Food addiction is gaining ground in the medical community but is not yet widely accepted in mainstream medical circles. The research isn’t there yet, though the body of evidence is growing. While it may not yet be listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) among addictions, it might not be long before it finds a place there. The debate is rising, and the studies are starting to support the claims.
University of Michigan Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Ashley Gearhardt is a world leader in researching food addiction. She has developed the first diagnostic tool to measure it, which is called the Yale Food Addiction Scale. Dr. Gearhardt has developed the scale to mirror the questionnaires used to determine diagnoses for other forms of addiction, such as drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.
In this way, the scale is used to decide if food addiction is present using the behavioral markers commonly used for identifying addictive traits. It is most focused on the consumption of processed foods that are “highly rewarding,” said Dr. Gearhardt in a recent news interview.
Based on the used of that scale, Gearhardt’s estimates indicate that about 15 percent of North Americans are physically addicted to food.
According to research, there are certain dishes more likely to trigger food addiction behaviors than others. These include:
What is common among all those foods is that they are highly processed and are low – or absent – in nutrients. This is a direct reflection of other addictive substances such as alcohol or cigarettes.
“We all eat nicotine in our foods. Nicotine is in potatoes and eggplants. But it’s not until you take the nicotine and strip it and add thousands of other chemicals to refine it and make it hyper rewarding that people get addicted,” explained Gearhardt in the news report. She added that the same is true for fast foods that are highly processed. In fact, Dr. Gearhardt was able to provide brain scans reflecting that the same areas of the brain that light up when illicit drugs are used will also light up during highly processed fast food consumption.
Among the main criticisms of this claim is that fast food cannot be deemed an addictive substance because a high, a withdrawal, or risk of overdose cannot be clearly defined. However, the brain scans and those who feel they have a food addiction claim that they feel a “euphoria high” from eating these foods, that they crave it, and that when they eat too much, obesity disease is the result.