded in eliminating the dangerous problem foods from their lives.

The review was followed up by a guest post in which Dr. Tarman addressed several topics. These are her thoughts on engineered, processed hedonic food:

The food industry has created foodstuffs that provide an highly efficient delivery system to our brain’s reward center. This manipulation gives us a copious amount of delight immediately: the quick fix… Our primal brain which is accustomed to moderate pleasure is overwhelmed with the euphoric bliss of highly palatable foods. Willpower sags under the strain.

Like Dr. Pretlow and many others, Dr. Tarman sees that the addict can’t learn moderation, because any amount of a problem food can trigger aberrant behavior. Still, as Dr. Pretlow will be the first to remind readers, successful weight loss might not immediately show up as a result of quitting the specific problem foods.

However, the quitting itself does work. Dr. Pretlow says:

In our three studies involving 127 young people, nearly all were able to successfully withdraw from at least one problem food, and the majority were able to withdraw from all of their problem foods.

There is also the confidence factor. Success in one area is a predictor for success in other areas, and this is especially true of the young, who don’t have a huge backlog of life experience to compare anything to. Also, we too often forget that influence does not always lead to immediate behavioral change. Sometimes it takes a while for ideas to sink in, and emotional states to stabilize. A 10-year-old might master the skill of quitting the problem foods, and remain content with that accomplishment for years, and only later decide to really get in shape.

While not implying that Dr. Tarman specifically endorsed W8Loss2Go, she did write:

A food addiction treatment plan may also include ample amounts of food so that the person does not over/under eat. To this end, it may even be necessary to weigh and measure foods. This is not about calorie counting or food restriction, it is about keeping the food addict safe by controlling the amount and type of food choices. The result of such a plan is not deprivation. It has given many a new freedom from the compulsion to compulsively overeat that some of us have lived with for too many years.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Does Food Addiction Require Abstinence?,”, February 2015
Source: “Guest Post: Food Abstinence for Food Addicts: Deprivation or a New Freedom?,”, February 2015
Photo credit: beketchai via Visual Hunt/CC BY-ND

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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.

Food & Health Resources