Food Addiction vs. Eating Addiction

Food Addiction vs. Eating AddictionBeing overweight means battling with food and eating every day. Headlines have suggested that sugar is addictive, fat is addictive, salt is addictive and that we can blame junk foods for getting overweight or obese. But is it really the food that has us hooked? Or is it the act of eating itself? New research says that we get addicted to the act of eating, the behavior of binging on food, not on individual types of food or ingredients. A better understanding of the addiction that leads to weight gain could help experts treat patients more effectively.

Sugar as Addictive as Cocaine

Some of the most shocking research regarding food addiction and obesity that has made headlines recently has claimed that sugar is as addictive, and even as bad for you, as cocaine. One of the key studies used rats in an experiment to demonstrate that cookies are as addictive as cocaine or morphine. The researchers also found that the sugary cookies activated the pleasure and reward center in the brain more than the drugs.

This seems like strong evidence that sugar is an addictive substance, but there have been critics of the research. The headlines surrounding the study were sensationalized. The research also didn’t discuss how repeated use of a drug like cocaine can lead a person to become addicted. Many other animal studies have shown that once hooked on cocaine, an animal will choose it over food every time, even sugar.

Addicted to the Behavior of Eating

A new study suggests that we take a different approach to the idea of food addiction. While there is strong evidence that substances like sugar and fat can be addictive, obesity and weight gain are probably more complicated than that. The new research says that we should approach overeating as a behavioral addiction, not a chemical addiction.

A behavioral addiction, such as gambling addiction, one of the most studied, involves a behavior that provides a reward. A person can become addicted to the behavior and will repeat it over and over again in spite of negative consequences. Many of the symptoms mimic those of a drug or alcohol addiction, including tolerance, withdrawal and relapse.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh looked at the possibility of food addiction being a substance addiction (like drug addiction) or a behavioral addiction (like gambling). They concluded that overeating is more often related to the behavior of eating rather than an addiction to a particular substance like sugar. They saw that it was possible to be addicted to a particular food, but that the act of eating was more likely to become addictive and lead to obesity. Eating as a behavior is associated with pleasurable feelings that can be addictive.

The researchers suggest that eating addiction needs to be classified with other behavioral addictions as a mental and behavioral disorder, not a chemical addiction. Doing so will help professionals better treat patients. For instance, focusing only on eating better foods ignores the underlying issues surrounding a person’s relationship with the act of eating.

By changing the way we view and classify the problem of obesity, more people can get effective treatment and learn to have a healthier relationship with both food and eating. Obesity causes a number of health problems and has become an epidemic in most Western countries. By better understanding what leads to obesity, experts and treatment professionals will be better able to help patients lose weight and return to greater health.

Posted on March 11th, 2015
Posted in Eating Disorders

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