Food Addiction and the Obesity Epidemic

Your food addiction is real19th February 2014

By  Dr. K.J. McLaughlin

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Have you ever heard someone describe a certain food as addictive? Of course you have. Certainly when we eat specific foods, it feels like we can’t seem to get enough. And we also have a tendency to turn to those foods for emotional comfort.

We also understand that binge eating is considered an eating disorder – it is categorized as a mental-emotional disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, the bigger question is whether binge eating is addictive? And is food addiction contributing to the obesity epidemic?

Food addiction is real

According to Dr. S. Dickson, it is important to understand the mechanisms underlying the uncontrolled intake of food and the development of obesity. She remarked that “brain reward pathways that are involved in alcohol and drug addiction are also essential elements of the ghrelin responsive circuit. And ghrelin has been shown to both signal hunger and increase food intake”.

Ghrelin is a hormone secreted by the stomach and pancreas which stimulates areas of the brain responsible for hunger – and it might be responsible for food addiction, making some people more prone to obesity.

Dr. Dickson also added, “based on these and other recent findings, could obesity be a food addiction? A subgroup of obese patients indeed show ‘addictive-like’ properties with regard to overeating…. but this does not automatically mean they are addicted”.

“We don’t completely understand why certain vulnerable individuals become addicted, transferring something rewarding to becoming addicted to it,” she noted. “For now, we need to ask: in our modern environment where food is so plentiful, has food no longer become our friend when it is something we can become addicted to?”

Evidence shows that 10-20% of obese individuals exhibit binge eating disorder. It’s not difficult to understand how food addition can occur – a lot of evidence shows that food companies design their snack foods purposely to affect the brain in such a way as to increase the consumption of their product.

In my opinion, there is no doubt that foods can affect the pleasure, hunger and satiety centres of the brain in different ways. We’ve developed an emotional connection to certain foods which can, in certain people, drive addictive eating behaviours. So although there may not be enough evidence to conclude that food addiction is a mental disorder, this does not mean it does not exist or that it isn’t a serious health concern.

Studies show that certain foods can affect our moods, hunger, and eating behaviour. If food addiction is a contributor to the obesity epidemic – and it appears that in some cases it certainly is – then it follows that food addiction is a condition which needs to be recognized and treated much like any other addiction.


  • Brauser, D.,“Is ‘Food Addiction’ Real?,”Medscape web site, last accessed October 21, 2013.
  • Fortuna, J.L.,“The obesity epidemic and food addiction: clinical similarities to drug dependence,”J Psychoactive Drugs. January-March 2012;44(1):56-63.
  • Pedram, P., etal.,“Food addiction: its prevalence and significant association with obesity in the general population,”PLoS One. September 4, 2013;8(9):e74832.

Previous articles by Dr. McLaughlin:

About the author:

 has degrees in nutrition, physical education, and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with an interest in anti-aging medicine. He’s also a chiropractor with 27 years of clinical experience.  He has a diverse professional background in clinical management, teaching, health promotion, and health coaching, and brings a unique passion to his work.  He has also spent time studying health promotion and the effect that health education has on health outcomes.

Dr. McLaughlin lives and practices the principles of fitness, wellness, and nutrition. He goes to the gym regularly and consumes a healthy diet.

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