Inherency and Food Addiction, a Wrinkle

Recent posts have rehashed the points made by various authorities about whether food, or some components of food, or components of some foods, can be physically addicting in the same way as heroin, cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, etc. Or maybe, the situation is that people who are genetically or psychologically vulnerable can be physically addicted by these components, while others are untouched. All these questions took a back seat when the makers of food products accepted the challenge of proving that food can, indeed, be addictive, or at least something very close to it.

In a paper previously quoted here, one significant phrase sticks out like a sore thumb:

Humans who overeat usually do not restrict their diets to specific nutrients; instead the availability of a wider range of palatable foods appears to render prone subjects vulnerable to overeating.

Of course, “palatable” just means pleasant, acceptable, or satisfactory; and hopefully, most foods fulfill those qualifications. It seems apparent that what they meant is closer to “hyperpalatable,” a description that Childhood Obesity News has covered extensively.

The point being, while there may be little evidence for the presence of addictive substances in natural foods, the food industry has a few tricks up its sleeve. And that’s the wrinkle in this particular debate — namely, very powerful corporations work extremely hard to change natural foods into chimerical potions designed to hook people and keep them hooked.

Here are some words from an organization that has looked deeply into these matters:

[I]t appears that the reward value of food can overwhelm the body’s energy balance mechanisms that otherwise regulate feeding, leading to intake of calories beyond hunger and nutritional requirements. In our obesogenic environment, we are surrounded by inexpensive palatable foods that are high in sugar, fat and calories.

For years, this problem has been discussed from all angles. Senior reporter Anna Almendrala wrote for,

Is food addiction real, and should food industries be held accountable for engineering hyper-palatable sugar-salt-fat bombs that override feelings of fullness? Or is it more accurate to describe overeating as an eating addiction — a disordered relationship to all foods that can and should be brought to heel by the individual?

In this area, one word makes an expensive difference. If engineered food is, in and of itself, potentially addictive, then manufacturers should be held liable. If the obese customer’s addiction is to eating, well sorry, it’s all on them. Almendrala quoted clinical psychologist Ashley Gearhardt:

Humans have been eating food since we’ve been in existence, but we haven’t seen this boom in eating-related problems, binge eating and obesity until very recently…

She cites the “vast amount” of interest and attention this matter has been receiving, concerning differential brain responses and the eating behaviors associated with engineered foodstuffs, saying,

[W]e need to keep evaluating […] our understanding of how our food environment is potentially negatively impacting us as a society — especially children.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “’Eating addiction’, rather than ‘food addiction’, better captures addictive-like eating behavior,”, November 2014
Source: “The Biology Behind ‘Food Addiction,” undated
Source: “Food Addiction vs. Eating Addiction: Why A Single Word Makes All The Difference,”, 09/23/14
Image by dschmieding/CC BY 2.0

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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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