Is Overeating an Addiction?

Putting down our favorite comfort foods may be more difficult for some than others. A recent study shows that compulsive food cravings may be the result of brain impulses similar to those found in people who suffer with drug or alcohol addiction. The study used a high-tech scan to examine the brain activity of people who regularly overeat versus those who do not. The results showed that those who overeat displayed increased brain activity in the area known as the reward center when shown a picture of a milkshake.

“These findings support the theory that compulsive food consumption may be driven in part by an enhanced anticipation of the rewarding properties of food,” said Ashley N. Gearhardt, lead author of the study and doctoral student in clinical psychology at Yale University. Gearhardt notes that the overeaters also scored high on a food-addiction scale and needed to consume larger amounts of food to achieve an emotional effect equal to their counterparts. Some of the participants had difficulty thinking about anything other than food. “Some of them actually stop socializing because it gets in the way of their eating,” said Ms. Gearhardt,

In a related article, CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said “What’s really important is that this is [part of] ongoing research [in which] people in the field of psychiatry are actually looking at whether or not people need to qualify food addiction as a real addiction. You can substitute drugs or gambling or smoking to any of the things that we’re gonna talk about.” To gain control over this issue, Ashton says, “The key is to know what your own triggers are and to behaviorally modify those responses. And again, like anything, if you know you’re addicted to smoking, you want to set your environment up so that you don’t find yourself confronted with that. Food is no different. This isn’t the whole picture, but it’s definitely a component of it.”

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • C drew

    April 11th, 2011 at 4:29 AM

    I just can’t control myself when it comes to pastries…I can forgo food but I cannot let go of a good pastry. This has often resulted in my weight overshooting my targets yet I am unable to stop. So, yes, this surely is an addiction that is no less than drugs.

  • lana

    April 11th, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    Personally I think that this is all so stupid. Step away from the plate. Food addiction is just an easy excuse for someone who simply likes to eat and can’t control it.

  • Elliot

    April 11th, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    Anything in theory can be an addiction. At least with food addiction you’re not drinking or snorting something that can cause you to die or get arrested. It can still be incredibly harmful.

  • Katherine

    April 11th, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    It can get to where they stop socializing because it gets in the way of eating? That’s completely ridiculous. How anyone can get to that point with eating completely baffles me. Eat to live, don’t live to eat.

  • Fraser

    April 11th, 2011 at 9:39 PM

    Okay Katherine, how about we change the phrase to “…because it gets in the way of gaming”, or “seeing their favorite TV show”?

    Does that make it any clearer and acceptable in your eyes? They do it instead because they like it more. Simple.

  • Jesse

    April 11th, 2011 at 10:20 PM

    You would think you would become desensitized to it after several years, decades of it even. That goes to show that anybody can become addicted to even the most common thing we need to sustain life.

  • A Andrews

    April 12th, 2011 at 3:25 AM

    @Katherine:Just like we cannot understand why an addict behaves in a way he does, why he keeps going back to his addiction despite the same thing causing him all sorts of problems, it is difficult for us to understand the same when it comes to over eating.

  • Robyn

    April 12th, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    Kind of insensitive to think that someone with a real addiction can just stop engaging in that behavior and everything will be okay. It is an addiction. Most of the time addicts do not have any kind of real control over their behavior. That is why we have to help them. I am not saying that they can’t stop but it is not as easy as flipping a switch. Changing behavior like this can take a lot of time and energy as well as hard work and dedication.

  • Francine

    April 12th, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    People need to learn to throw an addiction out the window and say “I’m better than this.” Unless you can do that, any addiction can take hold of you. You are not born an addict–you become one.

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