Inherency and Food Addiction — Some Thoughts

We have quoted before from a landmark 2014 paper with a dozen authors, titled “‘Eating addiction’, rather than ‘food addiction’, better captures addictive-like eating behavior.”

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…

It can be argued that access to a diversity of foods, especially a diverse range of palatable foods, may be a pre-requisite for the development of addictive-like eating behavior.

In other words, while it is pretty clear that manufacturers are at fault for messing around with the ingredients of processed foods, something else is going on too. Why might it be suspected that the problem is inherent in or intrinsic to the human being who eats too much and becomes too large? This is not a “blame the victim” move, but an acknowledgment that some of the causality might originate with the individual, whether they had any control over it or not.

Why would they not? Maybe because of their chromosomes. Maybe because of societal forces, whether blunt or casual. What makes a “prone subject”?

Psychology professor Bruce Alexander (of Rat Park fame) has noted the importance of the discovery that many medical patients who have been prescribed opiates for months at a time are able to quit very successfully — no muss, no fuss.

As writer Johann Hari phrased it,

The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts — and leaves medical patients unaffected… Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain.

On the social front, Dr. David Kessler has called food addiction “the most socially acceptable fix in our society,” which seems fair in the realm of substances, anyway. It is true that unlike alcohol abusers and hard drug addicts, people whose lives are dominated by food and eating never go to jail for it. The downside is, whether it is called food addiction or eating addiction, the concept is treated like a joke, which it most certainly is not, when a person is helplessly caught in its trap.

Political journalist George Monbiot went so far as to say,

When alcoholism and drug addiction are discussed, the tone tends to be sympathetic. When obesity is discussed, the conversation is dominated by mockery and blame, though the evidence suggests that it may be driven by similar forms of addiction.

There was a time, before all this complicated stuff was discovered, when people didn’t even know there was such a thing as drug dependence or addiction, and simply concluded that their obstreperous relatives were possessed by demons, or whatever. Could it be that our current suppositions will turn out to be equally fanciful?

What if, for instance, reincarnation were to be proven as the mechanism behind human life? What if some people cannot stop eating because in their last lifetime they were starved? Or conversely, because in a previous life they were a powerful, wealthy and enormous person in the HenryVIII mold, who feels entitled to consume every deer and partridge in the kingdom? While that may seem improbable, it is possible that while scientists argue the fine points, some new discovery could come out of the left field and render all previous theories moot.

Even as the various food addiction and eating addiction points are being made, empirically there does seem to be some benefit in treating compulsive overeating with the programs and protocols designed to help addicts. If treating it according to an addiction model is effective, it seems sensible to do that while still figuring out the big picture.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “’Eating addiction’, rather than ‘food addiction’, better captures addictive-like eating behavior,”, November 2014
Source: “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think,”, 01/20/15
Source: “Alzheimer’s could be the most catastrophic impact of junk food,”, 09/10/12
Image by Ann Longmore-Etheridge/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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