Addiction and Displacement Theory Presentation

Today we take a look at the information provided by one of Dr. Pretlow’s addresses to professional colleagues. Specifically, this one was presented at the 2019 World Obesity Federation Conference in Oman. Obviously, this does not mean anything is out-of-date, because the concepts are the same now as they were then. The talk concerns the concepts of food addiction and eating addiction, as they relate to displacement theory.

Dr. Pretlow begins by describing the features of his long-established interactive website, Weigh2Rock. Young people can submit questions whose responses are not personally aimed, but phrased to include any youngsters who suffer from the same problems. There is a Teens Bulletin Board, where they can express their feelings on many aspects of their overweight situation. The large majority of their difficulties can be condensed into one generic statement: “I can’t stop eating.”

Many young people in various kinds of trouble have full awareness that they need help, and one of the things we are doing here is to aid in creating a society where young people can find the help they desperately need. Often, a teen will elaborate by adding that they know what to do, so a lack of information is not the problem. The problem is finding something — a method, a program, a plan of action — that will enable them to actually do what is necessary to get their consumption under control.

Measuring the pain

Why is this such a significant problem? Well, for one thing, there are metrics in the soft sciences as well as in the hard sciences. One of the metrics employed here is a comparison of the quality of life among obese kids, to the QOL experienced by young people receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer. To our dismay, their subjective experiences of unhappiness are about the same. So this can definitively be deemed a serious problem.

Why, asks Dr. Pretlow, is it so nearly impossible for these unhappy young people to do such a seemingly simple thing as stop eating so much? If a simple change, like substituting healthful foods for high-calorie, low-nutrition junk food, is available as a life choice, why isn’t everybody doing it? As Dr. Pretlow phrases it, “Something else is going on.”

What is that something? Could it be addiction? Dr. Pretlow wrote,

The definition of addiction is continuing a behavior even though the behavior will cause substantial negative consequences to the person’s life. And obesity seems to qualify under that definition.

The brains of obese people, when exposed by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology, show similarities to the brains of known confirmed and diagnosed addicts. This has led to the creation of two terms, one of them being food addiction. This is a substance dependence on the ingredients — mainly sugar — found in far too many types of food. When fMRI technology is employed to visualize it, it shows up looking very much like drug or alcohol dependence. The other term is eating addiction, or behavioral addiction to the act of eating.

It has been shown by some researchers that food ingredients have a direct effect on the brain’s reward system. Maybe; maybe not. It seems more likely that the dopamine rush, the “high,” is produced by such factors as the taste, texture and temperature of food. It appears to be a sensory addiction similar to that found in, for instance, sex addiction. Dr. Pretlow wrote,

We also believe that there is a motor addiction component, involving the actions of eating, like biting, chewing, gnawing, crunching, licking, swallowing, and hand-to-mouth motion.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Food/Eating Addiction and Displacement Theory,”, 2019
Image by Pat Hartman

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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.

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