Is Food Addiction Real? If So, Is it Permanent?


A study released last week created a bit of a stir in the world of eating and weight. It showed that women, regardless of size, i.e., both thin and obese, who scored higher on a food addiction questionnaire, showed increased brain activity in anticipation of and when actually receiving a chocolate milkshake. It was similar to brain activity in persons who struggle with addiction to substances such as drugs and alcohol.

What this suggests is that, according to the study, for some people food addiction may be real, just as addiction to other substances is.

We at Green Mountain, however, think there are important questions to be explored before claiming that everyone who responds in this way to certain foods is addicted.

Our experience is that many women come to us believing they are addicted to sugar, white flour, etc.  But once they’re immersed in healthy living with a focus on developing a healthy relationship with food, they find their addictive-type urges disappear.

One question that comes to mind is the fact that food addiction is generally thought of as a problem among people who struggle with weight.  But if we find the same brain response in people regardless of weight, as this study did, what is the implication? Seems like there isn’t one when it comes to weight. Maybe it does, however, when it comes to healthy relationships with food.

To us, this may speak to the fact that women in this country are plagued with diet mentality thinking that drives eating patterns that may set up changes in the brain that may create addictive-type responses. Eating patterns such as the on-again, off-again pattern of dieting/restriction that ends in chronic consumption of high-sugar, high-fat foods as a result of feelings of deprivation. Add to that the typical hurried lifestyles of busy women, along with a food environment that encourages overconsumption of such foods, and the stage is further set.

Additionally, we wonder whether labeling an unhealthy relationship with food as an addiction promotes learned helplessness for many.  In other words, when we believe we are addicted to something, we feel powerless about our ability to change our reaction to it. Without doing any brain scans, our experience is that healthy eating/living can change the situation for many.

This a fascinating area and one I think warrants study. And while all the answers aren’t in yet, we’re weighing in on the side of the power of healthy eating/healthy living in being able to improve this picture for the vast majority of women who come to our healthy weight retreat and weight management program for women.  We’ve just seen it happen too many times over the almost four decades we’ve been helping women learn how to take charge of their eating, to support their well-being.

Food for thought on a Friday.

We hope you have a great weekend, enjoying eating what you want in a way that makes you feel great!

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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