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Food addiction controversial but real when dealing with obesity

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Labeliing eating that is out of control as food addiction has drawn controversy. In the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), Dr. Valerie Taylor, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster and director of the Bariatric Surgery Psychiatry Program at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, and her co-authors argue that food addiction is real and should be considered for some individuals who compulsively eat.

"The concept of addiction is complex, and the delineation of its defining characteristics has fostered considerable debate," Taylor and her co-authors write. "Despite a lack of consensus, researchers nevertheless agree that the process involves a compulsive pattern of use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences."

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Some of the controversy about food addiction stems from whether or not compulsive eating is an addiction in the truest sense of the word - if so, then treatment would be the same as for any addiction. No current medical focus, or evidence based guidelines exist for treatment of food addiction.

"The current 'blame' mentality that is often applied to individuals with obesity needs to be re-examined," the authors write. "Although medicine may not yet accept compulsive overeating as an addiction, we cannot ignore evidence highlighting the role played by biologic vulnerability and environmental triggers."

The authors suggest that understanding that food addiction may be real; that withdrawal leads to mood changes, and that tolerance to food can develop that spawn the need to eat more in order to feel satisfied, could lead to insight as why some individuals struggle with obesity. The authors believe that applying the same therapeutic principles and treatment strategies for food addiction that are used to treat other addictions, could lead to better weight control among obese individuals who eat compulsively, helping in the fight against obesity.

McMaster University