Inherency and Food Addiction — More Wrinkles

The subject is still the validity of food addiction as a concept, and now we’re talking about the intentionality of it. Dr. Pretlow once wrote,

Dr. Wang […] commented […], “We make our food very similar to cocaine now.” [CNN, 2010]. He added, “We purify our foods,” which concentrates the pleasurable ingredients, just as cocaine producers purify the coca leaves to make cocaine.

This attitude is capsulized in the famous potato chip commercial, “Bet you can’t eat one!” By which the manufacturers meant, “You can’t eat just only one; you won’t be able to stop.” And they were more right than they knew. Apparently, back in the 1950s, Lay’s was the first corporation to advertise snack food on TV! In those days, potato chips pretty much stood alone, because the lavish variety of chips had not been developed yet.

As chip after chip flooded the market in the ensuing years, they all followed the lucrative pattern of proving to customers that the darn things were so enticing, that to close the bag before it was empty would be a painful sacrifice.

Youse ain’t prove nuttin’

H. Ziauddeen and P. C. Fletcher wrote,

The hyperpalatable foods that are thought to be addictive are widely available and widely consumed. To consider that they may become addictive in some individuals will require the characterization of a specific feature (or several features) of these foods that acts in concert with certain individual vulnerabilities.

That was almost 10 years ago, and while universal agreement that people can become addicted to the natural substances in foods has not been arrived at, considerably more experts have made the case that a certain something can be, and is, built into many processed foods — a characteristic that very closely resembles addictiveness. As Dr. Pretlow has said, “The sensory aspects of food are engineered to encourage consumption.”

In the debate over whether food addiction is a valid and useful concept, this is a very considerable wrinkle indeed. Nowadays, we’re talking about overdoses of ingredients that may be fine in small amounts, like salt; plus a vast assortment of chemical additives; and who-knows-what other tricks of the trade.

Addiction specialist Dr. Vera Tarman, the co-author of Food Junkies: The Truth about Food Addiction, self-identifies as one of the many who have struggled with overeating in her own life. She draws the distinction between natural foodstuffs and “manipulated” products. There, she describes some of the measures that nature put in place to safeguard against overindulgence, the built-in boundaries that formerly kept a leash on the human craving for mouth pleasure:

While a non-addicted eater may be able to ‘relearn’ how to curb the use of their favorite foods, the food addict cannot. For those in the population who are more vulnerable to the ‘quick fix’ potency of processed foods – foods that act as if they are a drug – eating a favorite food, however small the portion, is a trigger, a tease. The food addict’s ‘stop’ switch has become battered. In the same way that a type 2 diabetic has developed insulin resistance, the food addict can be regarded as having developed a dopamine resistance. Relapse inevitably follows.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Is food addiction a valid and useful concept?,”, January 2013
Source: “Guest Post: Food Abstinence for Food Addicts: Deprivation or a New Freedom?,”, February 2015
Image by Marcu Ioachim/Public Domain

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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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