Some Things About Food and Addiction

Is food addiction a disease? Is there enough evidence to justify calling it that? Or is this whole idea still considered too controversial to take seriously? The planning document called “Expert Workshops for Consensus Development on ‘Addiction-like symptoms related to Food'” posed some deep questions, which the recent event at which Dr. Pretlow gave a presentation attempted to answer. For instance,

What is the evidence of similarities between food addiction and other… behavior disorders like ‘sex addiction’, or other substance use abuse disorders?

After absorbing the implications of the Rat Park experiment and the surprising recovery experienced by the majority of heroin-addicted Vietnam veterans, it is relatively easy to understand how someone whose world is limited to a few decaying urban blocks could want to escape through drugged oblivion. That does not account for the many people who are wealthy and/or very successful in worldly terms, but who become hardcore addicts nonetheless. Sure, a lot of these unfortunates have solid reasons, like chronic pain. But why would a person of means not pursue some other avenues of alleviation for that burden?

Is everyone entirely blameless?

A factor comes into play in legal cases, so probably needs to be considered in general life too. An accused person may offer, as part of their defense, evidence of a lousy, emotionally deprived and otherwise abusive upbringing. A human can be severely and permanently blighted by toxic parenting, and some folks just never stood a chance. They are legitimately acknowledged to be mentally impaired as a direct result of the treatment they received in childhood.

As long as their crime is not too heinous, the person might be perceived as a victim rather than an offender. A judge or jury might take into account that horrible childhood and the wreckage it left behind. The community might insist that the person go through some kind of program that would enable them to change.

If eating addiction is similar to other addictions, this would seem to indicate that vast numbers of people are going to need years of intensive psychotherapy before their obesity is overcome. And many reasonable people cannot help thinking, “At what point do we hold people accountable for their actions?”

A reader who works in the medical field tells of a patient who, as a very young teen, did something so unacceptable that his very wealthy father said “You are disinherited right out of my will.” The kid retaliated by dedicating his life to addiction. He had been in and out of drug rehab programs two dozen times, and very much enjoyed knowing that, as long as he was a minor, his father would continue to pay the astronomical bills.

The point here is, there may be as many kinds of addicts as there are kinds of people. Every attempt to define addiction has angered or damaged some portion of society. If ever there was a multifactorial problem, addiction is it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Expert Workshops for Consensus Development on ‘Addiction-like symptoms related to Food’,” not public
Image by Pen Waggener/CC BY 2.0 DEED

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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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