Still Hooked

It has been a while since addiction was discussed here, so the object of the next few posts is to catch up with ideas that people have had about the subject, over recent years, in connection with food.

It has been said that “addiction is physical compulsion plus mental obsession plus denial.” The source of that quotation has been removed from the internet, but it sounds fair enough. Physical compulsion alone may not be enough to successfully maintain an addiction. After the Vietnam War, many American troops who had been heavy users of heroin overseas were reportedly able to drop the habit with relative ease, once they were back in the USA.

Another relevant quotation is from renowned writer Anne Lamott:

Addicts and alcoholics will tell you that their recovery began when they woke up in pitiful and degraded enough shape to take Step Zero, which is: “This s— has got to stop.”

The moment of bottoming out also sometimes happens to people in their relationship with food. They pull themselves together and make it through a tough program of body modification, maybe even with surgery and all that involves, and then come face to face with… the rest of their life.

A person who needs to maintain the weight loss is very much like a recovering alcoholic. This is true especially for patients who have achieved their initial weight loss via bariatric surgery. They dare not make a misstep, because if their remaining fraction of a stomach gets stretched, suddenly they are heading down a very slippery slope. They have to be super attentive to the levels of every single substance in their blood, because soaking up enough nutrients is quite a chore for a body that retains only a fraction of a stomach.

It really is a journey

In other words, weight maintenance is like sobriety maintenance, a thing to be done for the rest of their lives, one day at a time, forever. Does that sound grim? Actually, it does. The strictness of the lifestyle is daunting. One thing is certain — for every person who succeeds in maintenance, dozens fail. In fact, there are probably many more recovering alcoholics with five years in than people who have shed a lot of weight and kept it off for the same length of time. This could be seen as evidence that food addiction is even worse than alcohol addiction, and there is near-universal agreement that alcoholism is very bad indeed.

Sprinkled back through time are mentions of the concepts of addictive foods, food addiction, eating addiction, and other related topics. In 2006, a group called FARE, or Food Addiction Research Education was formed and organized the first Food Addiction Summit. Their Q&A page provides a dozen questions and answers. One thing they urge people to do is, get over the idea that sugar is a food, because it isn’t — it’s a drug. And flour is just as bad! They are really and seriously negative toward anything with gluten in it.

Sweeteners, grains and dairy show the greatest potential for addiction. The more refined or processed a food is, the more habit-forming it can become. As with any addictive substance, increased amounts are needed over time to satisfy cravings and avoid symptoms of withdrawal.

On the causative side it is, like most of life’s difficulties, a multi-factorial thing. The page lists 10 different physical and psychological and emotional conditions that can, alone or in combination, push a person into food addiction. On the question of withdrawal, it is real.

Cravings create an urge for more serotonin or dopamine, which only temporarily relieve the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. As we have mentioned, this is a vicious cycle. And it can lead to life-threatening conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. As with any other drug, the former user may experience grief, depression, excitability, social withdrawal, and anxiety, and the misery can last for months.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Small Victories,”, undated
Source: “What is food addiction?,”, undated
Image by franchise opportunities/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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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