Food Addiction Skepticism

Eric Mittenthal has a good Op-Ed on the topic of food addictions.

He begins by casting doubt on the prevailing attitudes:

In the research that has been conducted on food behaviors for the last 20+ years, a limited  number of studies have shown some association of food impact on brain pathways in certain individuals, but overall, the science has been inconclusive.

He points out that identifying a pleasure sensation that occurs in the brain while you’re eating food is not the same thing as an addiction. You get strong sensations of happiness if you find a dollar on the ground, but that doesn’t make you addicted to money.

He then expresses a rather conservative opinion on food choices and personal responsibility:

The “addiction” issue is at the forefront right now because of the obesity epidemic in our country. Everyone is looking for the magic bullet that will solve the problem, and the idea that our food is addicting is powerful. If it were true, it means that we can’t be held responsible for our weight because we are powerless over the food we eat. The reality is not so simple though.

With this point, I have mixed opinions. I agree that focusing exclusively on the issue of addiction is convenient, and creates heroes and villains in a way that’s advantageous for people doing the talking.

However, I’ve slowly become less convinced about the power of free will over the years, and I’ve seen many people who’s relationships with food that would classify as functionally addictive, even if it doesn’t meet a technical definition.

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