David Despain has a must-read post on food addiction over at his blog. He’s reporting a session at the recent meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, where the discussion seemed pretty much standard (“yes food addiction exists, look at the lights!” “no, food addiction doesn’t exist … we can’t make cheesecake illegal”).
Too bad researcher and Whole Health Source blogger Stephan Guyenet wasn’t part of the discussion. IMO, his comment on David’s post was spot on (emphasis mine):
At its heart, addiction is an excessive motivation to engage in a reward-seeking behavior, e.g. a drug, gambling, etc. Where do we draw the line between normal reward-motivated behavior and excessive reward-motivated behavior? That’s the tough part. There is no clear line for food, but there is also no clear line for drugs or gambling.
Currently, we say someone is addicted when the pull to engage in the behavior is having a serious negative impact on that person’s life. It’s a very subjective definition but it’s still the best one we have. There will probably never be a useful neurobiological definition of addiction, because fundamentally addiction is defined by behavior. …
In my opinion, arguing about whether or not fMRI data supports addiction is missing the point. If someone is stealing TVs to buy crack, who cares what the fMRI says? If someone is leading a normal constructive life with occasional controlled gambling, but his reward centers light up like a Christmas tree when he sees images of a slot machine, is that person an addict? Of course not. …
Some would say “how can you be addicted to a substance you need to consume, like food?” The key is that we aren’t talking about food in general. We’re talking about specific foods that are highly rewarding, and there is no dietary requirement for those foods just as there is no physical requirement for drugs of abuse. I’ve never heard of an oatmeal or lentil addiction. It’s cake, cookies, chips, candy, and that sort of thing that triggers addiction-like behavior.
In the end, I think food addiction is real, but it doesn’t fully explain obesity.
Yeah, well I hope Mark Hyman gets the memo!
Researcher Carl Hart recently pointed out that “80 to 90 percent of the people who actually use drugs like crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana—80 to 90 percent of those people were not addicted.”
I suspect that if we’re going to make progress on our understanding of food addiction, we’re going to first have to make progress on our understanding of addiction in general. If discussions on food addiction help in this regard, then to paraphrase Martha, that’s a good thing!
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