Food Addiction Angles

As previously mentioned, the Food Addiction Institute (FAI) says that 87 million Americans are obese, and maybe half of those fulfill the FAI’s definition of addicted. Other sources place the number much lower. For instance, health coach Marissa Vicario wrote a few years back,

According to a study that used the Yale Food Addiction Scale, 5 percent of the population suffers from clinical food addiction, but there is a high number of individuals who, while they don’t meet food addiction criteria, show a strong propensity to addictive behaviors around food.

Vicario has no doubt that, at the very least, sugar addiction is a real thing, and has written about her own experience of following another nutritionist’s two-month sugar-quitting program. It finishes up with a note on how she stays both un-addicted to sugar, and sane:

Nothing is ever completely off limits and I never try to hold myself to standards of perfection: two sure-fire ways to invite failure from the get-go. I simply had a bite or three and moved on.

And yet, that is not the experience of many other people in similar situations, in which a bite or three could quite possibly lead to “falling off the wagon” and an extended binge. Childhood Obesity News has often quoted Zoe Harcombe, whose years of studying these matters led her to say, “I absolutely believe in food addiction.”

Harcombe defines four stages:

1) We want a particular food e.g. chocolate
2) We want more of that food — one bar of chocolate is no longer enough, we want two and then three, daily
3) We feel bad when we don’t have the food — we literally get withdrawal symptoms in the absence of our fix
4) We suffer consequences…

Getting back to the numbers, no doubt several more estimates could be found, of how many Americans are food addicts, and they would all be different. One reason is that pesky phrase, “food addiction criteria.” Some don’t even believe that FA is a real thing, so are uninterested in any superfluous talk of criteria. Others propose varying definitions and parameters for any discussion of addiction.

An interesting aspect here is that while a relatively small number of people have dealt with addiction to, for instance, narcotics or gambling, the opportunity to become addicted to food and/or eating is pretty much all-embracing. Many people find that they have something to contribute to the conversation. The sensation of being powerless over food/eating is a very democratic one, open to the masses — affecting those of any gender or sexual orientation, any age, any race, and any economic level.

Everybody says things

Because the problem is so widespread, just about everyone can find something to say about their own struggles, or those of their relatives and acquaintances. It is a subject that star podcaster Joe Rogan mentions a lot:

I have friends that have food addictions and I’ve been around them when they satisfy those addictions. It’s like you’re watching lions eat.

Billi Gordon, Ph.D., was an unconventional and controversial figure we have quoted before on food-related issues. Perhaps his most memorable remark on the subject was, “If Moses had seen me eat barbecue there would be another commandment.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “ Food FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and How to Handle It,”, 11/30/16
Source: “The men who made us fat,”, 06/14/12
Source: “The Joe Rogan Experience #635,”, 04/16/15
Source: “Moderation – Strategy or Fantasy?,”, 07/06/16
Image by Ola Mishchenko on Unsplash

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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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