Is Food Addiction a Real Eating Disorder?

The special issue of Biological Psychiatry explores whether or not food can be considered an addiction and therefore a sign of an eating disorder. The journal reviews a variety of papers and explores brain reward circuitry, obesity, addiction, impulsivity, and self-control, as well as the relationship between food and dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in pleasure and reward.

Previously, the term addiction applied to using substances like alcohol and drugs. More recently it was broadened to include behaviors such as gambling, use of technology and sex. Food provides a special case for the following reasons:

  1. Food is a biological necessity. There is no going without it.
  2. There is no food withdrawal.
  3. There is no gaining any sort of food tolerance.

Evan Winchester in Healthy Living writes, “The special issue calls for further research into the question, with the goal of exploring its ramifications in light of the national discussion of diet, nutrition, and obesity prevention.”

Classifying overeating as an addiction or an eating disorder may seem like an opportunity for doctors and researchers to play with words and prove their point. But the classification has important ramifications and potentially long-reaching effects for how the disorder is studied and how it is eventually treated.

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